When Unreal Tournament 3 was officially announced, a wave of mixed feelings went through the Unreal-community.
UT2004 was essentially everything most people could have ever wanted in terms of a shooter. Sure, there were going to be UT99 purists who would object to the style and the zealous Quake gamers who still claim that after Q3 the world could have stopped spinning, but disregarding people who would never have it any different than graphically updated clones, UT2004 was a milestone in FPS gaming. The mechanics were done right, the content was abundant, the community was sprawling and everything was kept at a impressively high standard. Within UT2004 we had almost everything we could ask for.
Now I’ve only been playing UT3 for the “Play UT3 for free!”-weekends offered on Steam. Since these have occurred twice I’ve got somewhere around 20 hours of total play time. I therefore don’t feel entitled to a final opinion, but I want to share my observations.
A legacy to live up to
Throughout the history of culture the successful sequels (any field) have made us relate to the original, yet find new content to explore. Some sequels have it very easy because the original was of such high quality that the audience will settle for “more of the same”, demanding slight tweaks but retaining very large parts of the structure. Other sequels might have the privilege to work with a well received but raw original, providing the liberty to shape and/or expand in many different directions.
UT3 didn’t have the luxury of either of those.
The audience had already seen the Unreal Tournament formula go through three very different, but still coherent and intertwined, iterations. Most content (and especially the good one) we already had experienced three times over (some will argue that UT2003 was not as enjoyable as the other two, I respectfully disagree). This unfortunately put Epic in the situation where anything (that I can think of) that would stay true to the UT-franchise will inevitably have been tried, especially after the monstrous amount of content provided with UT2004. While “more of the same” didn’t necessarily result in a bad game, it did make a large part of the audience wonder if they were getting their money’s worth, they already had the provided content in older games (and that’s speaking of UT3+TP, vanilla UT3 must have felt like a rip-off).
Unreal Tournament is a franchise that is very flexible when it comes to play styles, as long as it’s futuristic and creatures kill each other it’s acceptable and in canon. The mentioned opportunity of a “raw original” (which in this case would mean the mentioned flexibility) is exploited, but it seems Epic put a lot more pressure on making small changes and execute those well than taking risks with new styles of play. This is in no way a bad decision, but it’s a stark contrast to what the release of UT2004 looked like. Both fans and ordinary gamers were treated with (among other things):
- Close to every game mode ever introduced in UT (including a mind-blowing reintroduction of Assault)
- The inception of the new game modes like Invasion, Mutant and to a lesser extent Vehicle-CTF (no maps but the support was there).
- This deserves it’s own point: Onslaught
Many saw it feasible to detach this as a separate game.
- More maps in a UT-release than we had ever seen, each and everyone sticking to Epic’s tradition of being of the best in the industry.
- An improved single player that felt interesting enough to keep you entertained without multiplayer.
With this being only some of the big reasons to buy the initial release (which excludes the fantastic community and official support the game got post-release) it got hard for UT3 to live up to the expectations.
The Good and Bad
First of all, there are two aspects that basically define the feel of playing a certain shooter. This sole “feel” can make or break the game. The two aspects are the movement and the weapons, in no particular order (because should I want an order I would need another article explaining my choice). All the other things come secondary.
The movement is essentially a mix between UT2004 and UT99, double jump is there but you can’t add a jump at the end of a dodge. This meant that the verticality was preserved but some of the horizontality was lost. UT has always been about the explosive horizontal movement, which is one of the things that made it so different Quake 3. This statement will make some upset and have them call upon the different aspects of bunny jumping and RocketLauncher/PlasmaGun maneuvers. I will however claim that while these are interesting in their own right, the dodging mechanic found in UT2004 was something sublime that offered the jerky and unpredictable maneuvers of the Q3-RocketLauncher both inside the heat of point black combat, and outside when a chase or escape was present.
I will at some point address why I feel UT is superior to Quake, but I think it is sufficient to say that removing the dodge-jump removed something important. Some will object saying that UT3 is with it’s lack of a dodge-jump similar in movement to UT99, but this is very far from the truth; UT99 had a proportionally higher running speed, which made the game feel a lot faster than UT3.
It takes some time to get used to, but overall it doesn’t feel as interesting, and it’s most definitely slower than any of it’s predecessors. With that said, the maps are perfectly aligned with the movement, so it feels right but it’s not what I wanted.
