Unreal Tournament 3 Review
Written : Monday, July 21, 2008
By: Alan Pettit (GT: The Pants Party)
Unreal Tournament 3 is (obviously) the third full installment of the fast-paced, high-action fragfest from Epic Games (you might know them from a little game called Gears of War). Unreal takes your modern shooter and presses the fast forward button a few times causing increased action, increased death counts and an increased fun factor.
Taking a step back from the more recent "story-telling" shooters like their own Gears and the popular Halo franchise, Unreal leaves the story inside short cutscenes and text-only mission briefs, letting the gameplay do nothing but entertain. There are no long-winded "walking" scenes where your squad talks to an unseen voice over their comm radios or anything like that. Once you jump into a mission, it's go time. The single player campaign is made up entirely of various missions as if you were joining different games via Xbox Live, except instead of actual humans trash-talking it is the computer-controlled AI.
It's strange, but the harder this game gets, the more fun it seems to become. Granted, it also becomes extremely frustrating as the bots (AI-controlled players) get impeccable accuracy and apparent telepathic powers, seemingly sniping you in the head the second you appear around a corner, never having traveled that way previous to the sniper's bullet entering your eye socket. Insane difficulty is a man's difficulty (that's just an expression, ladies, I'm sure you could handle it as well) that takes dedication, skill and a lot of patience. Despite the frustration, tackling it with a few friends (up to four people can work on the campaign together) is one of the most pleasurable experiences I have had with this console.
That may look pretty, but it's deadly as hell.
Just like the Xbox Live selections, the campaign tasks you with varying gametypes of Deathmatch, Capture the Flag or Warfare gametypes. DM and CTF are obvious if you've played any shooter in the past, but Warfare is all-new to this year's Unreal Tournament. These matches start each team with a base camp and a power node at maximum health, protected by a shield. Various other nodes are set across the map that must be controlled and linked together until a line (straight or zigzagged, just so long as everything connects) from your own base to the enemy base can be established. This lowers the shields on your opponent's Prime node, allowing it to be attacked. The team that can blow up the others' Prime node first is the victor.
If you decide to try the campaign solo (or even in co-op, depending on the mission), any bot on your team can be issued orders by pressing the D-pad and selecting an option, then the bot's name. You can also taunt the other team using the controls. These orders can be very effective, especially getting them to focus on specific tasks in CTF or Warfare missions, or setting up a perimeter around a sniper in DM games. Many bots have specific talents to be utilized, though I only ever saw mention of them in the game's manual. Squad member Bishop for instance has a tendency to be the sniper, while Joker has exceptional agility for flag-running. Knowing these strengths is also very helpful to success on higher difficulties.
Could I offer you a breath mint?
One thing that can lessen the stress of the campaign are "cards" that can be earned through various side-missions during the campaign. Completing these will reward you with various bonuses that can be used during a future mission of your choosing. These range from simple health increases to an excellent bonus of either more allies or less enemies. I was stuck on a particularly tough CTF mission for about a dozen tries and then knocked it out in one try with a card active.
The online aspect of the game as mentioned before is very similar to the "campaign" mode, with the obvious difference that you're playing against real people who will not hesitate to call you a noob if you under-perform. The bots may ask if you want to take the safety off your gun (much more clever than "you suck, noob" which I received in my second game online -- where I got second on my team), but hey, at least they won't bring your ma into the equation. For this reason, the availability of both the campaign missions against bots and the ability to setup "instant action" games against bots is very welcome.
How can she see with that helmet?
The gun and vehicle selections are very nice in this. You always spawn with a very weak pistol, but a new weapon is never far away. You can carry as many weapons at one time as you want, switching effortlessly between them with the right bumper. From the Bio Gun that shoots big green globs to the Redeemer which causes a small nuclear detonation, each gun has its strengths and all of them are quite fun to use. I am personally a big fan of the Flak Cannon, which shoots hunks of scrap metal in a spray pattern. A shot up close with that puppy is as deadly as the shotgun in Gears, and produces a similar body-exploding effect. Each gun has a secondary fire which is usually more deadly, but often less accurate. The Flak Cannon for instance lobs a ball of scrap that detonates on impact, shooting scrap in every direction. Great for trying to take out enemies a bit further away, but hard to aim with the speed and agility of the players.
Vehicles are found in larger-scale CTF and Warfare matches and usually swing the tide of the game in the direction of the team that can best utilize them. The small, agile Manta or the larger, high-flying Raptor are great for speed runs into an enemy base to grab a flag, though vehicles can not be used when carrying the flag, so from there you'd better have some room to run. You can however use your standard-issue hoverboard, which at first seems completely idiotic, but is actually very useful and fun during these games. Bigger vehicles like the Goliath and Leviathan are great for flag or node protection, able to house a few people at once on different weapons systems within.
