Review: Unreal Tournament 3 (Microsoft Xbox 360)

System: Xbox 360
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Developer: Epic Games
Publisher: Midway
Release Date: 07/07/08


When it comes to online FPS games, Unreal Tournament has a long history. While there is a 3 at the end of the title this is in no way the third Unreal Tournament. There has been an Unreal game for each of Epic studios game engines. Each new entry into the series is practically a demonstration of what you can do with their newest game engine. Which is why, I’m assuming, with the newest game engine being Unreal 3 that they released Unreal Tournament 3, instead of calling it something like Unreal Tournament 2K8.

There was a time when Unreal Tournament was one of the top multiplayer first person shooter games available, now in the summer of 2008 Unreal Tournament 3 has been released to the Xbox 360 where there is no lack of competition for a FPS title. Compared to the modern favorites of Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4, how does Unreal Tournament 3 hold up?

Let’s start out with the single player Campaign mode. There have been a lot of FPS titles recently that have cut out the Co-Op experience, split screen or otherwise. So it’s nice to note that in Unreal Tournament 3 (just UT3 from here on out) offers split screen Co-Op for both the Campaign mode. Plus for the Campaign mode you can also have up to three other people online join you.

Sadly Campaign mode isn’t much more than a long tutorial.

Which makes sense considering that has been the way for EVERY Unreal Tournament game released. It’s just a way of training the player on how to play on different maps with bots and various game modes. For those seeking a broader single player experience, they might not like how UT3 is just a series of bot matches. Personally I was kind of glad for it since instead of just getting dumped into an online match where you don’t know the map, where the weapons respawn, or how to control the vehicles, you can end up going through a lot of frustration before you learn it all. It’s not much fun being the worst player on a team. Once you’ve played through the Campaign mode you’ll know where you are going and what you are supposed to do in a map.

Not to say that there isn’t a story associated with this mode at all. In the game you player as Reaper, who bears more than a striking resemblance to the main character from Epic’s Gears of War, dies defending a mining colony from the Necris. At least it appears that he dies. Right at the beginning it appears he is revived but nobody thinks he can fight again, but then you do. It’s all sort of rushed. What matters is that you play as Reaper, who fights for the Ronin, a team of fighters that are leftovers from the mining colony disaster who are looking for revenge. The Ronin are fighting their way through the Tournament in the hopes of getting one step closer to revenge.

Or something like that.

As I said the single player experience is mostly training for the multiplayer. That’s not to say that it is not entertaining however, while the story isn’t going to make you keep playing until you find out if Reaper gets his revenge or not you’ll keep coming back because even while playing against bots it’s a fun, intense experience. But more about the bots in a minute.

Since Unreal Tournament has always focused on multiplayer, and UT3 is no different, and there are a number of multiplayer gameplay modes. There is the typical Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch modes, Capture the Flag, Vehicle Capture the Flag, Duel (1 vs 1 player mode) and Warfare. Almost all of these game types are self explanatory with exception of the last one, which is unique to UT3.

In Warfare the objective is to destroy the other teams Power Node. The problem is that each teams Power Node is linked to other nodes around the map. In order to destroy the other teams Power Node you must control these smaller nodes and link them together. There are also additional nodes, which can be captured to gain advantages such as vehicles or spawn points. This is easily mode in the game that encourages the most strategy as it becomes a tug of war to control these nodes. You see you can either go to a node no one has claimed and claim it, but it’ll take a couple of seconds for the newly claimed node to fully up and running. Of course you can carry an orb from your base to the node and power it up instantly, but there are drawbacks to doing this as well. It is a mix of fighting for control of territories, running with an orb or trying to destroy the other teams power node. This is a great game type and depending on what map you are playing can really change what strategy you’ll want to use.

Graphically it’s a great looking game. Visually it is comparable to a game like Gears of War, which makes sense seeing as they’re both running on the same engine and are created by the same company. Everything is very well detailed, almost to a point where the amount of detail is a distraction from looking out for someone who is trying to kill you. Personally I would say that this game is more impressive than Gears of War since there is a higher variety to the environments used, effects on display and the amount of different character models in the game. On thing that Epic deserves high praise on is the maps. Unreal Tournament 3 has some of the best multiplayer maps of any modern shooter. That’s not to say the efforts of Bungie or Infinity Ward are bad, it’s just that Epic has created some maps in Unreal Tournament 3 which are nearly flawless for multiplayer design when it comes to balance, area where the action gets funneled, weapon and vehicle placement, the works. There are some multiplayer FPS maps in other games which are just bad, though I’ll not name them here, and all while playing UT3 I didn’t come across one that wasn’t just fantastic. Many times during the game there would be a lot of effects going on at once and I never encountered slowdown during the single player game, though I did experience some lag during multiplayer, though that might’ve had to do more with the hosts connection than anything (Note: if you don’t have good speed, don’t host a 16 player match)

Sound-wise there’s nothing to complain about. Even though the game is slightly lacking in the plot area of the game the voice actors are very good at delivering their lines and making the action seem important, whether you are in a battle or during a cutscene. All the guns sound like they pack a punch.

