Unreal Tournament 3 review

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There’s been a recent trend for developers to radically overhaul sequels; the move away from World War II FPS combat to pseudo-squad-based modern warfare in Call of Duty 4 is a case in point. So Epic Games – the developer behind Unreal Tournament – has gone against the grain, creating a distinctly old-school first-person shooter; it may have a “3” in the title, but this is actually the fourth release and has much in common with its predecessor, Unreal Tournament 2004.

Unreal Tournament 3 review

As before, the game is split into two sections: a single-player campaign mode and an on/offline multiplayer fragfest. The campaign mode is basically a very long tutorial to get you up to speed with all the weapons prior to wading into online play. The flimsy plot is merely a way of introducing you to the arsenal. Instead of the semi-believable story from previous editions, which saw you competing in televised deathmatches, it’s now set around a mythical war, with the human Axon team fighting the undead Necris for control of the planet. The odd part is that, being deathmatch, you repeatedly come back to life, requiring not suspension of disbelief so much as denial of all common sense.

Daft plot aside, perseverance and practice are pretty fundamental to Unreal Tournament if you’re to avoid becoming cannon fodder the second you go online. Controlling the game is child’s play with the standard mouse and WASD key combo, but switching weapons is a different story. The arsenal at your disposal will be instantly familiar to veterans of the series – the sniper rifle, Enforcer and Redeemer to name but three – and also includes the welcome return of the impact hammers. But in keeping with newer multiplayer shooters – Team Fortress 2, for instance – an intelligent style of play is a must. Firing rocket launchers in an enclosed corridor usually spells doom. That means rapidly switching from, say, the shock rifle to the flak cannon and back. Easy if you can spare a hand to press 4 and 9, but a real chore if you have to scroll through weapons using the mouse wheel, which is sometimes unavoidable in frenzied exchanges. The range of vehicles is supplemented by a hoverboard, a hi-tech flying carpet for rapidly crossing the battlefield. However, you’re defenceless while travelling and any damage will cause you to crash, stunning you for a few seconds. Not a nice experience in a heavy firefight.

Gameplay has been condensed into three modes: deathmatch, capture the flag and warfare. While the first two are self-explanatory, warfare requires your team to capture a series of key points across the map before making a move on the opposition’s main base. In addition to the main locations are nodes that unlock bonus vehicles that, in some cases, can utterly change the flow of play, enabling losing teams to stage remarkable comebacks. In essence, it’s the old assault game mode in a new guise, but it’s well constructed and very addictive.

UT3’s game engine has already shown it can more than pass muster, driving both BioShock and Gears of War (no slouches themselves in the visual stakes), and when it comes to UT3 it really shines. From the well-crafted maps to the beautiful environment, there are times during battle when all you really want to do is sit down, crack open a bottle and admire the view.

There’s nothing groundbreaking here, but what it does – combining all the best elements of previous UT releases – it does well. And with its almost infinite scope for online play, along with an expected avalanche of user-generated mods, UT3 will keep you glued to the PC for months; not a bad way to wile away the wet and windy winter.

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