Tag Archives: Arena Shooters

Splatoon 3 Review

I apologize for being so late to the party getting this out. How do I go on about this one without sounding redundant? I don’t know that it’s even possible at this point but I’m going to try. Sometimes the best moments of creativity and innovation come about when your back is against the wall. Other times, they come about from analyzing what you have and refining it. The original Splatoon came about in an environment of the former. The Wii U was not a big seller and in a bid to move the needle, it became something of a phenomenon. It took a popular genre, the third-person multiplayer shooter, and combined it with the fast pace of the classic PC arena shooters. But it also created its own unique gameplay loop with its core Turf War mode.

With that one stroke of genius, it made a competitive genre palatable to not only hardcore veterans who had played since the days of DOOM and Duke Nukem 3D but to the many who had barely touched the genre. Because the focus was now on an objective that anyone could do. You might not be confident in your ability to hold down a giant flashing letter in Battlefield, but you could look down and paint a floor. And doing it contributed something. But Splatoon didn’t end there, you had a well-rounded package. It eventually had Ranked Battles, modes that were akin to those in its contemporaries, as well as one that was a microcosm of the Turf War in Splat Zones. Now you didn’t worry about the whole map. Just designated areas in the center. But it also included a campaign with a lighthearted tone atop a surprisingly deep and dark storyline. It had characters nearly everyone who played the game fell in love with, and it began a tradition of stealthily teaching multiplayer mechanics through its Super Mario Galaxy meets Metal Gear Solid level design.

PROS: New mechanics. New weapons. New specials. Greatly expanded lobby system. Stellar campaign. Salmon Run is no longer limited to specific hours. TableTurf card battles.

CONS: Connectivity issues. Not all of the improvements are visible at face value.

DEEP CUT: The latest idol group is a trio, and bring along some real bangers in the soundtrack department. But they haven’t forgotten about Off The Hook or the Squid Sisters either.

Splatoon 2 would follow 5 years later and that game was the latter. It added a lot of new stuff to an already great formula. It too had a great storyline campaign mode. But it expanded upon it. It also stealthily taught beginners the basics and gave them a lot to do. Every multiplayer mode returned from the original and it introduced Clam Blitz, a new mode with elements of Unreal Tournament 2003’s Bombing Run, and the Salmon Run horde mode that became very popular with a segment of the fandom. Splatoon 2’s Octo Expansion gave the single-player 80 challenges that played like a combination of Splatoon 2’s main campaign and puzzle stages with the tone of something like Portal. And clearing it lets fans play as the Octolings introduced in the original game’s storyline. Clearing 100% of that Expansion Pack unleashes one of the toughest secret boss fights of all time on you as well. And successfully completing that gives you a multiplayer item that tells the world you did it.

So with all of these improvements and iterations, one can only wonder what they could possibly add to make the game even better? And the answer to that is quite a bit. Not everything is going to be obvious to everyone at face value. The graphics are improved a lot over Splatoon 2, but in such a way you have to start to analyze it. Geometrically it isn’t a major leap, but the texture work is much sharper. There are improvements to some of the special effects, and it all runs at a pretty solid 60 frames per second. At least in the actual game modes. Once again you’ll spend time in a hub world upon booting up the game in any instance after the first one, and it has much more going on with background details and animation. The emphasis on the new city and the world that gets explored reflects this and so you’ll be running around half that when in Splatsville.

By now, Splatoon has settled into a formula that long-time fans will be familiar with but is easy enough for newcomers to get a handle on. When you first turn on the game, it immediately hits you with an important question. At least it does if you’ve played Splatoon 2. That question is “Would you like to import your Splatoon 2 data?” Choosing to do so nets you a few benefits. The first is that you’ll be given Sheldon Licenses. These will let you gain early access to some of the weapons you would normally have to grind for. If you mained a weapon in the previous game, it is nice because you can jump right in and use it. All of the base weapons from Splatoon 2 are here, and I know I’m very late getting this published, so at the time of this writing there are already some new ones you can try. Speaking of new ones, this game introduces a new bow class of weapons where you can shoot ink arrows in horizontal shots or vertical shots. The latter happens when you fire while jumping. The other is the new Splatana class, where you essentially have a weapon you would brandish like a sword. There’s a stamper and a windshield wiper for example.

Beyond getting your hands on weapons early, importing your data means that you can enter Ranked Battles earlier. In Splatoon 3 they’re called Anarchy Battles, and you can play them in either a single match called Open, or you can do a first to five called Series. Normally the game would have you grind up to level 10 in the general Turf War mode, then open up the Ranked Battles. The Ranking system has been slightly altered from the previous game. Whereas Splatoon 2 had a system that went from C to S with a -, standard, and + sub-rank in between before moving on to S+ and then X where you had a four-digit ranking Splatoon 3 does not. Instead, Splatoon 3 goes from C to S+. Recently, X was added to the game. X Rank works the way it does in the previous game, where you’re given a four-digit power level that goes up or down based on your wins and losses. However, it is separated entirely from the other letters.

That said, to access X Rank mode you’ll have to attain an S+ Rank. One thing that makes the goal a little easier in one respect is that you won’t rank down from losing games. Should you fight your way to an A+ Rank, for example, losing too many games will not take you back down to A or A-. Instead, the game has a point system in between the grades. You’ll need to attain enough points to enter a Rank Up series where you need to play three games and hope you earn enough points from that to get you over the top. If you manage to get to S+ you’ll unlock the coveted X Rank.

All of this means on paper, that the Ranking system is easier and will be more beloved. But it isn’t the whole story. Because the inability to lose rank also means that you can’t be sent back down to people with the same level of talent should you find yourself unable to win enough points to move further. Especially if you lose so much that you go into a large number of negative points. To alleviate that issue, the game does reset ranks every season, by knocking every player down by one grade. You can also get one mulligan to knock down if you choose to do so once per season. So it isn’t quite as simple as things would seem.

With all of that out of the way, during your first boot-up of the game, you’ll be tasked with creating your avatar. You can now choose to be an Inkling or Octoling right out of the box. You then customize the look of your character. This time around they’ve expanded the starter options. There are more hairstyles than there were in previous games. Eye color is a new customization option and you now get a pet salmonid (One of the enemies from the Salmon Run mode introduced in Splatoon 2.) that you can also customize. You then guide your character through a brief tutorial to get you used to the basic controls. At the end of which you catch a train to Splatsville, the new hub world that resides a long way from the desert you begin in.

Once you arrive in Splatsville, you’ll find the concept of the hub world has greatly been expanded upon. You’ll have the manhole cover where you can follow Captain Cuttlefish down to play through this iteration’s campaign. You’ll also see the shops where you can purchase weapons, clothing items, and new to the series, locker equipment. Splatoon 3’s city block hub also has a new card battle minigame you can play. And there’s also the returning Salmon Run mode. And of course, there is the expected tower you can enter to go play various modes online.

It’s recommended most newcomers to the series play the campaign first, though even veterans may want to as there are a few new mechanics to learn here. The story mode in all of the Splatoon games stealthily teaches you the game mechanics while giving you a substantial single-player experience to play through. In Splatoon 3, you don’t have to have played either of the other Splatoon titles to enjoy it or understand it. But for those who have played them, there are loads of nods to the older games, with a lot of little details that tie the three games together. One of the ways the games have allowed the players to affect the storyline is with their Final Splatfest events, which I’ll get to later. But the winners of that event in each of the games have driven the development team on what theme to lead the next title’s storyline with.

In Splatoon 2 that event was Chaos Vs. Order and with that battle, Team Chaos won. As such, Splatoon 3 has elements of chaos throughout its story mode campaign. The setup this time is that many of our favorite characters have left the upscale area of Inkopolis to visit the city of Splatsville. Splatsville is surrounded by desert landscapes, and the city embraces its fair share of the musical counterculture. This is reflected in the soundtrack, which continues the influences of punk rock, and hip-hop. But there has been a bit more of a new wave influence in many of the campaign stages with some synths and bass lines you could almost mistake for the likes of Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, or Simple Minds. There’s also a continuation of electro-pop and some post-punk influences as well.