When it comes down to the gameplay, the best way to describe Unreal Tournament 3 is that it’s an Old School FPS. The controls are mostly your standard FPS controls, left stick moves, right stick aims, A button jumps. The biggest difference between other titles and UT3 is something they’ve been doing since the begining of Unreal Tournament; right trigger is for primary fire, while the left trigger handles secondary fire. There are other game titles out there with an alternate fire mode, however in very few of them is the alternate fire mode handled as well as it has always been handled in Unreal Tournament. The alternate fire mode isn’t something that’s just a secondary function, it’s at least as useful, and for some weapons more useful, than the primary fire mode.

What separates UT3 from the pack isn’t the new things it does, it’s all the old things it is still doing right. Modern FPS games all tend to try to slow things down and be more tactical, or add different gimmicks to the gameplay, where UT3 is unique is the fact that it still plays like the type of FPS that started many of us pwning each other before Halo was even an idea in someone’s head. It’s balls to the wall action that is relentless and extremely satisfying. There’s no taking five minutes to run across the map, or waiting until the next round to respawn, the action is nearly instant from the time you start the match until the time it’s over. There’s no hiding while waiting for your health to recharge, you’ve got a set lifebar, and once that runs out you’re dead. Of course there’s health power ups along the way as well. It’s the return of circle strafing, bunny-hopping, missile launching madness.

That’s not to say it’s all old school gameplay. The new Warfare mode is certainly a new addition. The new vehicles are great, and one is straight out of War of the Worlds and you have to see it in action to believe it. It’s just that even with graphical upgrades, the new vehicles and gameplay modes, the tweaks to weapons, it’s still fundamentally the same Unreal Tournament game that has been around. I mean that as a very high compliment, because since the first Unreal Tournament was released there have been an excess of first person shooting games, yet very few of them seem to have captured what makes games like UT3 a fun experience.

One of the ways the game makes this experience fun is the weapons. There isn’t a single weapon in the game that doesn’t feel extremely powerful. Missile launchers, chain guns, link guns, flak cannons, bio guns, they all have a unique feel to them while all still feeling immensely powerful. There’s very little as satisfying as shooting a flak cannon gun close range and watching the other guy get blown to bits, or using the bio gun and seeing their skeleton fall to the ground. The guns are scattered everywhere in a level, but they’re generally easy to find and you’ll never feel you are at a significant disadvantage with any of the weapons, though you’ll develop your own preferences. I’m a flak cannon kind of guy, and I don’t do so well with the pulse rifle. So unlike other games you’ll rarely think “ËœCrap, that other guy is running at me with a rocket launcher, there’s no way I can beat that’ because if you have one of the other weapons you will still have a pretty good chance.

The map layouts also help this. Many of them are symmetrically designed, though not all of them. As I mentioned before these are just great maps. This creates a sense of balance within the maps, as does the health/weapon placement. If you play against the computer there are multiple levels of difficulty to choose from for the bots. In all of the difficulty settings the bots respond pretty well though the casual difficulty level is predictably a breeze, but the Godlike difficulty level will provide a challenge since the computer controlled AI is deadly accurate. All in all the balance, both offline and online, is just about as near perfect as you are going to get for a game of this type.

However, when you realize that the single player mode is pretty much just bot matches, it’s hard to recommend this title over others with a fully fleshed out single player mode. While just by the name alone people should realize that this game is all about the multiplayer, even the most recent Battlefield game, a series known solely by it’s multiplayer, had a full story mode. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m used to playing video games on a console over a PC, but a single player mode is what I’ve come to expect when I buy a full-priced game, and while the Campaign mode is great for teaching the fundamentals required for tackling the online mode, it still often feels like just a tutorial.

And seriously, while I appreciate the addition of exclusive Gears of War 2 footage on the 360 version of the game, talking about all of these awesome multiplayer modes and weapons available in Gears of War 2 that aren’t available in the game I’m playing at the time seems kind of odd to me. It felt like it took away some of Unreal Tournament 3 by showing cool stuff that didn’t exist for Unreal Tournament 3. I know they’re different type of games, but it still felt that way.


The Scores:
Story/Gameplay Modes: Enjoyable
Graphics: Classic
Sound: Great
Control/Gameplay: Classic
Replayability: Good
Balance: Great
Originality: Mediocre
Addictiveness: Very Good
Appeal: Great
Miscellaneous: Good

FINAL SCORE: VERY GOOD GAME!

Short Attention Span Summary:
Unreal Tournament 3 deserves a place in the game library of any diehard FPS fan. It’s reliance on old school fan paced ass kicking gameplay is different enough from the other FPS available on the 360 that if you’re looking for a game to tide yourself over till the big winter releases, this is that game. It’s one of those games that winning or losing, everyone feels like a badass. However you should note that the game doesn’t have the typical single player storymode, so if you do not plan on playing it for the online multiplayer, well the bots are okay but you might want to stick to a FPS where multiplayer isn’t the main focus. Which isn’t very many of them nowdays.

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