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Midway Unreal Tournament 3
- Still the fastest shooter...for better or for worse, graphics are excellent in a technical sense, warfare mode showcases vehicular combat nicely
- Way too fast and twitchy for the Xbox 360 controller, art direction is confused and ultimately forgettable, Warfare is no replacement for UT2004's Assault
Only shooter diehards will have any interest in this awkward, ultimately disappointing console port.
Price$ 99.95 (AUD)
Epic's seminal online shooter loses its identity, and its control scheme, on the Xbox 360.
Last year, I reviewed the PC version of Unreal Tournament III and awarded it a rather generous score (perhaps a bit too generous, hindsight being 20/20 and all). But my feelings haven't changed much since then: taken as a PC game, Unreal Tournament III is a solid sequel and a good, old-fashioned online shooter.
Played on a game console, however, Unreal Tournament III is a very different beast. The Xbox 360 version of Unreal Tournament III is a disappointment, mostly because it's not designed to be a console shooter to begin with, which means it's instantly outclassed by console-first shooters such as Halo 3, Call of Duty 4, and Gears of War. This is a shooter from an older era and, on the Xbox 360, it shows.
Fragging at Light Speed
At its core, Unreal Tournament III is a lightning-fast first-person shooter packed with weapons, vehicles, and massive environments. The reworked Campaign mode is a distraction: for Unreal Tournament III, online matches against human opponents are the draw. Deathmatch is a frantic free-for-all killing spree, and is actually one of Unreal Tournament III's more enjoyable modes due to its simplicity. Team Deathmatch ups the strategy by including assigned squads, and Capture the Flag is a team battle for control of flags. Same old, same old.
Warfare is positioned as the star of the group, and its chaotic vehicle battles play much like Onslaught from UT2004, or a huge vehicle match in Halo 3. In Warfare, two large teams battle to destroy each other's power generators using tanks, jets, and armoured transports. Unfortunately, Warfare's fun factor runs both hot and cold. The massive vehicular brawls can be a rush, especially with the new War of the Worlds-inspired Darkwalker and Scavenger vehicles. But Warfare's complicated rules — which have you teleporting and driving all over the map to link up "power nodes" and drop off "orbs" — are too demanding and too confusing for a console shooter. If you devote time to learning all the intricacies of Warfare, and play with balanced teams over Xbox Live, this mode can be good, frantic fun. But if you've got a short attention span, Warfare is likely to perplex you rather than entertain you.
Speaking of learning curves, Unreal Tournament III's control scheme represents its single greatest flaw. When played on the PC or PS3 using a mouse and keyboard, Unreal Tournament III feels fast, ferocious, and fun. When played on the Xbox 360 using the standard controller — the only option available — the game feels spastic and uncoordinated, like trying to run an obstacle course with your underpants hanging around your ankles. Part of the problem is pure speed: Unreal Tournament III is a hyper-kinetic game, with characters running at 50 mph, jumping off walls, and bouncing like superballs from weapon impacts. Turbo-fast shooters, as a general rule, don't play well on console controllers, a fact exploited by slower games like Halo and Gears of War. The arsenal here is also ill-suited for console play, with few general-purpose weapons and a glut of highly specialised guns that you must constantly swap in and out. Other old-school touches, such as health and armour power-ups, seem amusingly archaic and out-of-place within the context of an Xbox 360 game. Playing Unreal Tournament III on the Xbox 360 controller, you'll gain a new appreciation for Halo, which revolutionised console shooters by stripping out the fluff and streamlining the controls. Halo was made for consoles. Unreal Tournament III was not, and here that fact is painfully clear.
Gears of Bore
Unreal Tournament III's graphics excel on a technical level. But due to an ill-conceived shift in art direction, the game now looks unappealingly drab and dingy: it's all corroded metal and retrofitted steampunk chic. As I noted in my review of the PC version, the once-vibrant and imaginative world of Unreal has been drained of its colour here in an apparent attempt to adopt a Gears of War-style, grit-and-grime aesthetic. This art shift is a real shame given that the Unreal series has always dazzled players with its psychedelic visuals: florescent skies, day-glo colour schemes, and otherworldly locales made the Unreal series stand out from the crowd (and even inspired the title, "Unreal"). By sucking out all the colour and whimsy, Unreal Tournament III looks just like any other run-of-the-mill shooter — call it the "Gears of Bore" look. The hyper-detailed combatants and distracting special effects just add more noise to an already over-busy presentation. The tech is there; the art direction isn't.
Taken as an Xbox 360 game, it's hard to recommend Unreal Tournament III. Speaking as a huge fan of the previous games (read my reviews of UT 2003 and 2004), Unreal Tournament III's game style is still too tied to the PC's mouse-and-keyboard interface to be easily playable on a console controller (and believe me, I tried). Had Epic dialled down the speed, simplified the interface, and re-tuned the weapons to leverage the strengths of the Xbox 360's input device, Unreal Tournament III might've found a niche on Xbox Live.
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