There are two hub worlds to go through. These work like the previous games but they’ve been expanded. There’s a prologue set where you’ll see the familiar kettles you enter throughout a small map. Each of these leads to an individual level where you’ll have to get from the beginning to the end. Most of these work like a Super Mario Galaxy level structure, with you facing platformer challenges in a linear fashion with checkpoints you’ll continue on from if you lose a life. Each level gives you three lives. If you lose all of them, you’ll lose points (represented by power eggs) as you’ll have to spend some of them to continue.

In this iteration, you’ll find a lethal fuzzy substance all around the hub map. Much of which covers the kettle entrances to levels you’ll need to play. You may be wondering what purpose your pet salmonid serves as it follows you around the hub worlds and levels of the game. What he does is remove the aforementioned fuzz. You’ll have to spend a different amount of power eggs on each removable portion. This stuff also appears in some of the individual stages. So keep note of that.

In addition to helping you remove fuzz, the salmonid can find secrets within the levels for you to uncover. They’re often invisible and can hide anything from more eggs to sunken scrolls that tell you more of the lore to locker decorations which I’ll also get to later. Once you get to the end of the first hub world you’ll face a boss who is familiar to players of the first two games. Beat this encounter, and you’ll find yourself in a subterranean arctic world called Alterna.

You’ll move on as you did in the previous hub world. But Alterna is much, much larger. At the end of each section, there is a pipeline that takes you further into subsequent hubs. Think of them like the worlds of a Super Mario game’s structures. Sometimes you’ll be given a branching path, and each of these pipelines costs eggs to enter. So not only do you have to worry about removing all of the fuzz, but you’ll have to keep earning enough to continue onward. If you run out of cash though, fear not. You can go back and replay earlier maps, perhaps even looking for secrets you may have missed originally, to earn more.

The other thing that changes is the fact that in Alterna not every stage follows the same formula. Taking a page from the previous game’s expansion pack; Octo Expansion, some of these stages take a challenging approach instead, which gives things more of the first-person puzzle stage feel found in games like Portal. All of this gives the game a lot of variety. Beyond that, each of these stages whether they’re a platformer, puzzle, or boomer shooter-feeling horde battle, will teach you many of the game’s mechanics.

Splatoon 3 also continues the trend of larger-than-life boss fights where it’s one part arena shooter and one part pattern memorization. Some might feel familiar to those who played earlier titles, but many of them are entirely new experiences. Some actually reference some other Nintendo games, so for fans of Nintendo IPs in general, they are nice nods.

As for those mechanics I talked about, they can become pretty complex and deep. The basics are you can, of course, shoot floors, and swim underneath your own ink. But swimming also reloads your weapons, allows you to move faster, and at higher levels learn how to trick jump around areas faster. Splatoon 3 adds two new moves into the mix. A squid roll that allows you to parry shots fired at you, should you become proficient enough. Quickly jumping in the opposite direction while swimming can net you a free hit during a small window of animation. The same can be said about the squid jump, a move where you can charge while swimming to get an extra boost. Useful when climbing walls.

Going through the campaign can get you acquainted with the basics of each of these, but of course, playing online matches is where you’ll really learn the advanced mechanics and unorthodox uses of the different move sets. Not only will learning these kinds of things benefit you in online matches, but there is also a super-secret surprise waiting for you if you 100% the campaign. One that opens up after the credits roll and will require the use of every aforementioned mechanic to overcome. If you can pull that off you will get a nice little perk for multiplayer.

All of the major multiplayer modes are back as expected. Chief among them is the Turf War where both teams vie for control of the map by painting all of the floors their respective team colors. It is the flagship mode most will be familiar with. There are a wide variety of different weapons to use to do so. At the end of the three-minute battle, the team with the most paint laid down is the victor.

Beyond that are the modes we mentioned earlier; the Anarchy Battles. Anarchy Open battles are single rounds of the game’s ranked modes. As in Splatoon and Splatoon 2, the modes and maps are cycled every hour or so which means every combination is eventually played. The difference here is that the Anarchy Open battles can be played by anyone of any rank at any time. Whereas the Anarchy Series will still pair people up in solo queues with other players of the same rank, Open matches are a little loose with it. That’s because, in the Open, you can pair up with friends of all stripes.

Ranked Modes in Splatoon 2 could only be played with friends of the same skill level unless you were all B+ or above and played in a league together. Or, if you wanted to stick to private matches where none of you would gain experience to level up. In Splatoon 3 Anarchy Open changes things by letting your friends join up on you even if you’re all from different ranks. What’s nice about this is that not everyone is going to have the same interest level in the competitive end of the game. If you’re someone who wants to grind your way to S+ so you can play X rank, but you have 2 friends who don’t, you can still enjoy the modes together. Beyond that, it also gives newer players and casual players incentive to go beyond the base Turf War mode.

Anarchy Series battles are where individual players will want to play the ranked modes when they want to push to level up. In these battles, you’ll be tasked with getting five wins while paired with three other random people. You’re allowed to lose up to three games. If you win the majority of the series you’ll get a lot of points to level up. If you lose, you’ll lose a number of points. Consistently losing as I mentioned earlier, can get you into negative points, but if you get a good streak going you’ll reach the point level needed to enter a Rank Up series. If you can win that you’ll make the next letter grade.

Returning are Tower Control, Rainmaker, Splat Zones, and Clam Blitz. Tower Control works similarly to push cart modes seen in other shooters. There are paths set up along the map that the tower follows. Getting to the tower and standing on it moves it along that path. The goal is to move it to an endpoint in the enemy base for a win. There are checkpoints along the way you’ll need to capture in order to progress.

Rainmaker is similar. It’s a bit like a combination of a push cart mode and an escort mode. There’s not a set path in the map, but like the Tower Control mode, you’re tasked with moving an object from the center of the map into an endpoint in the enemy team’s base. The difference is that this time it’s a giant gun shaped like a fish that can shoot a powerful blast of ink. Each team is trying to get ahold of it. Once someone on your team gets it, it’s up to the others to escort them across enemy territory to get it onto a podium. That means constantly shooting down the opponents who will be trying to kill them to take it for themselves.

Splat Zones is a competitive microcosm of the Turf War. Unlike Turf War, you’re not tasked with painting the entire map. Rather, you need to paint one, or two very specific zones in the center of the map and control them until a timer hits zero. If the enemy team takes control of it from you, you’ll have penalty seconds added to your timer for if and when you take control back of them. If you do, they too will be penalized with extra seconds. Get to zero before time runs out and your team wins.

Finally, there’s Clam Blitz, where each team tries to invade the other team’s base and fill a basket with clams peppered throughout the map. In order to do this each team will need to destroy the opposing team’s shield with a football. How do you get a football? By collecting enough clams you’ll create one. Chaos then ensues as both teams shoot at any football they see, as you can’t carry a football under the ink with you, and it gives away your position. So it’s up to each team to divide duties between escorting football wielders into enemy territory and staying behind long enough to play goalie against enemies charging into your team’s territory.

All of these modes can involve a wealth of strategies to employ. It’s astonishing how deep all of them become at a high level where analyzing the maps, weapons, and how the gear system ties into all of it really come into play. For those new to Splatoon, the gear system is another one of the series’ hallmarks. When you go into the shops to buy the costume options you’ll find each of these has a perk. Which is referred to as gear. Some of these perks may refill your ink faster when you’re swimming. Some may fill your special meter faster. Some make you run faster. Or a number of other perks. You will also see question marks on these clothing options. These will be filled by random perks after so many experience points gained in the competitive online modes.

Advanced users have some other options when it comes to gear. One can go to a character in the plaza hub named Murch, who returns from the last game. Except now he’s older. Murch can put specific perks on your gear if you have enough ability chunks to do so. You get these by either grinding them in online matches or having him scrub your gear off of clothes you’re not using. You can also get gear randomly when you go into the tower to go into online matches. There’s a vending machine you can spend points you earn in online battles on the machine for random items and sometimes those items may be a bundle of a variety of ability chunks.

If you have at least 10 chunks, you can have Murch place them on one of your question marks. So it gives you the opportunity to build a very specific set of perks over time. If you have clothes you want extra question mark slots on for more perks you can also have Murch place those on them. But you need to give him Seasnails. You get these through the Splatfest events Nintendo runs throughout the year.

