Unreal Tournament 3 for PS3 Review

I’ve been a big fan of Unreal Tournament since first playing the PC demo of the, now GoTY edition, original UT. It was, perhaps, the first game I ever rushed out to purchase and tear from its grossly oversized cardboard box, as was the style at the time.

The original Unreal Tournament was uncomplicated fun and entirely focussed on online play like Tribes was to Starsiege, this design ethic hasn’t changed in UTs evolution and Unreal Tournament 3 is true to its origins; bringing back fond memories of classic UT moments and creating just as many new ones.

There are only two real differences between UT3 and its classic predecessor; graphics and vehicles. These are less pronounced between UT3 and UT2004 but the vehicle department has certainly received an impressive overhaul that leaves little if no room for complaint.

If you haven’t already seen or heard about them then you’re in for a treat because the Necris Darkwalker and Scavenger ground vehicles are nothing short of awesome. Not only are they, and the other Necris vehicles, visually impressive but the Darkwalker is a huge, menacing, tripod of death straight from the pages of H.G. Wells War of the Worlds and complete with an immensely powerful death ray that cuts through enemies like… well… a death ray.

The much smaller Scavenger also takes on a tripod form but strays away from any traditional vehicle by incorporating the ability to retract its legs and bounce ’round the battlefield like an evil alien football. Whilst in “phase cycle” ball form the claws on the end of the tentacles can be protruded to great and deadly effect. This isn’t the only interesting move in the weapons department, however, as the Scavenger employs a ranged attack based entirely on a protective drone that can be directed to sap enemies to death.

Outside of the ground vehicles there’s a new concept in UT3, the hoverboard, it’s essentially just a way to flag run and get into battle much quicker but puts you at a significant disadvantage if anyone sets their sights on you. It’s a welcome addiction that keeps the gameplay fast even on large maps where everyone has rushed off with the available vehicles.

Speaking of which, the vehicles in UT3 are so much fun that even bots run for them at the start of a match, something I find strangely reflective of real players. I often find myself playing instant action offline matches and camping the Darkwalker spawn so that I can waste an hour or so slaughtering bots to de-stress. How I love thee Darkwalker and your penchant for utter annihilation!

The incorporation of bots that can be set to varying levels of skill; from worthless cannon fodder to psychotic death machines, is nothing new in the UT series but is very, very rare in console FPS gaming. One might scoff at the inclusion of bots and point to the multiplayer availability in UT3 and the fact that it’s absolutely free (on the PS3) if you have an internet connection. I, however, lavish in hours of seemingly pointless bot stomping and find it a somewhat refreshing change to taking UT3 online where I am the one normally stomped. A few bot matches are also an excellent way, outside of the regular UT3 single player, to hone your UT3 skills and familiarize yourself with both the vehicles and weapons.

Of course, as the UT3 single player is simply a lineup of bot matches loosely disguised as battles in an ongoing war and stitched together with a sketchy plot and plenty of cinematic action, you will get more than enough chances to hone those killin’ skills. However the cinematic action, particularly the opening scenes, will leave you longing for something that’s closer to the Gears of War or Halo 3 single player; sadly any “real” single player action will only ever appear in the next Unreal if there is ever going to be one. It wouldn’t surprise me if the seasoned Unreal Tournament player simply skips the single player altogether and heads online.

Back in the days of the original UT no illusions were made about the games single player being a series of bot matches. The back story to the game placed you in a world of competitive futuristic fighting where Unreal Tournament was just that. A Tournament. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, was to go into an array of arenas and ass-kick your way to fame. Now the sketchy plot and “futuristic battlefield somehow full of devices that can re-spawn soldiers” single player of UT3 seems somewhat laughable to seasoned players and is passed off simply as another component of the Unreal Engine tech demo that UT3 and its predecessors are often touted to be.

Single player is simply not what UT3 is about and I find myself thinking that the game would have bene done a great deal of justice is the price were halved and the single player simply left out. Warhawk did it, why shouldn’t UT3 have? The inclusion of multiplayer means that, whilst any seasoned UT player will know the score when it comes to UT single player, gamers who are new to the series could be left with a somewhat sour taste in their mouths from the experience.

Single player complaints aside UT3 is undoubtedly bucketloads of awesome when it comes to competitive online play and the array of vehicles, weapons, characters, maps and the sheer possibility of expansion puts Halo 3 and its comparatively lackluster “Forge” to shame. That’s not to say I don’t like Halo 3 or Forge, I don’t play Halo 3 online often if ever but I enjoy a Halo 3 LAN party as much as the next guy. The fact remains that Forge is stomped on by the downloadable content possibilities of UT3… and by “stomped on” I mean “stomped on by a fire-breathing Bender statue 1 billion cubits in height” (That’s 457,200,000 meters if you must know).

Amongst the content already available for UT3 is a map made entirely out of Lego, much of which is destructible to the point that the PS3 cries when running it; and that’s just the start of the custom map avalanche UT3 players are bound to see. You don’t need to wait for the developers to release new content because freely available editing tools are available to players the world over who pour their mapping and modding skills into expanding your UT3 experience.

At time of writing there are some 59 deathmatch maps, 16 CTF maps, 5 vehicle CTF maps and 3 Warfare maps available for download at UT3Mod.com. That’s not a small number!

On the downloadable character side we have characters from Gears of War, Crysis, Spawn and the Master Chief himself. Even the vehicle side of UT3 gets some love, with custom vehicles available for download… although they’re somewhat naff at this stage.

On the game type front Halo’s Juggernaut has been realized as the “Mutant” game type and you can even play a 3 or 4 team deathmatch with some caveats.

The UT3 toolset is so complete that the modding possibilities are, well, simply endless and only time will tell what players, limited only by their imagination, will bring to the mix.

Overall UT3 is a captivating success that doesn’t create pangs of nostalgia so much as satiate them. It’s marred only by the laughable single player which nobody should care about anyway. It’s a game you can come back to after months of distraction and find something entirely new, community created and, above all, free to fuel another round of addiction. And, whilst the core content is good enough for years of addiction, its a game that can only get better for all PC and PS3 owners as the player base and community grows.

Xbox 360-only owners don’t hold your breath, however, because it doesn’t look like you’re going to get user created content. Sucks to be open minded… or simply to not have £300 burning a hole in your pocket. There’s still Halo though, eh!

Buy it for the Darkwalker. Keep it for the inevitable destructible Lego maps, Lego character mods, and drivable Lego vehicles.

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