An interesting paradox lies at the heart of online multiplayer gaming: there is no doubt that playing against other human players provides a greater sense of achievement upon victory and a diminished sense of worthlessness on any eventual loss, but, at the same time, the majority of people who play such games online are made into complete dicks by virtue of their virtual pseudonymity. My skills in first-person shooters being what it is, any diminished sense of worthlessness is welcomed, and Unreal Tournament 3 does a fairly good job at enabling even the worst players of first-person shooters to play at a level that feels rewarding even in defeat: this horn of the dilemma above is tackled through the availability of a variety of weapons, each having a strategy or two associated with them that the knowledge of which will give the more knowledgeable incompetent an edge over a trigger-reflexed ignorant. The latter’s resolution may be result merely of my coming late to the party, but people playing Unreal Tournament 3 seem to a nice bunch: they’re capable of playing as a team and people being referred to as homosexuals or of the Jewish faith are surprisingly few and far between. Fantastic.
The gameplay deviates little, if at all, from the standard Unreal formula: fast-paced shooting, with plenty of dodging of slow projectiles with the humble action of jumping providing the best from of defence. The variety of weapons and power-ups available is large enough to keep one interested for a fair while. Each weapon providing two differing modes of fire, each with their own particular use cases. Power-ups vary from the genre-traditional armour pickups to the more esoteric such as beserk (a power-up that increases the player’s rate of fire) and damage amplifier, which does much as it says on the tin. Game modes available are the venerable Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag as well as the more unique, Unreal-specific Duel, a one-against-one round-robin style mode, Warfare, a mode centred around the capturing of nodes in order to enable the player’s team to destroy the opposition’s power core, Vehicle Capture the Flag, Betrayal, a wonderful team-based mode that rewards and punishes betrayal of your team mates, and Greed, a mode similar to Call of Duty‘s Kill Confirmed mode. The vehicles from Unreal Tournament 2004 make a return, with more also being added.
This assortment of game modes as well as level of choice within the game available for devising tactical approaches to the frenetic, unrelenting action of the game, leading to a formula that it would be incredibly difficult to tire of. It would be difficult to argue against the claim that. at its core, the game never develops from its player objective of shooting everyone in sight who is not on your team, but it doesn’t really need to: the game experience, just this simple, stands up all of its own. It may be a one-trick pony, but this is a pony that is exceptionally well-trained in its art.
Graphically, the game has held up quite well for its six year age. On any modern hardware the game will run incredibly smoothly, with the delicately detailed maps being realised as best as the game’s ageing engine can manage. While the backdrops tend to be drab and symptoms of the brown and bloom fad that continues to pervade the modern first-person shooter, use of weapons in firefights immediately livens up the screen with bright flashes of various colours. This is another advantage of the variety of weapons on offer: from the bright greens emitted by the Bio Rifle and Link gun to the light yellows emitted by the Flak Cannon, each has its own effect on the visuals of the game world, making what was previously drab feel somewhat alive. This serves to underscore the ferocity and brashness of the action on offer in the game, and adds wonderfully to the sense of playfulness implied by the game’s shooting mechanics.
As mentioned earlier, I was late to the party: many of the servers that are still running (at least for the PC version) are populated with a couple of human players, with the gaps being filled in by the highly-incompetent, even in comparison to myself, bots. The artificial intelligence on display in this game is simply anything but: they move slowly, which is never a good idea of producing intelligent non-human competition where the weapon design of the game is mainly premised around slow-moving projectiles; they often choose the weaker of the weapons; and they often get caught on the scenery. That said, this is a game design to be played by people against people: set up your own server, grab some friends and have some wonderfully indefeasible fun. Play a game by Epic that isn’t set in a world populated by an infeasible number of chest-high walls.