In these special events, the city hub will turn into a late-night block party and when you go online you’ll be placed on a specific team you choose at a table. This table will give you three options to choose from, and once you do, for the duration of the event you will play Turf War on behalf of that team. During the Splatfests, there are different variants of the Turf War. There are the open battles that are open to well, everyone hence the name. In open battles, you’ll be able to group up with friends. Similar to how you can with the Anarchy open battles where you play the various ranked modes.

Then there is the Turf War Pro mode. These battles work the same way as the open ones, except you can only play them in a solo queue. You’ll have to be paired with three random teammates and try your best to get the big win by being a team player. Probably more so than in the open version because there are more clout points at stake. More on that in a moment. As it does mimic the Anarchy series battles in that you have to play it with random players, you’ll find a lot of the people you’ll be playing with are more competitive. That’s because in the Anarchy series players are trying to grind their way up the ranks. That mindset will likely translate to the Splatfest open Turf War battles since the ranked modes are disabled during the event.

After the latest patch, they began opening up the option to play in Tri Color Turf War battles after the halfway point during Splatfests. In these matches, one team of four faces off against two teams of two. It’s still very much a Turf War. Where things change up a bit is that at the center of the map, a beacon will spawn. Two teams will have to attempt to get them when they appear. If either of those teams manages to get one or both of them, a giant octopus-shaped sprinkler will appear on the map, automatically giving them a big boost in acquiring turf. The defending team not only has to stop them from getting these super sprinklers, they also have to come away with more floor coverage than their opponents. The attacking teams have a disadvantage as they’re two-person teams against a four-person team. But anything can happen. The two underdog teams can temporarily align themselves to ensure the defending team doesn’t have said numbers advantage. But they can also go into business for themselves by trying to sneak away with both of the sprinklers.

All three of these Splatfest Turf War variants will give your team a number of clout points. Clout points are a big deal during the event because the winning team in each category will get a point toward victory. Each of those three modes ultimately adds up to three points. Beyond those points, there is one given for the most popular team (ie: the team most people joined). and one point for whichever team ended up with the most conch shells. Not to be confused with the sea snails mentioned earlier. These shells are picked up whenever you update your catalog level during the event. Which you may want to do even outside of the event as you’ll unlock some cool stuff for doing so anyway.

There are also the Festival shells you’ll get if you end up in a 10x battle and win. these give you a better chance of getting into 100x or 333x battles. If you get into any of these multiplier matches and win, you’ll gain a lot more clout points on your team’s behalf. So it really behooves you to take what would normally be seen as the most easy-going match type a little bit more seriously. That’s because, at the end of the event, you’ll be rewarded with a certain number of sea snails depending on how much you leveled up and where your team placed in the event. You can then take these snails to Murch who can boost your star power on clothes with them to get you more slots.

As you can see, this gives competitive people more depth to work with as they shoot toward higher levels. “What kind of gear should I pair with what weapon?” they may ask themselves. As far as the weapons go, there is a wide variety to choose from as denoted earlier. Every weapon class returns along with the new ones. So between the weapons and gear, you’ll have to decide what kind of role you’re going to attempt to fill in each match type.

When you do go online to play in a Turf War or the Ranked modes the lobby system has also been greatly expanded upon. No longer do you simply stand in an elevator, select your mode, and move on. Instead, when you enter the tower you’ll find a large room where you can practice on training targets. There’s also a training dummy you can turn on to practice combat with. The Targets work like the ones in Sheldon’s shop in the first two games. But by being in the lobby you can do some aiming drills while you wait to connect to other players in a match.

Connecting to friends is also, much, much easier now. Where the old games required you to plan to be on at the same time to coordinate a league battle so you could play the other modes, form a lobby for Turf War, or even set up a private game, Splatoon 3 gives you some quality of life updates. As I mentioned earlier you can easily choose “With Friends” options on Turf War or Anarchy Open battles. If you see any of your friends listed as online and in a game of either, you can join them on the fly. You won’t always be on the same team, but you can surprise them. The game does still let you set up lobbies. But they don’t have to be League Battles. Now you can ping your friends to join your lobby be it a public or private game. In a public game, you’ll usually wind up alongside one another too.

The online experience also lets you record your matches for a period of time so you can watch replays of them and see the perspectives of every player involved. This is a fantastic tool for people who want to go back and find their mistakes so they can rectify them in future matches. Next time, they may expect a splat bomb around a certain corner. Or realize that a wall they thought obfuscated them from a sniper’s perch actually didn’t. Plus they can give you codes you can give out to friends that they can punch in and watch the same replays. The feature also works with the Nintendo Online phone app. As in Splatoon 2, you can also use the app to find brief windows to get clothing items the in-game shops might not have at that particular moment. You can still use it for voice chat, but that seems pointless when you can just conference call friends or use an app like Discord. Still, the integration is nice in some respects.

Also returning is the LAN feature. This is actually a key one because it allows for people to not only host an offline LAN party in the vein of a late 90s fare like Rise Of The Triad, DOOM or Duke Nukem 3D but also for tournament organizers. Splatoon had a more niche scene due to the low base of the Wii U, but Splatoon 2 quickly became a noteworthy title on the Switch. One that had a notable scene grow up around it with several high-profile events from Nintendo among others. Splatoon 3 has already eclipsed those numbers and has gained traction, growing that community further. So retaining this feature is big.

Another addictive feature of the lobby is the locker area. Once you level up enough a room opens up where you can fill a locker with stickers, posters, collectibles, weapons, and other decorative models you can get at the new store they opened in the hub world. Run by a character named Harmony, the store gives you a catalog level as you splurge on more stuff. It’s mainly a silly side thing you can take part in to personalize your lobby experience a bit.

Speaking of personalization, Splatoon 3 adds some stuff other popular shooters have had for a while. Now you can get your own banners that display behind your name at the beginning and end of matches. You can also get titles in prefixes and suffixes that you can combine over time. Some have direct references to in-game lore, while others are more about other aspects of the game. And you can also decorate your background banner with badges you earn by completing challenges and objectives in any of the game’s other content. On paper, it sounds small, but in practice, it’s quite endearing.

And while you may miss Crusty Sean and his food truck of wonder. You can still get drink and food tickets. The lobby does have a snack bar where you can purchase them with the money you get from online battles. They’ll also sometimes show up in the balls you get from the vending machine of random chance using the same money. Speaking of that machine, you can also use concha shells (not to be confused with sea snails) you earn during Splatfests to get random chance capsule balls from it as well.

I can already hear some people screaming about the other stuff I haven’t mentioned yet like the return of Salmon Run. It returns from Splatoon 2 and is the series’ take on the player vs. environment horde mode popularized by games like Gears Of War. You and three other players get sent on extermination missions by Grizzco CEO Mr. Grizz to continue gunning down waves of salmonid sea creatures and their boss counterparts for power eggs. To truly succeed you’ll need to survive three waves and within each bring back a certain number of power eggs to your team’s basket. You’re all given random weapons every wave, and you have to work together to survive. Especially when bosses show up as they all take different strategies to defeat, and they tend to hold the power eggs. If you can survive all or most of the waves you’ll be rewarded with experience to level up. Salmon Run has its own separate ranking system and you can also unlock certain costume options that are only available to attain in that mode. Since you can use them in competitive modes, it gives fans of PvP a reason to jump into PvE. Periodically you may get a bonus wave where a mega-boss salmonid shows up like Godzilla and takes a ton of punishment before you can put them away.

Rounding all of that stuff out is the new TableTurf Card Battle minigame which is found in a separate part of the hub world. You’ll earn cards over time that represent different weapons and sprays as they’re placed on a board in a turn-based card game. The idea is to cover most of the board with your ink the way you would cover a map in a Turf War. Some cards do more work than others, and depending on where you place them you can take over some enemy turf. You also can’t place them anywhere. They have to line up on a grid in very specific ways. It takes some getting used to, but when you do it is a fun break from the other modes.