The Unreal Engine powers the graphics in the game, so you know it looks pretty good. There is a bit less detail in the environments and especially the characters than can be found in Gears of War during the gameplay, but the few cutscenes in the game look fabulous. No longer relying on your computer's specs (the game is a port of the original PC version), the game runs equally well across the board, leveling the playing field a bit more during online games. The loading times are short and the respawns are instantaneous with the pull of the right trigger, literally firing you back into the action. Well, not literally as you spawn just like any other game, but the right trigger is also the shoot button so it makes for a nice analogy, yeah?
Much like Epic's other franchise, the voice acting is pretty good here, though extremely stereotyped. There isn't a whole lot of it seeing as the cutscenes only happen after each of the five acts but much like Cole Train, Othello uses Ebonics from the early millennium like it is still cool, the main character is a gruff white dude and the woman is perky and sarcastic. During the game your allies will call out their actions or enemy positions, which is actually extremely helpful. They will also randomly send taunts or congratulate themselves on a nice kill. I really enjoyed Bishop (who is a self-proclaimed Crusader of God) sniping an enemy flag carrier, then proclaiming "I smote thee, flag carrier!"
The achievements in Unreal are a bit of a letdown, if only because they are pretty much identical to Gears, just with different names and slightly different stipulations. Rather than a simple 100 kills with each weapon (which would have taken all of a day with how fast the killing is), you need to get 15 awards with each weapon, which means you've got 15 kills with said weapon in a single match. There is also a variant of their "Seriously..." achievement, requiring 200 kills per day on 50 separate (but not consecutive) days, which still runs up to 10,000 kills. Because of that achievement, the game will require you to play at least 50 days worth, making this one of the longest games out there. However, considering there is an achievement for winning 500 ranked matches, you'll be able to spread out your wins through your 50 days of 200 kills. Another troublesome achievement is collecting every power-up on every map. This appears to have been accomplished though the achievement will not unlock, but players with the German version of the game have a slightly different description on their achievement page, one which requires every single collectible in total, health and ammo pickups included. This has not been attempted yet, leaving this achievement a bit of a mystery for now.
The single player achievements are also cloned from Gears, awarding you for completing each chapter on normal and on "Insane" difficulty, as well as completing the game in co-op mode. Luckily this time Insane is available from the start, so you could knock all those out in one shot. There is one nice addition however, and that is you are able to get the multiplayer achievements in player matches or versus bots, rather than requiring six people in a ranked match like Gears. Epic has already stated they want to guard against boosters in Gears 2, but if they truly wanted to keep boosting from ruining their ranked matches, they should just allow it in player matches or against bots like this game and they'd not only keep their ranked matches clean, they'd make achievement hunters happy and gain praises from both camps at the same time, instead of infuriating one camp while trying to please the other. However, that is a rant for a different review and for now I'll just say that while the achievements lack imagination, they are fairly easy to obtain if only time consuming.
While extremely stereotypical, the voice acting is done well. The rest of the audio is also typical, but it has become hard for companies to screw up sound effects in this digital age.
The Unreal Engine looks great, especially during the cutscenes. The focus during the gameplay is a bit off and the multiplayer maps aren't overly stunning, but they surely get the job done, considering their job is to provide a good-looking landscape to murder people on.
The controls are very similar to any FPS you've probably played recently, but the depth of the game is staggering, especially when using some of the vehicles and more technical weapons. The secondary fire on some of the weapons is very unique and will take some getting used to. However, with the fast-paced action, a more blunt approach will just as easily get the job done, making this an easy pick-up-and-frag game.
I was very surprised when I first loaded up the "campaign" section of the game, but pleasantly so. Playing with some friends over Xbox Live and working on taking down AI-controlled bots is much more fun to me than getting called names by human opponents over Xbox Live. I found there isn't as much of the trash talk in this game as you'd find in Gears or Halo (in fact I've played a few that were silent from beginning to end), so maybe I'm getting soft in fatherhood, but I didn't enjoy going online as much as I used to. However, the online is just as good gameplay-wise, considering they are for the most part identical.
The only real letdown of the game for me. Rehashed from Gears of War with worse stipulations make them boring, but the ability to get them in the campaign, versus bots or in player matches at least makes them easier to obtain. The 500 ranked wins, mystery power-up achievement and Seriously clone will all take some time, but it can be very easy to get 900+ in a few days time.
There haven't been too many games outside RPGs that I have played for fun in a while, but I haven't even sat down to do an achievement match against bots yet; I've simply been enjoying the actual gameplay too much. It is rare these days to find a game that focuses equally on graphics, storytelling and gameplay. This isn't one of those, but two out of three ain't bad. It looks great and plays great and that is more than enough for me.