As a minor note I’d like to add that they’ve added hover boards which are always available in the Onslaught equivalent called Warfare, this is a nice touch that remedies some of the camping on vehicle spawns on those huge maps where going on foot is simply not feasible.
I will further down address the graphics and art style a bit more thoroughly but the first thing you notice about the weapons is that they look unnecessarily contrived. There are more details than you can count, and while it’s never really distracting, a lot of people will prefer the simpler models shown in previous installments of UT (that might just be nostalgia speaking, who knows). The feel of the weapons is an improvement however. It seems the small tweaks added make the weapons feel fresh again, even though we’ve had most of them for four games now (the flak cannon in Unreal was a beast…). A quick rundown:
- Impact hammer has taken the shield gun’s place. I understand that some have gripes with the shield, and I do find this hammer very nice. Sound, visuals and the power, love them. They didn’t however need to make the secondary attack completely worthless (knocking off powerups with melee anyone?).
- The fan favourite Enforcer is back and unfortunately it feels wimpier. This is sad because the reason people wanted it back was because the UT99 enforcers were monsters, dealing solid damage with good accuracy. This is better than the Assault Rifle, but it’s not the real deal.
- The Bio Gun is easier to hit with now, and charged blobs of goo don’t make instant damage, but drains depending on the size of the blob. A welcome change to one of my favourite weapons.
- The Shock Rifle now has harder to hit shock cores, other than that it’s the same thing.
- Link Gun is the same deal, although at first, second and third glance it seemed as Epic had dropped linking. Apparently you have to stand really close to each other for linking to work. Linking was mainly used in Onslaught so this change is trivial for me.
- The Stinger Minigun is very nice. Sound, visuals and fire modes are all top notch.
- The Flak Cannon seem to fire more shrapnel in a wider spread, and the shells seem to do more damage. More versatile than ever.
- Sniper Rifle… What can I say? I liked the Lightning Gun, apparently others didn’t.
The rest of the weapons are basically the same, nothing special. Overall it’s a mixed bag of changes, but nothing is messed up, and some changes are very nice so the weapons are fine.
Warfare is basically Onslaught with hoverboards and the ability to capture
nodes instantly with orbs that any player can pick up in their base. An
interesting addition, but nothing special, the games seems to flow the same way
(except on smaller maps when a lot of uncalled for captures occur, IOW love or
hate scenarios). The new vehicles are different but for the most parts nothing
game changing. They are now divided into the Axon (basically the ones found in
UT2004) and the Necris (which are totally different, it’s really a question of
trying them out yourself).
The addition of special events linked to special nodes is a very interesting twist however.
Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Vehicle Capture the Flag and Duel I feel no need to cover because all thing necessary to say have been in “Movement”, “Weapons” or in the short Warfare paragraph.
Then we have Greed (which is nothing but a straight incorporation of the UT2004 mod) and Betrayal, with the latter being such an amazing game mode it has not only had me thinking about purchasing the game just for this one game mode, it has also motivated me to start learning UnrealScript so I can port it to UT2004. It’s just that much fun.
Finally there’s also a handy new mutator that can really mix up the existing game modes called the Titan mutator, which can turn any mode into something completely new. A good addition.
Graphics and artstyle
Graphics set to max are nothing but jaw dropping. Period.
I was also pleased to find that it scaled the graphics on the fly quite nicely, so what I would expect to lag horribly on my laptop, turned out to run very well.
The sceneries are rich on details, which at times shifts from being atmospheric to being cluttered and overloaded. The claim that the characters have an uncanny resemblance of Gears of War is to a large extent true. Overall I found the characters to be impressive, but not as interesting as the ones found in UT2004 were.
The maps are as mentioned well designed, and the artwork here is spot on. Some of the maps were so beautiful and so amazingly designed it absolutely blew my mind. Epic are still the ones who provide the best maps in the industry.
We are treated with unspeakable amounts of FPS games lately, but when it comes to multiplayer which today is where the games’ true lifespan lies, only a few companies know how to do it right. The Battlefield series is one setting, the Halo series is another, but in the end it’s the futuristic arena combat introduced by Unreal Tournament and Quake 3 that showed me what real multiplayer FPS should look like.
UT3 might not be the best game in the series, and it comes in a time where it is no longer as unique as UT2004 was when it came out, but one needs not to be outstanding to be good.