And they also brought back the plaza posts from the other two games. There’s a mailbox you can visit that brings up a rudimentary drawing program. I highly recommend you use it in handheld mode so you can draw freehand with a stylus rather than trying to draw with a thumbstick and buttons. Once you’ve created something you can upload it to a Facebook or Twitter account and in doing so, your art may appear in someone else’s plaza or even a match.

One other enhancement they’ve made is that the recon mode has been greatly expanded. You don’t have to be in an online queue to access it anymore, the same character in the lobby selling tickets is out in the plaza for you to visit. And they’ll allow you to choose any map in any mode to explore for up to an hour. This is really nice for anyone who wants to study the map layouts or experiment with unorthodox means to get around them. Very handy for anyone who wants to get a little bit more competitive with friends or strangers.

As you can see, Splatoon 3 is much more than a facelift to the previous game. It’s a lot more apparent to longtime fans than it might seem to newcomers. But it truly is fantastic in almost every way. I have to say almost because there are a couple of Mr. Grizz-sized elephants in the room. The first are some of the bugs that were thankfully caught early. Some of these potentially ruined certain modes, as they were forced off until the bugs were fixed. One of which made Rainmaker nearly instant winnable by achieving a single checkpoint. Another affected certain brush weapons. Nintendo is usually very good about catching this sort of thing before release, but sadly some of these slipped through during the launch weeks.

The other that has improved for me a bit, but not for everyone is connectivity drops. Sometimes you will be disconnected for seemingly no reason. The game will think you lost an internet connection when you haven’t. And while this doesn’t happen every day you play for a few hours, the frequency is random and can be really annoying when it happens. Especially if you’re about to win a ranked match, and then you lose points because the game thought you disconnected on purpose in a fit of rage quitting. While it’s great it punishes actual rage quitting, it is a pain in the neck to get a false positive.

Fortunately, post-release the more egregious problems have been patched out with the latest updates. And the connection issues have been greatly improved. But it still isn’t perfect. You’ll run into the occasional disconnection. Sometimes you may have a night where you see several disconnections close to one another. In which case exiting the game and rebooting the game may temporarily keep them at bay. And while it’s a lot better than it is in other Nintendo Switch games like Super Smash Bros Ultimate, it still isn’t perfect. Over time they’ll hopefully, get the situation to a better state. As it stands it’s almost gotten on par with Splatoon 2’s occasional drops.

Ultimately, Splatoon 3 is a major upgrade over Splatoon 2. At first glance, some may make the mistake of seeing a prettier version of the last game. But as you can see, digging beneath that superficial surface reveals that it is so much more than that. While this could have been pointed out a bit better by Nintendo’s own marketing, at the end of the day it didn’t seem to hurt much as it has already eclipsed the numbers the previous entries put up. The enhancements to Salmon Run make the mode more viable. The tweaks to the ranked modes and the process of leveling make them more viable for the general audience to dabble in whereas in previous games they may have stuck with Turf War. The new catalog system, locker system, tags, banners, and emotes give the series a lot of customization and personal attachment. The soundtrack is excellent and brings back familiar songs from its in-universe character bands, to entirely new efforts most anyone will love. One of the best is Deep Cut’s “Til Depth Do Us Part.” which plays during the Splatfest events. There are always great puns in Splatoon games.

The new mechanics add a lot of new utilities for the more competitive end of the player base to experiment with and master. Particularly the ability to parry with the squid roll. The Tableturf card game can be a fun diversion from shooting each other, and it can even be a pretty substantial mode in its own right. The expanded Recon mode and returning mailbox feature may seem like small things, but really can be greater than they appear at face value. The connection issues keep it from being perfect and it’s a shame some issues weren’t addressed until after release. But this is still one of the best games you can buy for the Nintendo Switch despite its faults. Whether you’ve poured thousands of hours into Splatoon 2 or you’re a shooter fan new to the series, Splatoon 3 is an easy recommendation.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Overtime, musings, and dormant styles.

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With everyone going into panic mode around here with the virus scare I’ve been working most of the time. It’s essential to retail and we’ve been short-staffed so I’ve had a couple of weeks with overtime. I’ve managed to get in a stream in or two but not a lot of time to write. Last weekend though I somehow managed to get the weekend free so I decided to stream one of my favorite series: Unreal Tournament.

I wrote a lengthy retrospective a few years ago so I won’t be going deep into the games themselves here. Rather I’ll talk a bit about the things going on in my life at the time these came out and what they really meant to me. Also replaying these games this weekend brought up a bigger question that I’ll get to a little bit later.

The original Unreal Tournament came out in November of 1999. It’s hard to believe but the series is going to be 21 years old this November. By October of 2000, the Game Of The Year Edition was released which had the extra content that had been added later included. Around this time I had left a now-defunct footwear retailer to work at a now-defunct OEM. I needed that change. I was taken advantage of by the new boss I had at the time. Was constantly called in anytime anyone else called out. I was cursed by my own work ethic. And yet I knew if I had called out or slacked the way some of my coworkers had, I’d have been dropped like a bad habit. And working with and selling computers was far more interesting to me than a self-serve shoe store. And of course, at the OEM we often had demos of games.  It was the second of two games I bought where I knew I was going to have to replace my computer at the time. (The first game was SiN.) My CD ROM drive was too slow to load the audio during SiN, and my Pentium 200 was barely handling it. Plus my Packard Bell had integrated video and no expansion slot for a graphics card. I had played UT in software mode on it, and it did run. But the grainy Game Boy Advance level visuals made seeing people with shock rifles in the distance impossible. When my brother and I played the game over a crossover cable, I had zero chance against his new 900mhz Athlon and TNT 2 combination.

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Fast forward and I had gotten a deal through work. My 1.2Ghz Athlon with 256MB RAM and a GeForce 2 were prepped to play it. That game consumed us after work. Sometimes we would stay after closing the showroom and repair center to play that on LAN through the server we had. I’ll never forget the one night a coworker got up from his station to look at my monitor to tell everyone where I was sniping them from. I had been on a sizeable killing spree as I picked them off. “Double Kill!” “Triple Kill!” “Mega Kill!” “M-M-M-MONSTER KILL!”. That came to a quick end when the staff collectively jumped me with miniguns, rippers, and rockets.

It (along with  Quake III Arena) was great because it took the secondary mode we’d played in DOOM over the modem, and made it into its own game. It also went in a different direction than Quake III Arena. It implemented a dodge system and a feigning death feature. Whereas Quake focused on speeding up momentum with advanced strategies like strafe jumping and rocket jumping. Both were excellent. Taking the same basic concepts and doing entirely different executions on them. Thus the Arena shooter was cemented as a subgenre.

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A few years later Epic would partner with Infogrames (Who had just bought Atari and rebranded itself as such) as a publisher and announce UT would be a yearly release. This was because they looked at the game’s story of futuristic blood sport and figured it could mirror what Sports games had done as a genre. So when UT2003 came out it started with an almost pro wrestling level introduction. It had its share of bugs and balancing issues. Plus not everyone was sold on the higher system requirements. Still, I remember the game demo being useful as it was on three of our stations at the time and I could show people that the cheap system wouldn’t run it (Or other games) well, due to the cost-cutting measures. (Low-end processor. integrated video. No card slot expansion due to the use of a flex case) but the midrange and high end would run it rather fantastically. Plus I enjoyed the demo so much when we got it available I picked it up. As I’ve said elsewhere before, it was here that I started to get into the higher-level stuff. I had decided I wanted to “Git Gud” as the kids say these days and that meant playing and researching a lot. And I still went back to the older game too as coworkers played it a lot, and even my friends and relatives enjoyed it.

I started out (and maybe this will help some of you out in a more modern game you enjoy) small. First, I decided that I would get 5 frags per round. I knew I had no hope of coming out on top consistently. There were just too many great players out there. But I was going to get that five kills. Middle. Bottom. I didn’t care. All that mattered was that I would get five kills. It was a small, achievable, reasonable goal. It took a good couple of weeks of playing to do that consistently. But once I got there, I moved the goal post. TEN frags per round.

