on October 29, 2007
As a hardcore Unreal aficionado since the very first version way back in 1998, and having followed the changes with every subsequent release, I had an idea of what to expect with Unreal Tournament III - faster gameplay, more eye-popping graphics, better AI, etc. But how could they improve on Unreal Tournament 2004, one of the most heralded arena shooters of all time?
The most immediately obvious change from UT2004 is the graphics - even without the DirectX 10-enabled video card, you still get sunlight reflecting off of water, textured stone and soil, and as remarkably photorealistic visuals as featured in the preview images and videos. The 50+ bundled maps help show it all off with more symmetrical and organic design, and WAY more built-in visual gimmickry (neon lights, plasma fields, etc) than was featured in 2004; anything in the game that could be made shinier, flashier, or just generally more impressive looking has been given serious and creative attention to detail. But even with those details set to minimum in the graphics options, you'll want an NVidia 7800 series or better for a playable game experience (8800 or better for max details). Sound-wise, some of 2004's better sound effects have been used again here, and this is the first shooter I can think of where I've actually left the music on; it's more like soft background ambience than music, and it changes in tempo and intensity with events in the game such as taking damage and kills.
Gameplay is largely unchanged, but with a few nice additions and a whole lot more speed - you'd better bring your "A-game" and some caffeine or you'll never keep up with what's happening. As with most new incarnations of Unreal, the transition from an older version (or other older/slower shooters) takes quite a bit of practice just to build up your reflexes for the huge leap in game pace. Every aspect of the game has been made faster from vehicles to melees to even just walking - on larger maps, every player has a Hoverboard, a hovering skateboard device, so even without a vehicle you can quickly cruise from one side of a map to the other (but without a weapon while in use, though you can use it while carrying the flag in Capture The Flag). Those of you who need or like bots in your matches will find the higher-difficulty versions to be remarkably cunning and/or helpful. Enemy bots can fire based on predictions made several steps in advance, and can Shock Combo from vast distances, also often predictively. And teammate bots now give details on where they're going and where enemies are on the map, making them more helpful than a lot of human players.
Little has changed with the gametypes as well, with only the addition of Vehicle Capture the Flag (large-map Capture The Flag with vehicles) and Duel (one-on-one deathmatch). Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Capture The Flag are still there, and Onslaught has been renamed to Warfare. (The Warfare gametype now also features an "Orb" device which spawns at each team's base, and when used on any unshielded power node, regardless of color or power status, turns it instantly to that team's color with full power.) Single-player Campaign can now also be more than just single-player [see below].
When you do get a vehicle, you'll find they have much snappier responses and can be maneuvered in ways that were never possible in UT2004. The now-smaller Manta can change direction on a dime, the revised Scorpion features an "afterburner" which sends it rocketing at the push of a button (and should it collide with any other vehicle, explodes Kamikaze-style), even the Goliath main battle tank brakes and accelerates so brusquely as to produce suspension nose-dive and -lift. There's also the addition of the dark and alien "Necris" vehicles, such as the several-story tall Darkwalker or the jellyfish-like Fury, all of which effectively double the number of vehicles the game has to offer. And all vehicles now have the ability to take along teammates - a teammate on a hoverboard can "grapple" to any vehicle using a tractor beam of energy and be tethered along a la waterskiing.
Weapons are mostly the same from the previous version while having undergone visual changes. Of note is inherent weapon inaccuracy; unlike 2004 where a perfect aim always meant a perfect hit regardless of the weapon, most of the weapons now are slightly inaccurate, and more so with distance (including vehicle weapons). There's a new class of weapons/devices known as deployables, which include the famous Spider Mines (now laid as a single trap, as opposed to a weapon), a EMP Mine (shuts off all vehicles in the area and sets off their ejection seats), and a Stasis Field (slows down time over a given area). The Double Damage power-up is still part of the game, but now can be knocked free for anyone to pick up if the user is killed, plus there can be more than one per map. There's also a "Berserk" power-up, which doubles the rate of fire of any weapon for a brief time, and even an Invulnerability power-up. And yes, you can have more than one power-up at the same time...
Those of you who enjoy internet battle will be glad to know that UT3's online experience is as fast and as seamless as previous versions; pick your game criteria, pick a server, and you're playing. Also of note is the new "Customize Player" option, which allows you to select and alter various physical details of your avatar, such as armor configuration and clothing, giving you your own unique visual identity. And if you prefer solo playing, the Campaign gametype provides an entire storyline-and-objectives game, though you have the option here also to let others join your Campaign, either by internet or LAN.
So Epic has once again delivered on all counts in this season's faster, harder, better arena shooter, destined to create another bump in hardware sales as gamers rush to update their computers to take in the carnage in its full glory. Highly recommended if you have the video card and reflexes.