Unreal and Unreal Tournament are two of the most well known and highly respected arena-based first person shooters out there. Fast approaching its tenth anniversary, there's no doubt that Unreal's spin-off, Unreal Tournament, is perhaps the prime contributor to the series' success. I can't begin to count the amount of hours I've poured into Unreal Tournament across every capable PC I've owned. Four years ago, it wasn't uncommon for me to end my day with a three hour online session, sometimes with friends and family, other times with a bunch of guys from a forum I frequent. Unreal Tournament has brought me tons of amusement. Unfortunately, I'd found Unreal Tournament 2003 to be a bit of a downfall, but thankfully its 2004 follow-up (UT2004) fixed much of what plagued 2003. And while UT2004 was great, it didn't really feel like the original. Ahh, and that's where Unreal Tournament III comes along.
The most important thing about Unreal Tournament III is its speed. Where as UT2004 felt heavy and a little on the clunky side, Unreal Tournament III feels lean, and mean, and frenetic. Even though the speed of the game was slightly slowed down for the PlayStation 3 version (meaning, the players run a little slower), the intensity is still chaotic. By default, the controller sensitivity is set just below the half mark – this is also done intentionally to allow for more precise play with the pad. You can feel free to configure both controller sensitivity and turn acceleration to your liking. Moreover, you can speed the game up by enabling the Speed Freak mutator, as well as enable or disable a whole slew of other functions of the game.
By now, you should be well aware that you can plug in a keyboard and mouse to enjoy the game with absolutely superb precision. In case you feel that playing against those with a keyboard and mouse (K&M) combo gives them an unfair advantage, you can filter online games to exclude rooms with K&M users. So yes, when creating/hosting a game, you can enable or disable the use of K&M to maintain a proper balance, if you choose to. My personal opinion is that there is no better way to play UTIII than with a mouse – it is without question the most precise way to control the game, as it helps with aim tremendously.
Just like the Unreal Tournament games before, UTIII features a Campaign to embark on. There is a full-fledged story, complete with voice acting and cut-scenes. The cutscenes, and all, sort of make you feel as if the combat you're about to engage in will be progressive (like Halo or Resistance), as opposed to arena-based. That isn't the case, obviously, as each "mission" is just a different match type with varying objectives. The story also makes it a point to dress up your missions by pointing out that respawning is a form of technology that is carried around by the combatant, and that a respawner isn't infinite and can be drained. Similar explanations are given for flag capturing and such, as well.
I honestly doubt many will spend much time in the campaign mode, as the multiplayer is clearly what so many of us want out of Unreal Tournament III. But I won't sit here and pretend like you should ignore it – and with good reason. First, it's still good for some very solid entertainment. Second, the campaign will also prepare you for what's in store online. Third, you can actually play your campaign online, co-operatively, with a host of friends. Now tell me that doesn't rock. Furthermore, what's in store online is an experience worth savoring. In addition to playing your campaign co-op with a bunch of others, you've got your list of other online modes which include: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Duel, Warfare, Capture the Flag, and Vehicle CTF.
Warfare is a team-based mode where you have to destroy the nodes of your opposition. Each team has a health rating given to them; the team to have their main node destroyed (their health depleted to 0) loses. But the task isn't as simple, because there is room for revival, so Warfare is a pretty tense mode. If this sounds familiar to you, that's because in actuality, Warfare is an evolution of the Onslaught mode introduced in UT2004.
Duel is a one-on-one gameplay mode that is laid out in a gauntlet style. So after a winner is declared in one round, the loser is replaced with one of the match's spectators. It's very simple, really. And Vehicle Capture the Flag is exactly like the standard mode, except it allows for the use of vehicles.
Above all else, the true testament to Unreal Tournament's greatness is its ability for the player to generate content. If you've followed the development of UTIII, you are well aware that, thanks to Sony's open-ended approach with the PlayStation Network, the game allows for user-created content to be uploaded directly onto the PlayStation 3. Essentially, PS3 owners aren't limited to playing just the boxed retail copy of UTIII, and in fact can create their own maps, modifiers, and so forth, making UTIII's replay value theoretically unlimited. So, for the very first time, the same experience and ability that PC gamers have been privileged with has finally arrived for a home console. User-created content is definitely one of the main reasons why you should not pass up Unreal Tournament III if you're an FPS fan.