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The other thing I noticed early on even in the first game was that people often ignored the Bio Rifle unless it was the only gun other than the starting weapon they had any ammo for. (In the first game you started with a pistol. In 2003 they started you off with an assault rifle.)  Much like in the Fighting game community, competitive shooters often have tier lists. (Now Maximillian Dood did a wonderful rant about how they’re often misused in fighters today.) But the same logic can apply to shooters. And while they’re not taken as gospel the way they can be in a fighting game community, they do sometimes have people treating some of the less popular weapons as ignorable and the more popular ones as coveted. Like the Energy sword in the original Halo for example. I remember people being called cheap for using it because people on the receiving end often couldn’t find a counter. In Unreal Tournament people often said that about the Flak Cannon and the Shock Rifle. Namely, because the Flak Cannon’s primary shot could ricochet shrapnel around corners and the Shock Rifle could shoot its secondary ammo with its primary shot after the secondary ammo had been fired. Causing a massive blast that could often kill more than 3 people at once if they were in close proximity.

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By contrast, nobody wanted to touch the Bio Rifle. So I decided since I wasn’t very good anyway, why not use the weapon nobody liked? So over time, I learned that the secondary fire could be held to charge up the slime almost like a spring on a pinball cabinet. And that a full charge would often one-shot someone unless they had full armor, and extra health. Even if they survived, they would be a mere two bullets or a laser or an explosion away from death. So I began practicing that weapon a lot.

Unreal Tournament 2003 also had a couple of extra game types the first one didn’t have which made the game stand out even more. The big one was Bombing Run which was like Football crossed with Team Deathmatch. It wasn’t my favorite mode, but it was interesting nevertheless. UT2k3 was also a crash course in video card upgrades for me along with Serious Sam The Second Encounter. Around this time Nvidia had released their GeForce 4 line of cards, and they didn’t have the most forthcoming naming convention. They had an MX line and a TI (Titanium) line of cards. And unfortunately, they didn’t do the best job of explaining what each was. I bought a GeForce 4400 MX from EB Games when I bought Serious Sam The Second Encounter. Only to find that it wasn’t a big leap in performance over my GeForce 2. It wasn’t until after this I did more research to find out it was basically a GeForce 2 with some more features thrown in. Nice for a buyer moving up from the onboard video. Not so much for someone who already had a card. Fortunately, a coworker needed a card for a slightly older rig so he was willing to buy it from me for a little less than I’d paid. I then ordered a GeForce 4 TI 4600 which was vastly superior. I had also upgraded the RAM to 512MB at one point.

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Still, a year and a half later Unreal Tournament 2004 was to be out. By this time in 2003 things at my job at the OEM weren’t so great. The dot com bust had hurt a bunch of stuff in tech. There was a price war, Things were on the downslope. It was also a time when I was tweaking any possible thing I could to get the best performance in games on my hardware. When I couldn’t crack 60FPS on my computer I had to take drastic action to ensure UT2k3 had as much memory freed up as possible. So I went into Windows ME and turned off all the visual flair making it look like a Windows 98 desktop. Still not content, I turned off animated windows, I tweaked all of the power settings. I even went into the services and disabled so many features I didn’t think I would ever need. Sure things looked pretty plain, but it held me over until I had my next upgrade. I was running the game at 70 FPS on medium to high settings. Pretty cool. Our showroom was scuttled later that year and I ended up taking a transfer to another showroom an hour or so away.  And things were pretty tense. We were given impossible metrics to hit and they eventually expected us to get business in the door by telemarketing out to small businesses in the town. Which obviously failed spectacularly. And our boss at the time just barked at us all the time about all of it even when we had great weeks.

I got along with everyone else though. But UT2003 got me through a number of particularly stressful patches at the time. I could stop worrying about the other shoe potentially falling when I would get home. It wasn’t all bad.  And I would also make a few friends which would eventually lead to me being on an actual team! I also became better friends with a couple of the folks I worked with. One of whom was into a lot of the same bands as I was. So we talked about music and went to some of the same New York and New England shows together. The best being getting to see The Mr. T Experience play The Space in February 2004. Unreal Tournament 2004 would drop in March of 2004. Things were getting really untenable at my job at this point, and many of us were considering walking out. A few weeks later we were told we were all losing our jobs by the end of April anyway. So we grit our teeth and bore it in order to get our severance, which was honestly a very good set of release benefits. I still had a little left by the time I landed another job months later.

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It was around this time I would discover the Super Witch server, where a number of regulars would play. And some of the better players had noticed my proficiency with the Bio Rifle. I was able to hold my own, often getting near the top of the board until tournament level players would pop in and clown me. But before long I was surprised to find a lot of these guys were impressed enough they wanted to help me learn some of the more advanced movement I hadn’t quite pulled off on my own. How to combine wall dodges with double jumps to get to harder to reach areas. Using an elevator jumps more effectively. Better planning map routes to beat people to power-ups. Eventually, I would be invited to join Maximum Carnage. And after a few months of being unemployed, I ended up getting a tech sales job at a big-box retailer. Probably not the one you’re thinking of. But I don’t look to stir the pot so I never mention names. Anyway, by this time I had resolved to build my first homebrew machine. I went with an Athlon 64 3500+ 1GB RAM and a GeForce 6600GT if my memory serves me right. So playing UT2k4 at maximum settings was very impressive at the time. A few years later I went with an X2 4600+ Processor upgrade

My job wasn’t that impressive, but at least on some level, I was still able to do some of what I liked about the previous job. Yes, I dealt with a lot of undue pressure because everything was in sheer panic mode, especially at the end. But getting to talk about tech, tying hardware to someone’s needs, and making people (hopefully) happy with a purchase was something I honestly liked most of the time. I also learned we actually did some repairs in the big box store but the company never advertised this at the time for whatever reason. We had one devoted technician for it, and he would come in a couple of days a week but went to several stores to do this work. I got to speak with him about it from time to time but in the interim, I mostly had the mundane task of sorting deliveries between my department and the others, then putting it all out in between helping people.

The people there at the time weren’t flogging me or anything (yet) but they seemed mostly cold. Nobody was all that personable. You were only spoken to when you needed to be. “Do this task.” “Mention this promo.” “Answer the phone with this call script.” It was a very clinical environment. There was one personable person in another department who ended up being there around as long as I was. So my early days consisted of work, then go home. Sometimes I would go hang out at the nearby record store I frequented regularly after work but more so as we weren’t that far away from it.

I had also joined a local writing group around then, so on nights that I could make the meetups at the local bookstore, I would go share my poetry, and talk about my writing process. It was definitely an older crowd. Not a lot of people my own age were there but I did enjoy that because a lot of what I wrote about was personal. Some of them fictionalized. Some of it was allegorical. But still very much about the inward feelings of depression, anxiety, hopelessness, and loneliness I dealt with (and still sometimes deal with though I’m much better today). I also had a very scant few people I felt I could confide in at the time. So this was a creative and therapeutic outlet for me. The other had become my love of Unreal Tournament.

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When the bookstore closed there were a couple of places the writing group would meet up instead, but eventually that folded. In my time there I got the sense that people thought I had a modicum of talent, but probably didn’t like the ratio leaning so much into the dark themes versus the light themes. There were two people there Leon and Josh who I felt did fantastic commentary in their work. I felt happy when Josh actually managed to get something published, and I got to meet a couple of authors in my time there. Lauren Baratz-Logsted was pretty cool. Not exactly game related, but she has a few great novels you ought to look into if you’re looking for something different.

Anyway, I lost touch with everyone there but the Maximum Carnage clan had been a great group of people too. I was mingling with a great group of players, I was getting much better at all of the UT games up to that point, and we were consistently playing in scrims with tournament level clans. Unfortunately, we never got to the tournament level ourselves but we came pretty damn close.  By 2007 though Epic would prepare the third installment in the series which would come out in November.

This is where the series started to peter out, though it wasn’t instantaneous. There were good things and bad things going on. Unreal Tournament III was a great game. Make no mistake. It was a considerable visual upgrade. It retained a fast pace the series had been known for, and it even kept some of the most popular stuff from the previous game. The thing is the underlying gameplay did make some changes. The fanbase liked UT and UT2k4. With 2k4 they basically had fixed the problems 2k3 had while retaining all of the good stuff. Plus it gave everyone the highly acclaimed Onslaught mode. But UT fans also had their preferences. Some in the community preferred the original 1999 game. They liked the heavier gravity and the armor system. The fans who preferred the 2003/2004 model enjoyed some advanced movement techniques like the dodge jump or the double jump wall dodge. The lighter gravity also meant that maps were built around trick jumping. And there was a wide variety of outlandish characters. The 2003/2004 versions also employed an interesting adrenaline mechanic, where rather than picking up power-up icons like in UT99, collecting 100 pills would let you perform a special movement sequence to get the same effect. For instance, strafing left, left, right, right, would initiate the invisibility power-up.

