More of The Same, But Not Enough
Unreal Tournament has been a good friend to me, ever since Epic released the first game. I always preferred it over Quake 3, mostly because of its more interesting game modes. I especially loved the almost “story” assault maps.
Then, in UT2003, things changed a bit. The game became a bit more like its namesake, a sporting event almost, with double jumps and unlockable powerups. Sadly, Epic ditched my beloved Assault maps, but added Onslaught mode. Onslaught was basically a node-based conquest gametype, which often included large maps and vehicles. While different from Assault, I still enjoyed UT2003 and 2004, despite their extreme simplicity. They spoke to a part of me that enjoyed picking up the old mouse and keyboard and winning two matches of Onslaught (on Torlan, of course) against the competent but ultimately inferior computer.
Does UT3 hold up to its un-ambitious yet entertaining ancestors? For the most part it does. There are new vehicles, powerups, maps, character models, and where there aren’t new features, old ones have been updated. Again, instead of Onslaught we now have the Assault mode, which adds objectives across much larger maps but still retains that Onslaught feel. The graphics are extremely beautiful. They may look like all other Unreal 3 engine games, but that isn’t a bad thing.
The weapons are as satisfying as ever, the flack cannon and shock rifle still being my favorites. There are a ton of new vehicles, some fun, some not so much fun. The giant Darkwalker, which is basically a tripod from the War of the Worlds movie, is appropriately ominous and unwieldy. There is a new Warthog-like small truck, a creepy spider-like vehicle, and of course the useful (but ludicrous) hover boards. By far my favorite vehicle was the Viper, a ground-hugging fighter that could be turned into a dumb-fire projectile, ejecting its pilot and speeding toward a target.
Besides weapons and vehicles, UT3 boasts a ton of maps, each sporting that UT vibe, and of course the characters’ traditional look and sound. It is strangely comforting to hear the old dumb insults that the bots delivered (“You be dead!” is sadly absent), and all of the character animations are competent. The classic UT mutators show up as well, and with the promise of new and user made mutators on the way, there won’t be a dearth of combat options anytime soon.
Multiplayer is solid, and as mentioned above for us PS3 owners are in luck. User created maps and content are already on their way. This kind of support really makes me want to give Epic and Sony a pat on the back, and will extend the lifespan of UT# on my PS3 by months
Many of the things I just lauded have their share of problems. There may be a lot of maps, but I must admit, I am getting tired of UT maps. They come in two varieties: crazy space station/plant/factory/city and bizarre “ancient” temples of various “ethnic” backgrounds. It all looks like The Matrix and Stargate. Seriously, I have blasted through so many Future refineries, it makes my head hurt.
Again, while the new Warfare mode may include my favorite type of vehicle-based combat, I really miss the Bombing Run game mode. It was basically like some bizarre form of deathmatch soccer, and it was amazingly fun.
Despite all of the options I just mentioned, UT3 is starting to feel a bit stale. Unlike COD4, it hasn’t yet figured out how to reinvent itself. There may be tons of options, but to be honest, we’ve seen most of them before. Having 15 vehicles does not mean your game is the best. They have to be fun! The reason I love Halo 3 is (among other reasons) because I can have fun on any of the vehicles. In UT3, I hate being stuck with the human humvee type vehicle.
The plethora of characters would be nice, if they weren’t all awful. The single player story is hilarious; they’ve tried to weave respawning and flags into the plot. Trust me, after the first mission, when you’ve killed your sister 15 times, and listened to her taunt you about it, you will not be immersed in their world. Oh, and as pointed out by PA, Malcolm’s B-boy dialogue is terribly amusing. The only other black character in the game is named Othello…. What? The guy named Priest keeps on intoning faux-biblical stuff over dead bodies. Is this really the highest level of cultural relevancy and intertextuality that games can reach? A black guy named Othello? A vaguely religious guy named Priest? Please.
The Bottom Line
I really wanted to like UT3 more than I did. It uses the same formula UT has always used, and that was enough for me during the first 3 games. This time though, I can’t muster up the will to care about their paper-thin characters, bad writing and cookie-cutter game design. You know you’re coasting when the biggest difference in the next game in a franchise is the graphics. This is a fun game, and for newcomers to the series (especially on consoles) you owe it to yourself to go buy this game. It has a lot of content and a lot of staying power. If you’re a veteran of the series, think twice before buying UT3. You might want to wait until Epic actually evolves this game for the next-gen consoles.