Late to the party and missing a key component.
Xbox 360 owners have been waiting patiently for Epic Games’ latest frag-fest to come to their console. Now after more than half-a-year they can finally see what PS3 and PC owners have been talking about; well at least the core of it. Unreal Tournament III has finally arrived on Microsoft’s console, and while it does come packed with some brand new features and goodies, it still lacks the core component of what makes the other versions infinitely replayable: user-generated content. Even with this sad omission though,UT 3 is more than worth the price of admission for anyone who has yet to take the plunge.
Anyone who has played a previous version of the game will immediately feel familiar. The fast-paced action the series has been known for returns, complete with all your favorite weapons and modes. The usual suspects are here including Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag and a new mode called Warfare, which is essentially Onslaught with a few twists from the previous games. While all of these modes give the game plenty of variety for newcomers, veterans will likely be disappointed at a lack of anything dramatically new. Of course UT has always been about fast-paced carnage and for that deathmatch and capture modes play to the game’s strong points and keep it from growing stale.
To try and compensate for a lack of user-driven content, the 360 version of UT 3 comes packed with all three maps that had been released for the PS3/PC versions so far as well as five exclusive maps. The addition of these eight new maps certainly gives players more variety out of the box, but it does not make up for a lack of one of the most endearing features from the other versions. Sure DLC will come and there is already plenty to see and do on the disc, but when the other versions support it, it is hard not to question why such a great function was not included. It also makes it impossible to recommend this version to anyone who owns any of the other two systems.
Controlling UT 3 on 360 is about as smooth as you can get for dual analogs. While most players prefer the mouse/keyboard setup available in the PS3 and PC versions, what is here will suffice. The game uses a slight auto lock-on feature that helps with aiming and you can adjust the sensitivity to your liking. Switching weapons is the biggest hindrance as it employs the bumpers and is not as intuitive as say, a mouse wheel. Holding down the left bumper brings up a quick select wheel that is not a wise idea in a game this fast-paced. Tapping the right bumper switches between weapons in order and is the best method, but sometimes in the heat of battle things get too frantic and you end up with the Bio-Rifle when you really wanted your Flak Cannon. You can setup auto-switch, which is nice and you can even order the weapons based on your preferences, but nothing will ever be as smooth as using a mouse/keyboard combo.
Vehicles have also become a huge part of the Unreal universe. With UT 3 the roster has been expanded and even integrated into game types such as Vehicle Capture the Flag. Controlling these various transportation devices will feel familiar to anyone who has played Halo. This method works great for open worlds and vehicles with limited firing capacity, but when you try to apply it to the vehicles here it simply comes across as sluggish. Navigating some of the more mobile vehicles in close quarters quickly becomes a lesson in frustration and when you realize that you cannot manually aim the cannon on your tank because you need to steer instead, you will come to miss the old way of doing things.
The single-player portion of the game has been expanded, but still feels like a series of bot matches that will prepare you for the online festivities. The campaign spans several chapters and is actually quite lengthy and full of story. Granted this isn’t going to win any innovation awards, but it does get the job done. For the 360 version Epic has also added in a split-screen mode so you can enjoy playing cooperatively through the campaign on one Xbox. You can even share Achievements and stats or if you don’t have a profile you can sign in as a guest and just enjoy the camaraderie. Surprisingly the game doesn’t take much of a hit graphically when running in split-screen mode.
As robust as the solo affair may be, it is the online multi-player that has always been the focus of the UT series. The sheer amount of online options found here is just as impressive as (and still better than most other games currently on the market) it was six months ago. You have all of the traditional modes available online for up to sixteen players. You can also fill in empty slots with bots or create private matches with your friends and supplement the rest of the team with bots. There are a number of modifiers to spice up game types such as low-gravity and of course the fan-favorite insta-gib mode.
You can also play co-op through the campaign online, which does make it a bit more interesting and fun. Sadly though, the biggest draw to the series is criminally absent. The online mod community for Unreal has been one of the biggest draws for the game since its inception. The tools made available for PC and PS3 owners were intuitive and fun and seeing creations such as Spawn and Master Chief through the magic of mods truly gave the game legs beyond its initial appeal. Whether this had to do with the console restrictions or the company behind it is irrelevant. It makes this version the weakest of the three and will be frowned upon by many.
This doesn’t mean that UT 3 is not worth the time or money, because in all honesty what you get straight out of the box is more than suffice. Fans of online shooters will not be disappointed with Epic’s latest twitch-shooter, especially in the visuals department. Unreal Tournament 3 boasts the same engine that 360 fans should be familiar with as it powers one of their most popular shooters: Gears of War. The same gothic architecture and tone is present here, but it feels more open and spacious. The levels are chock full of amazing details and gorgeous textures and the game runs buttery smooth, with very few bouts of slowdown. The character models are also gorgeous (not in the literal sense mind you) and gib and contort in some of the most fabulous ways. There is no denying that this game is one of the best (gory) looking games ever made.
With a lack of user-customization being the biggest pitfall Unreal Tournament 3 is still worth your money if you don’t already own it. You will be hard pressed to find a faster or more visceral experience on the console. Xbox 360 owners should not hesitate picking this up if they are a fan of the series or simply are looking for a mindless frag-fest for a change of pace. Microsoft really needs to buckle down and allow user-created content to flow freely on their system as I feel more future titles will be implementing this incredibly awesome feature. As it stands UT 3 is still a solid online shooter that will likely keep you entertained for many months to come. Let’s just hope Epic continues to support their own DLC to keep the experience fresh.