Unreal Tournament III tried to bridge that gap. It went with a similar weight to the original game and used its shield belts, and jump boots too. But it also lets you do the advanced dodges featured in 2003/2004. But the other thing it did that many in the community didn’t like was using the art style of another popular game Epic had made for the Xbox 360; Gears Of War. Gone were the regular but interesting future soldiers of UT99 and the variety of sci-fi horror characters of 2003/2004. Instead, the characters had the big bulky space armor of the Marcus Fenix variety.

One other thing that set the game back a bit was the high (at the time) requirements for the PC version. While Crytek’s Crysis was even higher, both games had scrutinized releases as a result. That said, I had loved the series so much it was one of the few times I’ve actually bought a collector’s edition. Previously, I had even bought a book on creating content with the Unreal 2 Engine and even made a few crude UT2k4 maps in it. My clan took those maps and made them look pretty cool, adding advanced geometry and original textures. We also had the Zounds mutator on the server which had let us type certain words in chat to hear sound bites. Every time one typed in “Goo” into the chat you would hear Will Smith in Independence Day yelling “Oh you did NOT shoot that green shit at me!” 

The UT3 collector’s edition came with some cool stuff. A hardcover art book that you normally would pay a decent amount for if you saw it in a bookstore, as well as a number of videos on the making of the game, and even some interviews with Mark Rein and Mike Capps. It has a similar steelbook to the one Nintendo used for the Metroid Prime Trilogy. Very nice. Despite all of the things going against it, it still did adequately and Epic tried to make up for it with the Titan Black update. While I personally enjoyed UT3 most of the people in Maximum Carnage still played far more UT2k4. Sadly, we disbanded by the middle of 2008 or so. Which wasn’t the best time for me because I had a relationship end. Not a serious one. But it still hurt. Three games got me through it. Unreal Tournament 2004, Unreal Tournament III,  on my computer and the copy of No More Heroes my friend had given to me on the Wii for my birthday around then.

But this was also the time Call Of Duty 4 would be so popular it would almost transplant the Arena FPS as a subgenre. There had been popular military shooters before. The earlier entries of Call Of Duty all did well enough, and Battlefield 1942 surely inspired the Onslaught mode that was in Unreal Tournament 2004. But the grounded realism proved very popular and the Arena FPS would take a backseat.

There were flashes here and there. id Software had some success with Quake Live, which (at the time) was Quake III Arena running in a browser. It was popular enough that it even retained a presence in tournaments for a long time. But on the whole, the publishers shifted gears to military shooters. Call Of Duty, of course, was more focused on individual scoring while Battlefield was a little more team-oriented. But Medal Of Honor, Brothers In Arms, Arma, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon, Day Of Defeat were but a handful of the many names that would become quite popular. Even Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six had left a lot of its tactical shooting mechanics in the dust by then giving us stuff like Lockdown, Vegas, and Vegas 2 instead.

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Replaying the Unreal Tournament series not only took me back to those days in my life, but it was also a reminder of what makes the Arena shooter such a great subgenre. Like other multiplayer games, there’s obviously the thrill of competition. But when it comes to the way they play, there is little else like them. First of all, speed. Arena FPS games focus a lot on an arcade experience. So one of the things you need to do is constantly tweak your hand and eye coordination. It isn’t enough to shoot at people. You have to be able to shoot them quickly and efficiently. You also have to make good use of footwork. If you’re a great shot, but horrible at moving, you’re probably getting taken out by different opponent than the one you’re trying to take down. And even if you’re fantastic that might happen anyway.

Arena shooters easy to pick up and play. Anyone can hop in, get a couple of kills and have a good time. But they have a fairly deep meta game in spite of the simplicity. That’s what has made them (along with fighting games) pioneers in the e-sports realm. People like Johnathan “Fatal1ty” Wendel made names for themselves in Quake and Unreal Tournament. They paved the way for the names and genres you see represented today. Even if you don’t have tournaments and endorsements as your video game end goal, learning those advanced techniques can be addicting and very rewarding at the same time. The first time you’re able to find a secret room in a map because you mastered an elevator jump or the first time you survive a shock combo because you timed a dodge jump just right feels very good. When you find you can get around a map with trick jumps faster than you can by walking. These are all examples of the sense of wonder you get when something just clicks.

Of course, since their heyday, we’ve seen Military Shooters, Hero Shooters, and Battle Royale Shooters become the popular FPS multiplayer subgenres. We already talked a bit about the Call Of Duty and Battlefields. But games like Overwatch have proven popular too. Games were rather than grab everything on a map, or begin with a loadout you start with a character. Said character is designed to play a certain role on a team and you try to plan your team composition not only around your own talents but what character is the best at a given task on a certain map.

All of these games take elements from those old school games of course. Military Shooters try to have balanced maps and reward cooperation. Hero Shooters retain some of the fantastical elements. Sometimes in the weapons or utilities of a certain character. Or the otherworldly aesthetic of a certain location. Although it’s a Third-Person Shooter, I find there are many parallels between Nintendo’s Splatoon games and the Unreal Tournament games. Both series, while very different in their goals require a mastery of movement. Where UT has advanced techniques like dodges or wall dodges to quickly cover ground or use them as an unorthodox means of travel, Splatoon requires you to learn how to do swim jumps. Or learn how to swim up walls, or jump between walls to get to a place that was once thought impossible to see. Splatoon’s Bubble Blower Special is eerily close to Unreal Tournament’s Shock Combo.

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These days, the Battle Royale subgenre is all of the rages. Games like Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds, Fortnite, and Apex Legends are always talked about, have huge fanbases and even push their share of collectible merchandise like action figures and resin statues. They’re frequently headlining video game tournaments, and are played by a lot of the world’s top players for thousands of dollars in prize money. And while it would be easy to write them off as a lottery where you run from a dome, that wouldn’t be fair. At their core, they’re the Last Man Standing mode featured in many old school deathmatch games. But expanded to 100 players. Also, like the Arena Shooters of old, you have to go explore to find yourself a weapon of note. And to the subgenre’s credit, the dome mechanic keeps everything from devolving into a snore where every player who finds a long-range sniper rifle will just camp for three hours in the hopes that everyone else will get bored and walk out into the line of fire. It basically forces every player to do so.

Still, I personally wish the Arena FPS subgenre would come back to the forefront of popularity. It’s a fantastic one for the reasons I’ve outlined earlier. Many people agree and likely have similar fond memories of firing up Quake or Unreal, staying up until 4am playing against friends over the internet with a few beers. Or hardcore types going to BYOB LAN parties or local tournaments for the fellowship, community, and competition.

Since then there have been occasional attempts by smaller developers to bring the subgenre back. Nexius was born out of that desire back in 2012 but didn’t get very far out of the gate despite being pretty respectable. Fast forward to 2014 and Reflex Arena hit Steam in an attempt to give people unsatisfied with the lack of a proper Quake entry something to like. To its credit, it did a fantastic job of bringing back the Quake III Arena feel. But it didn’t hold onto a big group of players for very long. The arguably most successful attempt was Toxikk which brought back the Unreal Tournament 2004 gameplay nearly 1:1 on Unreal Engine 3. It came out four years ago now and held a sizable number of players for almost two years. But eventually, it too petered out.

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Epic Games DID have an Unreal Tournament IV in the works. It was going to be a collaborative experiment where they would again align with Digital Extremes, as well as content creators. The original plan was to build the game and ship it for free. Then when the end-users got their hands on the game and tools, they could make their own maps, mods, and total conversions as they had with UT, UT2k3/2k4, and UT3. The difference now being they would sell those on Epic’s digital store and take a cut to cover the cost of production. As well as a profit I’m sure. It actually got pretty far along and you can still download it from their store. The thing is it was canceled when Epic Games realized just how much oil they had struck with Fortnite. The people they had working on Unreal Tournament were moved to Fortnite and the game was put on indefinite hiatus. It’s highly unlikely it will ever see completion at this point.

