Unreal Tournament Retrospective Part 4

Unreal Tournament III was, and is the game that tried to be all things to the entire fandom. Sadly, the fandom didn’t ever see it.

Pros: Wondrous UE3 visuals, Homogenized movement, Worthy gameplay additions.

Cons: Botched launch. Steep (at the time ) requirements. Gamespy.

What The Poop? It’s rated M so why the watered down announcements, and taunts?

It’s no secret that Unreal Tournament, and Unreal Tournament 2004 were both major successes for Epic Games. Both games won all kinds of awards from publications, and websites like PC Gamer, Computer Gaming World, and Gamespot. Both games were featured in high-profile tournaments for huge prizes. Both games gave other FPS makers like id Software some really stiff competition.

But what the casual observer may not have noticed, was that Unreal Tournament’s player base was fragmented between the two games. Many gamers felt that UT2k4’s adrenaline pills, and required mastery of trick jumping may have been a little too unreal. They preferred to be grounded, and able to dodge firepower. But without looking like Keanu Reeves bouncing around in another Matrix movie.

Meanwhile, others had felt that the new additions 2k4 brought to the table increased the skill level for those who wanted to play seriously. They enjoyed the new Onslaught mode. They relished in the movement system, staying just out of firing range before returning fire, and scoring high frag counts. Going back to standard UT felt backwards.

Still, there were plenty who enjoyed both games enough to go back, and forth.

With UT3 Epic was whetting their appetite for console development. Sure, in the past UT had been ported to the PS2, and Dreamcast. UT2k3 had also been on the Xbox as Unreal Championship, and they had done an exclusive Xbox Unreal Championship 2 which was met with mixed reaction. But those weren’t done entirely in-house, and UE3 was poised to power many console games. So with UT3 Epic had to not only please fans, but also try to make a game they felt console players would give a chance to.

Upon looking at the fragmented fan base, Epic decided to make a bridge game. An Unreal Tournament that would please the diehards who never left the original game, as well as the 2k4 purists. But they also wanted to make something Playstation 3, and Xbox 360 only types would be able to play without giving up in frustration.

UT3 features some stunning visuals. There are some really beautiful environments, and some of the classic UT maps from previous games like the iconic Deck make a triumphant return. Even seven years after it’s release the textures, lighting effects, sounds, and animation will impress. The uninitiated may pick this up, install it on their PC or console, and wonder why this game didn’t take off.

To answer their question the game really did do what was advertised, but not entirely.

UT3’s movement system is indeed a hybrid of UT, and UT2k4. Like UT the gravity is more grounded. Gone are the superhuman double jumps, replaced with a double jump that feels like a jump, and a half. One of the most vocal oppositions was the removal of the dodge jump. In 2k4 a player could tap any direction to dodge. Pressing jump immediately afterwards would allow them to jump very far. In some maps this may have cleared a room. To be fair, UT3’s maps are designed around this new system, but it somehow turned off both the UT, and 2k4 fan bases despite how well it really does homogenize the two systems. For instance, even though dodge jump is gone, wall jumping is still here. It’s still possible to cart-wheel over rockets, goo, and flak balls. Just don’t expect to be halfway down the hall afterwards.

UT3’s weapons also changed to accommodate the rest of the game. In previous games the Bio Rifle would also spray on the floor, or you could fire a single full charged shot for what was often times an instant kill. In UT3 A fully charged shot instead sticks to opponents, and drains their health. Sometimes still leading to an instant kill. The Rocket launcher reverted back to its original UT firing modes, while the Flak Cannon’s arc was changed. The Shock Rifle’s combo attack was also tweaked to slightly reduce the blast radius. Unreal Tournament III also brings back the command to feign your own death. This is really only effective on new players however, as series’ veterans will shoot corpses.

One of the more unpopular changes however was the character designs. Presumably to appeal to the Xbox crowd (Which ironically got the game last), UT3 almost seems to take place in the Gears Of War universe. Gone are the over the top races of 2k4, and standard science fiction designs of the original UT’s races. Instead characters have big bulky Space Marine designs eerily similar to those of GoW. If you are coming into this game late, don’t expect to see the UT1 styled Necris designs, or UT2k4’s Mr.Crow, Egyptian costumes, or other designs. Longtime fans turned up their noses at this. To be fair, the Robots are back (albeit in a new look), and the new Krall models are playable. You can also do some light costume edits on your models, choosing boots, belts, shoulder pads, and visors. But it is a far cry from the variety of earlier games.

Unreal Tournament III brings over the standard Death match, Team Death match, and Capture The Flag. There is also a Vehicular Capture The Flag that introduces vehicles to the mode. One of the most popular modes in UT2k4 was Onslaught which was updated, and called Warfare. In Warfare nodes are still captured, but now there are orbs added into the mix. Orbs can be carried to the nodes to more quickly set them up or buff their defense shields.

