After a couple of releases where Epic have floundered, treading water more than progressing, the much-anticipated Unreal Tournament 3 aims to head back to the roots of their classic franchise. It’s also the first version of the title to appear on a next generation console (aside from the Unreal Championship spin-offs on the original Xbox), so you can be sure that Epic – and publisher Midway – are keen to impress.
And impress they have: the latest version of the hugely popular fragfest combines the pacey and frantic gameplay of yore with stunning graphics and effects.
Unlike some previous titles that have only allowed for online gaming and offline botmatches, Unreal Tournament 3 does try to provide a modicum of story with a single-player campaign. The plot is relatively basic, but is great for showing off the hugely detailed character models: long time Unreal Tournament character Reaper is hired as a mercenary, which is really just a vehicle for putting you in plenty of deathmatch situations. There’s some fuss about aliens and revenge, too, but it’s just a catalyst for more of the superb gameplay.
It’s everything that made the original Unreal Tournament brilliant and addictive. The maps are designed with plenty of well-practised intelligence and Epic’s vast knowledge of what makes a good environment for violence. They flow well, and allow the enemy AI to concentrate on kicking your ass rather than getting stuck in corners.
Weaponry – although somewhat similar to previous games – is brilliantly implemented. Armaments are well-balanced, with traditional favourites like the rocket launcher being as devastating as you remember. Familiar weapons return: there’s the shock and bio rifles, explosive flak cannon, sniper rifle. There’s also the catastrophically powerful Redeemer, and a weapon – the stinger – returning from the original Unreal.
Gameplay is split into several modes: individual and team deatchmatches and capture the flag – with or without vehicles, which come in various shapes and sizes to make scooting across makes easier – are self explanatory. Warfare is a combination of old regulars Onslaught and Assault, tasking you with capturing and retaining territory while keeping foes at bay. There’s also Duel, a one-on-one deathmatch that’s underwhelming offline but fantastic online, inviting all challengers in a winner-stays-on environment.
Graphically, it’s a gorgeous game – next generation, no doubt about it. Every ounce of power has been eked out of Sony’s console, and the variety of maps is testament to this: there’s oriental arenas and dust-soaked warzones that show off plenty of particle effects, and futuristic battlefields covered in chrome and technology. Outdoor and indoor environments are both handled with similar aplomb. Explosions are visceral and exciting – and you may have seen the huge ‘walker’ vehicle, like something from War of the Worlds, in trailers and screenshots. It’s a privileged position to pilot such a thing, but if you see it stalking towards you, then run – even though you may be tempted to ogle the gorgeous beams of energy emerging from it.
It’s a stunning game, then: a return to the roots of the series, with gorgeous graphics, emphatic explosions and absorbing, addictive gameplay. Some may complain that this smacks of a lack of innovation – and they’d be right; there’s nothing new here – but they’re also missing the point. It’s old school Unreal Tournament with a new-school lick of paint, and there’s not many more enjoyable ways to (legally) eat up your broadband.