The other thing, of course, is that games of this ilk can cost millions of dollars to make. Especially if it’s going to have the bleeding edge Hollywood visuals and sound of a AAA blockbuster release. Sadly, that means the Epic Games’, Bethesda’s, EA’s, Activision’s, Ubisoft’s, or Warners of the world probably aren’t going to put the money up to make a go of it. If only the old-timers like me buy it, that probably isn’t enough of a profit to impress their shareholders.

It isn’t only Arena Shooters in this boat mind you. There are other video game genres and subgenres that lie dormant today. Most esoteric these days are probably hex-based strategy games and text adventures. Which still exist and have their rabid fanbases. But they’re not exactly games you’re going to hear about around the watercooler. Be that as it may, it isn’t entirely hopeless either. Things come and go in popularity sometimes. And in the world of gaming, this has happened many times. Back in the age of the Nintendo 64, Sega Saturn, and Sony PlayStation, there were many who thought the 2D platformer would forever have a fork in its back. Super Mario 64, Banjo Kazooie, Crash Bandicoot, were all games that people were about at the time. Nearly everyone was trying to make games where the mascot was made of polygons rather than sprites.

But 2D platformers would eventually come back into vogue and they sit alongside the 2.5D, and 3D platformers today as if nothing had ever happened to them. There was also a time when Square Enix thought their old school JRPGs were done. But just a few years ago Octopath Traveler’s success showed Square Enix that there is still plenty of gas in the tank. It did so well on the Switch that last year they ported the game to PC. Before the release of Street Fighter IV, it was widely thought Capcom may never make another one. The people behind it had to plead their case multiple times before the company would let them make it. Thankfully, they were able to. Not only did it lead the way for other Capcom fighting games, but other companies also brought back their fighting games as well. There was a reemergence of the genre as a whole.

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So there’s always the chance a newcomer will make the Arena Shooter that clicks again, or there’s evidence that enough people do want a proper Unreal Tournament or Quake that Epic Games or Bethesda bring one to market again. The good news is that the old UT and Quake games are still around. The indie releases of recent years are still around. All of which support LAN play. So if nothing else, if you can get a few friends to pick up one of them you can still enjoy them. Maybe you won’t see the same level of competition you would have seen 21 years ago. But they don’t have to die with the generation of people who played them in their prime. I hope some of you will be willing to check the genre out. And some of them like Quake Champions and Toxikk can be played for nothing.

Arena Shooters and Unreal Tournament, in particular, helped me cope, helped me connect with people, made me a better player and even gave me the drive to learn something new. I may not have become a professional player. I may not have gotten a better job or fame or fortune. But I did see some positive things come from what was otherwise a silly game meant for fun. So I’ll always fondly remember them, and I’ll likely keep an eye out for the next attempt at spotlighting the subgenre.

Unreal Tournament Retrospective Part 3

UT2k4 was, and is everything a director’s cut should be. Featuring all of the content UT2k3 brought to the table, as well as a bunch of new maps, models, the return of Assault, and Onslaught mode.

Pros: Everything from UT2k3, and more!

Cons: Steep learning curve

WTF?: Bukkake announcement after scoring so many kills with a Bio Rifle.

Balancing the weapons, touching up some rough spots, and bringing back more of what people love. UT2k4 comes out swinging. Nearly everything from UT2k3 is present here. All of the maps, weapons, player models are back.

Death match, and Team Death match are once again back. Kill everyone. Except in the instance of TDM. Then kill everyone except those on your team. The first player or team to hit the kill count or have the highest when the timer expires wins. Last Man Standing is the long running variant of Death match. Everyone has one life. The last person alive wins.

Also returning is the Assault mode from the original Unreal Tournament, which even includes a stage in which you have to invade a space station in a small fighter ship. Once you’ve docked, it’s time to go on foot through the enemy team’s star ship to destroy the warp core.

Speaking of ships, UT2k4’s biggest addition to the series has to be Onslaught mode. At the time of release, DICE, and Electronic Arts had come out with Battlefield 1942. A game that was so good in fact, that it siphoned away some shooter fans from playing Epic’s series of Sci-Fi arena shooters. It focused heavily on tactics, capturing areas marked by flags to control territories. Teams would fight each other over these territory flags.

Similar to BF1942’s flag system. Onslaught mode puts teams of players against each other on really huge worlds. On these worlds there are several nodes peppered throughout the environment. When one team captures enough of these nodes, it brings down the defense system in the opposing team’s base, rendering it vulnerable. The object of course, is to bring down the enemy’s shields, then send a team of attackers to destroy the reactor core inside the base for victory.

This isn’t easy. The control points themselves have shields on them once a team captures one in a line. This pushes forces back to points closer to their own base of operations. All of this making capturing, and recapturing nodes result in epic skirmishes for control. Onslaught also takes a page from BF1942’s inclusion of vehicles.

The first up is the Scorpion. A small dune buggy, it features a laser bolo cannon, and the doors double as blades. It’s a satisfying vehicle to use because it can give fast passage to an enemy control node, or even the enemy base. At the same time in a full map, the blades can make quick work of infantry allowing for quick killing sprees. The trade-off is that it is also a weak vehicle so it’s imperative drivers have enough dexterity to avoid rockets, shock combos, spider mines, and all kinds of other firepower. A sniper can also headshot a driver while that driver is driving. (Say that five times fast) This can lead to a lot of fun action movie moments where the driver dies. Then the ensuing crash leaves the passenger to have to think on their feet.

The Raptor is part plane, part helicopter. It can hover over the entire play field shooting lasers or launching heat seeking missiles at targets. Crafty pilots can fly low, and sneak into control points or bases. It’s also a great way to cover ground troops as they try to advance. Like the Scorpion however, Raptors have low health so beware those snipers, and ground to air missiles.

The Hellbender is UT’s sci-fi Hummer. It has a shock cannon, which acts like an buffed up Shock Rifle, and a ton of health. To balance things out it is a slower vehicle. But it works as a great support vehicle, clearing out platoons with shock combos, and taking out Scorpions with ease.

The Goliath, is the Tank of the game, and behaves the way you’d likely expect. It drives slow, fires high damage mortars, and can take a ton of punishment. Perfect for turning the tide of a losing battle, or plowing through a crowd of enemies.

The Leviathan is similar to the Goliath, except that it has scoped lasers in lieu of explosives. It can also house 5 people. The laser cannon can be charged, and fire a blast with the fury of The Death Star.

The Manta is a hovercraft with giant fans on the sides. This allows you to grind up infantry while you run in guns blazing.

Advanced movement is still here but it has been tweaked. Dodge jumps don’t go quite as far, but are still very useful. Weapon changes come into play too. Many of the weapons have slight adjustments to firing rate, and the amount of damage they dole out. Only the most die-hard followers of the series will notice them. There are two changes everyone will notice though. The lightning gun arc has been altered, and the sniper rifle returns from UT. This time though, a small smoke sprite shows up after firing it. So the more astute players can get a rough idea of where you shot at them from if you miss with it.

The great thing about this is how well the movement system works with both the traditional arena shooter modes, as well as the new Onslaught mode. Players who learn the movement in all of its intricate detail will find themselves outmaneuvering vehicles as well as players. Everything one does in any of the other modes translates to Onslaught very well. This gives everyone incentive to at least try each of the game modes to see which they like best. This doesn’t even take into account the countless mods made by the community.

A decade later, and visually the game is still pretty good. A lot of awesome textures cover the landscape, and player models. Lighting, skyboxes, and a lot of little details can still bring a lot of “Oh wow!” moments when you revisit the game. The lower geometry standards of the older Unreal Engine version show their age these days. But it is still a nice game to look at. Especially all of those small details on weapon skins, or fringes on player models. Things that you might not have noticed upon release if your computer at the time couldn’t run the game at maximum settings.

