Crispy Gamer

Unreal Tournament III (PC)

A lot has changed in the wild world of online fragging since Unreal Tournament 2004 ruled the roost, and Epic?s bid to make the Madden of online shooting didn?t seem to pan out the way it planned. That?s presumably why the next installment after Unreal Tournament 2004 is called Unreal Tournament III rather than Unreal Tournament 2005.

2007/08 finds the Unreal Engine in top form but strangely unaccommodating -- meaning, on a powerful system the visuals are as splendid as you?d expect from this series, but the engine doesn?t seem to scale well to less powerful technology. For users with older PCs adept at running 2004 who are looking to upgrade, the game looks muddy, blurry and unimpressive. Luckily a lot of Epic?s fans are graphics and hardware hounds; this is just fair warning to the rest of humanity.

Engine performance is important to a multiplayer game, and despite the addition of a half-hearted attempt at a single-player campaign, Unreal Tournament III doesn?t deliver much more than the last installment did back in 2004. The developers have added vehicles but barely bothered to maintain a balance when incorporating them into the game; they added really cool hoverboards -- that change up the strategy nicely -- and they?ve significantly scaled back how many players can play. Yep, most of UT3?s maps are set up for eight to 10 players, and anyone who loved old UT experiences like Assault and four-team deathmatching will notice the absence. Capture the Flag remains a mainstay but Assault has been removed from the experience completely; in its place is a game called Warfare. Warfare tasks teams to hold control points. It?s the way games like the Battlefield series work and, while fun, it does little to make up for what?s been removed. A smaller number of players do make for more intimate maps and battles, and it helps cut down on lag and performance issues, but again, UT players are used to having more people around to frag.

As mentioned, there are more vehicles, but the developers didn?t spend enough time balancing them out on the maps, which were not specifically designed to use them. Anyone on foot can?t do much damage at all unless they?re armed with one of the more powerful guns, like the new Avril rocket launcher. Basically the tanks, jeeps and jets tend to own many of the maps, and vehicles aren?t a great idea anyway when the game so significantly limits the number of players. There is no problem on the handful of maps that were built for vehicles, however, and they are admittedly pretty cool.

Hoverboards are even cooler. Unleash your inner Silver Surfer and speed away with the enemy flag on your new RonCo Hoverboard! Getting hit, even once, will knock your soldier from his radical perch, but the feeling of speed and the site of these babies lend the game a freshness and newness missing from every other piece of code on the disc. Best of all, flags can be carried on the board on the handful of CTF maps that support boards and vehicles. While you can?t carry the flag in a vehicle, you can grapple to a vehicle with a flag. This leads to a tactic a friend of mine calls ?extermination.? First, Player 1 grapples to the back of a vehicle piloted by Player 2; they jet across the landscape in seconds, and Player 1 waits as Player 2 uses the vehicles? guns to blast the enemy soldiers into smithereens. Player 2 then jumps off, enters the building, nabs the flag, grapples onto the vehicle, and is pulled back to safety. Sure, it can be countered and it sounds very cool, but it gets less and less fun the more you see it in action.

This is the first Unreal Tournament game to offer a single-player campaign, and really, Epic shouldn?t have. Imagine a string of missions only connected by histrionic and melodramatic cut scenes where everything is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT but you never care to find out why. ?Macho pissing contests? is how my wife characterized most of your allies? conversations.

The game features big blocky character models, and generic futuristic military motifs, which are reminiscent of the Unreal-powered Gears of War, recently ported to the PC. Unreal Tournament is a PC franchise, or was one, but like Gears of War, it has a console port interface. It?s clumsy and inconvenient, and you need to be connected to the Internet to play the single-player game.

The bottom line is that Unreal Tournament III hits stores in an unfinished -- or at least ?not ideal? -- condition. For now, it?s middling online entertainment, but if the Unreal community embraces it, expect most of these flaws to be addressed in patches from the developer and mods from the fans. The game ships with a powerful toolset, and the PC is still the best home for player-made mods and other new content.

This review was based on a retail copy of the game purchased by the writer.