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Unreal Tournament III review for PC
 
Unreal Tournament III Computer game cover
Gamermall.com rating:
8.9
Epic's Unreal Tournament 3, actually the fourth version of the series on PC, represents a blend of progressive and old-school elements. It's a nod to fans of the original UT, released in 1999, with the return of weapons like the impact hammer and enforcer, which replace bits of the arsenal from UT 2004 like the shield gun, lightning gun, and assault rifle. Moving beyond the ballistic loadout, we see Epic pushing forward their most distinct draw, the warfare mode, an augmented version of UT 2004's onslaught. While so much of this game will feel familiar to series veterans, particularly in the deathmatch and team deathmatch modes, it's with the vehicular, large-scale combat that UT 3 makes its largest strides forward, though it still doesn't move that far ahead. Mostly, it's about delivering to fans what made the series so good to begin with: insane, ultraviolent combat, gorgeous graphics, and the most nerve-searing, vein-throttling action around.

You get six modes, not including campaign, with UT 3: deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag (CTF), vehicle capture the flag (VCTF), warfare, and duel. You'll notice that's not the same list as UT 2004's modes, since it's noticeably missing assault, something I'm not too bent out of shape about. When outside of any vehicle-related modes, gameplay proceeds much as you'd expect it to. Deathmatch maps are, with a few more spacious exceptions, confined, twisted industrial complexes full of flak fire, perilous drops, and the occasional Redeemer pickup. Everyone's wall-jumping, side-dashing, double-jumping, and firing simultaneously, making for a ludicrously action-packed experienced that's always entertaining, at least up until the point where you start getting burned out. I know that happens to me, which is why I appreciate all the other modes.

In CTF you get a translocator device to quickly warp around a map, and when vehicle are added to the mix in VCTF or warfare you get a hoverboard. Hopping onto the floating slab happens quickly with a tap of the Q key, letting you not only move more quickly, but also tag onto the back of friendly vehicles for a boost, an ability you can and often must use to your advantage in VCTF matches since you can't pilot a vehicle with a flag. The risk comes with getting shot while riding, which smashes you to the ground, stunning you for a few precious seconds, and dropping whatever you're carrying, be it a flag in VCTF or orb in warfare.

While I had a great time with deathmatch, I couldn't help but feel it dragged a little, one of the downsides of releasing a slightly altered but largely identical shooter over and over again. Though there have been minor changes over the years, with weapon speeds, damage outputs, and player movement seeming slightly adjusted for this one, and brilliant new coats of paint, it's nearly a decade now and we're still playing roughly the same game. That being said, it's still an amazingly fluid experience. If you've never played UT before in any capacity, you really have to. Using WASD double-taps to dodge around, the way the character movement feels, the sense of weight behind the weapons and the way they're balanced against each other, it's all exceptionally well done and has a distinctive style.

The vehicles, though, are the most dynamic element, evident in warfare mode. It's based on the same node capture principles as onslaught, yet warfare features some significant changes, the most prominent being a small, glowing ball. It's called an orb, and can be carried to nodes to either provide protection for your own or instantly capture the enemy's. This makes a significant difference in how a game flows, since not only do you have to keep track of where the enemy is focusing their attack, but also where the node carrier might be. A simple strategy would be to have the bulk of your forces head over to one node while simultaneously sending the orb to another, meaning you could, theoretically, capture both at the same time (assuming, of course, one was linked and the other unlinked.) What's more, once an orb carrier is killed, the orb hits the ground and a counter begins. When zero is reached the orb resets, but in the meantime anyone can swoop in and bring it ever closer to instantly capturing a node. Enemies in the vicinity can prevent such a catastrophe by sacrificing their lives to destroy the orb, forcing the other team to make the entire journey again, and possibly giving you enough time to get your own orb carrier to the right spot to advance your team's position on the field. It's another layer of depth that makes warfare a better mode than onslaught, allowing for an even more unpredictable experience as situations shift as rapidly as an air hockey puck. In addition, you'll find more types of nodes. Countdown nodes, if captured and held, can damage an enemy core without having to lower a shield. Others perform more specific functions, like lowering bridges, affecting the position of enemy cores, spawning special vehicles, and more.

