IGN Review of Unreal Tournament III
Epic Games created a little series known as Unreal Tournament back before the Y2K bug was supposed to ruin life as we know it. Now, after several iterations spanning multiple platforms, Xbox 360 owners are getting their first taste of Unreal Tournament 3, the latest entry in the series, released winter of last year on PC and PS3. Luckily those patient enough to hold out are being rewarded with a more fully-featured experience right out of the box, despite lacking some of the customizability of the competition.
The Unreal Tournament franchise has always been rooted in fast and furious gameplay and that doesn't change with UT3. Despite being confined to two analog sticks rather than the keyboard and mouse afforded to both PC and PS3 players, the dual sticks handle the action very well. There's a slight aim-assist that kicks in when tracking an enemy, but it's never enough to make you feel like you're not in control. The few times when the controls become frustrating are when maneuvering vehicles in close-quarters and trying to switch weapons in a heated firefight.
Vehicles were something that made their first appearance in Unreal Tournament 2004 and the roster has only grown with Unreal Tournament 3. Sadly all of the vehicles utilize a control style similar to Halo, meaning that you point your targeting reticule to an area, push forward on the left stick and your vehicle will try to make its way there. It's when doing battle in small areas that this can be a bit clunky due to the lack of finite movement. It's also a bit disconcerting to not be able to swivel the cannon on the Goliath tank while moving the treads in an opposite direction.
Changing weapons, something that is handled swimmingly by the mouse wheel and numeric keys on a keyboard, is relegated to the right and left bumpers on 360. The right bumper cycles you forward in your payload, one weapon at a time, while the left bumper brings up a radial menu. The left bumper will likely be the preferred method once you get accustomed to it, but it's still clunkier than what veterans of the series are used to and will take a split-second longer than it should in intense situations.
Thankfully the rest of UT3's gameplay translates perfectly. When you first pick up the controller things feel very old school, maybe a little too familiar for some. Delving deeper into the intricacies of the gameplay reveals some well-balanced, strategy-oriented dynamics that other, lesser titles would certainly have lacked. What's more, all of the different abilities are easily mapped to the Xbox 360 controller, an area where others making the conversion have struggled.
If the gameplay doesn't tickle the fancy of FPS-lovers, then perhaps the bevy of maps and modes will. Unreal Tournament 3 comes packed with all three of the maps released thus far on PS3 and PC as downloadable content as well as five exclusive levels for Xbox 360 users. Maps are tailored to specific modes, but some fit more than one. It is a bit disappointing to see that some of the maps have the same architecture with only slight modifications or changes to their color palette, but those are very few with most separating from the pack quite well.
Likewise, the modes do an admirable job of feeling fresh when jumping from one to another. Warfare is my personal favorite, as it's typically the most strategic of the lot, but Vehicle CTF and the classic Team Deathmatch are tons of fun in their own right if you can handle the quicker paced action. Toss in the eight different bot skill levels and every FPS fanatic should be able to find something to latch onto with Unreal Tournament 3.
It's that same bot skill level that makes the single-player campaign -- something that has been a total waste of time in other UT games -- more playable than it has been in the past. While there's no question that the story is totally inconsequential and packs little punch, there are characters and you'll learn their names as well as what's inspiring them to fight. At least somewhat. It helps tie the missions of the campaign together for a more cohesive feeling. Still, that doesn't change the fact that what you're playing are glorified bot matches with added side-objectives to spice things up. Thankfully the AI of both your teammates and the opposition is solid enough to create a fun experience that's somewhat comparable to what you'll find online.
Beyond the campaign and multiplayer modes players will also find Instant Action which lets you jump into any of the six game modes on a map of your choosing and do battle in a practice round of sorts. You can set the time limit, goal score, the faction of the opposing bots, and whether or not players should be forced to respawn. Of course there are also a set of nine mutators (less than in the other versions) that you can flip on to mess with the limitations of the world around you. Among the other options however, is the ability to toggle the first ever split-screen mode in an Unreal Tournament game.
Not only does UT3 come with a split-screen option, but it brings a few features that past FPS titles have left by the wayside. First, players can sign in as a guest with their buddy's Xbox Live account and join in on the action. Next, you can also sign in with a separate Xbox Live account altogether and earn achievements and enhance your reputation in the online world. All the while the action stays relatively fluid with only a few framerate hiccups in rare moments of extreme action. There's also little loss to the graphical panache of the solo experience, surprising for such a visually intensive game.
Speaking of graphics, Unreal Tournament 3 is downright gorgeous in parts. Take the gun models for instance. They're ultra-detailed with great bump mapping and self-shadowing articulating every nook and cranny. Then there are the moments when the texture pop-in that bogs down every Unreal Engine-powered game shows its ugly head. There are also a few textures around the levels that are less than impressive, even when everything has loaded. That withstanding, it's not nearly enough to bring down the high level of visual quality that runs throughout UT3.
Aurally Unreal Tournament 3 also impresses. The explosions ring true to their size and even though the character's speech is a little cheesy, it still fits with the action. Every weapon has its own sound, as does every vehicle and faction. With so many sounds already filed away in the Unreal Tournament library, it's no wonder that everything sounds so familiar, yet still so good in UT3.
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