Thus far, even though gamers are still pilling in, my experience with UTIII online has been phenomenal. I've yet to be kicked off a game, and I absolutely love how smooth the gameplay remains online. This is truly code that has been optimized profusely, and there's no denying that. There is voice chat and there is a built-in/in-game buddy list for you to keep track of. Whatever you need out of an online component from an FPS game, Unreal Tournament III has it. Furthermore, the arenas are well designed, and the experience is great whether you're playing with six gamers, or a full map of 16.
Unreal vets will instantly find themselves familiarized with the games arsenal of weapons. You've got the Enforcer (which you can double wield), the Shock Rifle, Minigun, Flak Cannon, Rocket Launcher, and many others. There are 12 different weapons for you to choose from, including the transponder (you can use it to kill). Additionally, you'll also have access to mounted turrets, tanks, aircrafts, all-terrain vehicles, and a whole slew of alien and otherworldly vehicles from the Necris – such as the Darkwalker, Fury, Nemesis, Viper, and more. In total there are 15 different vehicles for you to use, 16 if you include the hoverboard, all with their individual strengths and weaknesses. In fact, UTIII's implementation of vehicles is without question the best it's ever been.
At 720p and an absolutely consistent 30 frames per second, Unreal Tournament III runs buttery smooth. And while some may have hoped for a higher resolution or higher framerate, once you see the caliber of textures displayed in the game, you'll settle for nothing less. Unreal Tournament III is just a downright beauty to behold. In addition to Sony's very own Uncharted, Unreal Tournament III sits way up high as one of the very best looking games for the PlayStation 3. In fact, it may be the best looking first person shooter available between the two powerhouse consoles.
There's just a multitude of texture layering, which becomes evident when you see them load up right in front of you. If you play the game without installing it on your HDD, you'll often find yourself looking at a stage where the textures are still loading, while you wait to spawn. And so when you witness each layer cover the last, you realize just how much effort was put into making UTIII look like the best damn shooter out there. Clearly, no one but Epic knows the Unreal engine better, and so they were able to utilize much of the PlayStation 3's strengths with it. Even the lighting is superbly well done, and the game allows you to choose from various types lighting to be displayed (vivid, intense, muted, default). I found the muted and default settings to be the best, as they didn't wash out the details of the textures, but it all depends on your preference and TV.
Character detail is also extremely good, and you'll notice this during the cut-scenes, which are pre-recorded and compressed videos, but still animated using the game engine and the in-game assets. You're not going to find much at fault here with Unreal Tournament III. Everywhere you go is a nicely detailed texture that looks good up-close and far away. The water effects, among other questionable liquids in the game, look gorgeous and animate as you would expect…fluidly (bad pun, I'm sorry). I simply can't get enough of Unreal Tournament III's visuals, and I can't imagine how the follow-up will look like.
What made me feel immediately at home with Unreal Tournament III is the Unreal Tournament theme played throughout menus of the game. Apart from that, the audio consists of a flavor that veteran Unreal Tournament fans have become familiar with: lots of taunts, lots of death cries and lots of gunfire. Chaos, in other words. There is no soundtrack that plays in the background, which really makes no difference to me (and I'm sure many others). I always turn down the music in FPS games. And as mentioned before, there is voice acting during the cut-scenes, which is surprisingly decent. All in all, solid stuff here with punchy sound effects; this one's meant to be played loud.
To wrap things up, if you can't tell by now, Unreal Tournament III is a blockbuster hit. It's exactly what we were hoping for it to be; a brilliantly executed arena-based first-person shooter, with a plethora of depth, speed, and a virtually infinite scope on replay value. User-created content will drive this game and its online community for years to come, just as it has on the PC. It is visually stunning to behold, with superb texture detail everywhere you look. It allows for mouse and keyboard gameplay, and features a sublime online facet. Unreal Tournament III is the pinnacle of first-person shooters. Others: take note.