UT 2004's rides return, including the Manta, Hellbender, Goliath tank, monstrous Leviathan, and speedy Scorpion, among others. A few function slightly differently. The Scorpion, for instance, no longer fires a charged energy ribbon, but little explosive spheres, and its secondary fire razor mandibles are now front-mounted instead of back-mounted. The most notable additions to the vehicles are the new Necris machines. The Darkwalker dominates the landscape with tall, spidery legs, capable of traversing mountains and steep walls, and possesses massively powerful laser cannons, which are balanced by their slow-to-adjust aiming. There's a Viper hoverbike with the ability to perform a suicide attack, hurtling itself forward at a node or core for tremendous damage as you eject safely into the air. A stealth tank, called a Nightshade, can prowl the battlefield setting time-distortion fields, spider-mine traps, and energy shields. If you've got an irrational fear of spiders, you may even be repulsed by the utilitarian Scavenger, which quickly scampers around on three short, spindly legs. Its central sphere can rocket forward with legs spinning like razors on all sides, hop into the air, or propel forth an energy orb. Then there's a new air unit, the Fury, with its own laser cannons, as well as a Necris tank, called a Nemesis, which blasts forth energy streams and can rear up to a raised position, losing land speed but gaining a more rapid rate of fire. Epic made sure to include maps with specific Necris versions, including a Necris type of the popular Torlan map from UT 2004.

VCTF is just as frantic, since instead of merely concerning yourself with players teleporting in front of you while you escape with the flag, you have to deal with Mantas squashing you under their rotors, Scorpions shredding you to bits, or Vipers running you through. And imagine what kind of improved flag defense you can muster with a few Darkwalkers strafing its position. The best experience I had with this mode was on Sandstorm, named for the blinding sandstorms that periodically burst into existence, severely limiting visual range and providing an excellent opportunity to dart in and steal the flag. As the storm subsides, it's simply a matter of getting around a horde of Darkwalkers, Scavengers, and Vipers wheeling toward you with deadly intent. No easy task, to say the least. Or you could just grab the jump boots and pop up over the middle partition.

For anyone who feels the prospect of online play to be too daunting, there are customizable bots and even a single-player story mode to pass the hours. Bots are, as you might expect, next to useless on the easiest difficulty setting, but quite a challenge higher up. They did seem to have a few problems when it came to piloting vehicles and capturing flags, however. The plot is nothing to get excited about. A cookie-cutter Epic alpha male character named Reaper and his armored skirt seek revenge against Akasha, a rogue inquisitor of the Necris alien race. Aside from a few moments when characters poke fun at the notion of respawners and the lunacy of the tournament in general, it's a generic tale. You get a few cut-scenes, voice-overs during loading screens, and some game-altering card rewards to mask what's otherwise a sequence of team deathmatch, CTF, VCTF, and warfare matches against bots. You can, however, host your campaign matches online and have others join up, but then again, if you're the type that plays UT offline, such a feature won't matter. In a frustrating turn of events, even with such a limited story, there's still a cliffhanger ending. This trend with games really needs to stop, particularly with you, Epic. You did it with Gears, now you've done it with UT3. For shame. Even if the story doesn't make any sense, even if the characters are as endearing as a toothpick, at least give use some sense of closure, instead of leaving us with an all-too-obvious wait for the next installment setup.

Aside from the frenetic online action and single-player mode, UT has always been known for its comprehensive feature set. If you're a series veteran, this is something you've come to expect, but it's worth noting for any newcomers. UT has statistic tracking, full bot support, an enormous number of maps tailored to each game mode, and dedicated servers as well as plenty of little extras like game-altering mutators, character model customization, and UI tweaking options. Community is a large part of what makes this game so successful, so expect it to be supported with more maps and mods as time goes on.

Then there are the graphics, which are practically without fault. They're done up in the traditional UT style - heavily armored, muscular characters running across industrial sci-fi settings, only now you get even more of an alien look with the Necris stages, vehicles, and character models. The game's graphical prowess serves to make more satisfying the crux of UT 3's appeal - its moments. Leaping off a stone ledge only to get smashed in the teeth by the leading edge of a Manta. Circle strafing a deployed Leviathan in a Scorpion as AVRiLs pour in from all sides. Blasting flak around a corner for a kill, executing a perfect shock core explosion, gruesomely detonating another player with your impact hammer, getting a non-scoped sniper headshot, or firing Vipers into nodes - they're such satisfying moments, made all the more impressive by the amazing visuals whirling around your constantly shifting reticule and, of course, the announcer.

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