As with Unreal Tournament, and Unreal Tournament 2003 players can adjust any setting imaginable. Resolution, V-sync, special effects, are the tip of the iceberg. Players can change the size or scope of the HUD, cross hair shapes, and color for each individual weapon. All of this before one even thinks about community made add-ons.

The game yet, again comes with the Unreal Editor tools. So budding developers, hobbyists, and Unreal Tournament enthusiasts can make their own content. It isn’t the easiest utility to use, but with a good guide book even a beginner can make their own levels. The tools also allow players to import models, sounds, art, and other home made content into it.  Many people were able to break into the industry by making mods that became popular, and it is still a great way to get a handle on the fundamentals.

Unreal Tournament 2004 came out in several releases.

The original release came out in a 6 CD long installation. It was also released on a DVD through preorder. The DVD edition also came with or without a headset depending on when you bought it. The DVD edition also had a tutorial disc for using the Unreal editing tools. Both the DVD, and CD came with a rebate offer for those who had UT2k3. Mailing in the manual cover to UT2k3 with a receipt for UT2k4 would net you a $10 check from Atari. An Editor’s Choice version followed which included some bonus content on the disc. The content was also downloadable at no charge for previous buyers. Around the time of Unreal Tournament 3‘s release Midway (Now part of WB) the new publisher put out Unreal Anthology. This was a compilation disc that gave buyers Unreal, Unreal II, Unreal Tournament, and Unreal Tournament 2004 on one disc with most of the community bonus content intact.

If you find any one of them it’s well worth your money. With all of the modes, an easy to pick up, challenging to master movement system, and countless free add-ons you’ll have thousands of hours of gameplay. It’s also available fairly inexpensively (As is the rest of the series) on digital storefronts like Steam,  and Good Old Games!

Some may prefer the original UT over UT2k4. But when one considers all of the strengths it brings to the table, UT2k4 is a worthy addition to the Unreal Tournament line of games, as well as a must play for anyone looking for a hyper competitive shooter. The advanced movement, expanded gameplay modes, add depth to an already great game.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

 

Unreal Tournament Retrospective Part 2

Unreal Tournament 2003

Some sequels are a wondrous continuation of a glorious first effort. Others turn out to be the biggest train wreck this side of Speed 2.

Unreal Tournament 2003 is thankfully closer to the former.

PROS: Almost everything you loved about UT bulked up.

CONS: Even steeper learning curve. No more Assault mode.

WTF?: Mmmmmiiiiiiiissssstttteeerrrr Crrroooooooooooooooowwwww!

UT2k3 added a lot of revisions to the standards set by UT. The first change was an entirely new run of character classes. Whereas UT featured mostly human characters, and a few Unreal Universe villains like The Skaarj, Nali, and Necris. UT2k3 put a more E-Sports spin on the Tournament story adding a wider cast of races. These included The Juggernauts, who resembled Warhammer 40k’s Space Marines. The Liandri Corporation’s AI Robots. The Nakhti, a group of humans in Ancient Egyptian garb. The Nightmare, a group of mutants, transhumans, and experiments gone awry, and The Gen Mo Kai, a group of reptoids.

Each of these races also had their own attributes. The Juggernauts for example could take a higher number of hits before dying than the other races. They also had a little bit more power behind their hits. But they were the slowest characters in the game. The Nakhti were a lot more acrobatic in their air jump animations making them harder to hit. They were also a little bit faster while sacrificing some resistance to weapons fire. The Liandri bots fell in between extremes, making them a popular choice. As were the Gen Mo Kai. The craziest faction were the Nightmare. To this day, Mr. Crow remains one of the most memorable things about UT2k3, and it’s follow-up UT2k4.

In addition to these attributes, UT2k3 also added a new mechanic called Adrenaline. Throughout a game your character would earn pills either by collecting them on the battlefield, or when killing an opponent. After collecting 100 of them players could tap four directions for super secret power moves:

Booster: This increased your health (So long as you’re not being shot) every second until you ran out of pills

Speed: This made you run faster

Berserk: This made your attacks temporarily more powerful.

Invisible: This made you cloak so that you were a lot harder to see.

The third change UT2k3 made was expanding upon the movement set by the original UT. Now not only could you dodge by double tapping directions, you could do wall dodges. By dodge tapping away from any wall, your character would kick off the wall. Players could also now double jump by pressing jump a second time. They could also combine double jumping with wall dodging for even greater mobility. Finally, there was the dodge jump. This move allowed one to jump after a dodge to do a great leap. Dodge jumping would be an imperative skill when trying to escape enemy shock combos.

Movement was vastly more complex here. Maps were also built a lot around the new system. Where UT used dodges to mix things up, the sequel made these advancements imperative. Because not only did they make players harder to get a bead on, they also allowed players to get around a lot faster.

Some of the movement, and adrenaline changes alienated some UT fans, keeping them playing the old game. There was also one omission that would cement that fact: Assault mode. Assault mode was one of the more popular modes from the original UT, and when gamers saw it had been replaced by Bombing Run ( An object carrying mode in which two teams would try to get said object into the opposing side’s goal) many players stayed with the original Unreal Tournament.

Bombing Run wasn’t a bad mode. It could be fun when played with two evenly matched teams. It was a cross between Football, and Capture The Flag. Some of the community really enjoyed bombing run, and preferred it to many of the other modes.  But ultimately it would prove the least popular mode in the game for die-hard fans of the original.

Other modes were the staple Deathmatch, and Team Deathmatch types. Also returning were Capture The Flag, along with Last Man Standing. UT2k3 also had Invasion, a mode that was essentially a horde defense game. In it players worked together against A.I. enemies. Finally there was Mutant, where one player had to fight everyone until he or she died, and his or her killer became the new Mutant.

Grievances aside, UT2k3 carved out a nice niche for itself, as people looking for a game with a lot of depth, and challenge would stick around. Graphically the game was a huge leap over UT, as there were huge environments, higher resolution textures, improved lighting, improved skyboxes, and all kinds of little touches. The changes to movement made the game more aerial, as people learned advanced movement would find, dodges, and jumps allowed for faster navigation along stages. UT2k3 also added rag doll physics, a newer convention at the time. Gone were the canned animation of headless combatants flailing around. Instead, rocket splash damage sent characters flying.

The weapons were also tweaked, and retooled. In addition to this, UT2k3 added a Lightning Gun that replaced the Sniper Rifle from UT. It too had a scope, for headshots. But it would fire a large arc of lightning that could be traced back to the point of origin. Unfortunately the saw blade shooting favorite doesn’t return here.

Customization was still a big part of Unreal Tournament in UT2k3. Players could change the typical resolution, texture, and geometry settings. They could change crosshairs for each weapon, their HUDs, and access console commands. As in Unreal Tournament, the game once again gave players access to all sorts of tools they could use to create their own maps, or mods. There were countless maps, mods, and even total conversions done as the game had gone from Unreal Engine to Unreal Engine 2.

Not only did the engine upgrade make for a very pretty Unreal Tournament game, it also gave its community of fans the ability to create a lot of great content. More than the original game.  Much of this content became so popular on servers, that it caught the eye of game developers everywhere.

Atari, and Epic had hoped this would mark the beginning of an annualized series. They had looked at Electronic Arts’ Madden series, as well as THQ’s wrestling games at the time, and thought they could do for  shooters what those games did with sports, and sports entertainment. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the game’s story. UT games tend to put in a single player training ladder to get players used to the various modes. During these tutorials, UT2k3 featured a lot of in-game engine cut scenes. All heavily inspired by pro wrestling. From the Titantron videos, to the custom entrances, to heckling fans you’ll see it all here.

For a host of reasons this idea of annual Unreal Tournament never came to pass.

With it’s improved graphics, physics, and new gameplay conventions UT2003 was an awesome addition to the Unreal Tournament series. however it wasn’t without its flaws. It had dropped a very popular mode fans of the original loved, and it’s requirements at the time were high enough to keep some players from adopting early.  Overall, though the wide variety of characters, the advanced movement, and additions to the gameplay made for an ambitious sequel. However, as good as the game was upon release it’s hard to recommend because of a certain little follow-up. You see Unreal Tournament 2004 would include everything in Unreal Tournament 2003, and more.

Final Rating: Try it out! 6.5/10 (If you can find it.)