Doing so is important because it makes things that much more difficult for the enemy team to take the nodes down. Every node becomes a frantic battle for control. By capturing enough of these areas, your team will lower the force fields around the opposing team’s reactor core. Once the defenses are down you can attack the reactor core until it is destroyed.  Hover boards have also been added to every character in the mode allowing players to get around faster than walking if they can’t get into a vehicle.

 

Also while not an official mode, Death match now had stock maps with vehicles for Vehicular Death match. While some scoffed, and still scoff at this idea, it is actually one that works. Furthermore, it keeps people who simply like to goof around, and wreak havoc with vehicles out of the Warfare mode. This can relieve some of the more team oriented player base. Also other games such as Battlefield Bad Company 2 seem to have taken a cue from UT3, putting vehicles in their DM variants for likely similar reasoning.

Unreal Tournament III also has a campaign, that tells the story of series’ newcomer Reaper. In it the Necris return to destroy an outpost colony by releasing an army of Krall. Reaper’s group; The Ronin, are slain. After being rescued, He trains with Malcolm to get revenge.

 

The campaign isn’t a traditional one either. Instead of an 8 hour single player game you will play through a tournament ladder. This is to get you accustomed to how each of the multiplayer modes work. Some of the ladder stages may throw in an objective to advance the story. But it mainly serves as a tutorial. Along the way, you can complete side challenges to obtain cards. The cards can be cast to make other missions easier. It is possible to play the campaign in Co-op, but most players will likely stick to the other multiplayer modes.

Love or hate these changes UT3 is still a very fun, and very good game. Console players who are intrigued will find something completely different from the umpteenth Call of Duty clone, and open-minded fans of the previous games will still find a lot to like. The console versions of Unreal Tournament III are much better than the ports of UT, and UT2k3 on previous consoles. The Playstation 3 version has all of the content from the initial launch of the PC version. It can also run mods or content PC players make with the editor. It can’t run the editor itself, and the mods have to be specifically made for the PS3 in mind. Still, for fans with both versions, or PS3 owners who have friends who mod on the PC it is a nice feature. The PS3 also received some the updates, and patches over time. The Xbox 360 version came late, and with some exclusive content. However due to Microsoft’s Xbox Live restrictions at the time didn’t get as many updates. It also cannot run mods made by the community on the PC version.

Unfortunately the biggest problem for even the most devoted fan at release was a buggy launch. UT3 had a demo come out shortly before release. Despite feedback from a vocal community, UT3 launched in a state not too different from the demo. There were crashes, instabilities, and performance issues for the first couple of months. Also while it was heavily promoted that the PC version editor would be able to make levels PS3 version buyers could use, there were also complications with this feature. It also used Gamespy for matchmaking which reduced a lot of the ease of server browsing with its account system. Strangely, the salty yet funny award announcements had been changed to substandard PG rated names. Despite the fact the game had about as much gore as ever.

Finally, the system requirements were criticized for being steep at the time of release. Crytek’s Crysis came out around the same time, and was berated for the same reason. This, coupled with a glitchy launch hampered early sales of the game. Also homogenized gameplay seemed to fracture the fan base further rather than bring it together.

Months later Epic was able to get out a comprehensive fix for the PC version with a lot of free bonus content added. Called the Titan Pack, it fixed many of the glitches the original release had. It also cleaned up performance issues, and on top of that added new maps, and weapon balances to the game. Titan pack also added Titan mode. In this fun mode players could turn into a giant if they met certain conditions during a game. It really is a lot of fun, and is definitely worth checking out. The Titan Pack also brought a new UI that PC gamers should have had during launch. Now they could change all of the various visual settings the original release locked them out of.

Unreal Tournament III is a great game that didn’t really get the attention it deserved. Playing it today certainly gives that impression. It runs fast, it has the wild weapons the series is known for. The modes are highly enjoyable, and the PC version still includes the Unreal Editor for free. This a great deal for anybody even remotely interested in-game design as you get to play with the very same utility many games are still being made on. While not as plentiful as previous games, one can still download all kinds of community driven content for PC, and PS3.

If you’re a PC gamer who missed or skipped UT3 when it originally came out in 2007 you may find yourself pleasantly surprised if you play it today. With its beautiful graphics, fast paced gameplay, and hundreds of hours of free content one can’t help but wonder what could have been had there not been so many missteps during its original publishing.

For Xbox 360, and Playstation 3 owners in their teens, and early twenties who have only experienced Epic’s later franchises, UT3 is a great way to see what shooters were like in the days of hyper competitive old, fast paced, difficult, yet fair.

PC gamers can get this underrated entry on Steam, While Console users may be able to find it in bargain bins for a comparable price. Epic is also transitioning away from the Gamespy service so UT3 players can still find games when Gamespy shuts down.

Final Score: 8/10

 

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