Personally I was excited about Unreal Tournament III, but let’s get one thing clear right off the bat. As a PS3 owner I am the minority in that statement. It’s no secret that the gap between console and PC games is closing drastically and never has that been more evident than with the latest chapter in Epic’s long-running franchise. While PC owners have a long-standing relationship with the series, console owners are more used to the one-night stands with the franchise. Xbox owners are a little more familiar with Unreal thanks to the championship series, but for the PlayStation aficionado UT 3 is the first time they have experienced it since the original Unreal Tournament landed on the system back in 2000, and sans online play at that. Regardless Epic’s latest is dropping on Sony’s machine not long after its PC counterpart and long before 360 owners get their grubby mits on it.
For anyone unfamiliar with the franchise there is one thing that needs to be said right out of the gate. Unreal is a fast-paced, twitch shooter that is predominately online driven. If you are coming into UT 3 with visions of single-player satisfaction you will be sorely disappointed as the solo affair is present merely to familiarize you with the maps, weapons and gametypes you will experience online. UT 3 is also less of a thinking man’s shooter with instantaneous respawning, incredibly powerful weapons and some of the fastest shooting action you will ever experience on a console. If all of that sounds fine and dandy with you than please; continue reading.
The biggest question on everyone’s mind is likely how the PS3 version of the game stacks up to its PC counterpart. With a history of questionable ports to Sony’s machine many feared that Epic would follow suit and deliver a less than stellar version of the game. All of these fears can be washed away as UT 3 features all of the same modes, features and glorious visuals found in the PC version with only minor differences such as a lower frame rate (obviously because the PC version can run on so many different machines) and other minor graphical hiccups. Essentially this is the same exact game complete with mouse and keyboard support for all the loyalists out there.
There are several modes to be found in UT 3 all of which will be familiar to fans. You have standard deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, and a one-on-one deathmatch called duel. There is also one new mode dubbed Warfare which is very similar to Onslaught found in 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.
Also like the PC version the PS3 outing features support for community mods and user-designed levels. As of this writing there are already a few new options for players to download with many more likely on the way. While you cannot simply create the items with an archaic editor within the PS3 (you need a PC and free tools provided by Epic to create your own) it is nice to finally see true user-designed content on a console; something Microsoft promised long ago with Xbox 360. Unreal also thrives on its customization with modifiers that allow you to drastically change the pace of the game. Things such as insta-gib and low gravity make for interesting matches and give the game an open platform not unlike Bungie’s juggernaut Halo franchise.
As I mentioned earlier UT 3 is not designed for the solo gamer, but it does offer a few options for those weary of venturing online. There is a single-player campaign that plops you into the gigantic boots of Marcus Fenix look-alike Reaper as you progress through a series of battlegrounds that essentially serve as training sorties for the online mode. The bots are extremely intelligent and will offer a nice challenge, but nothing matches an online session with 15 other human players. That said it is always refreshing to see an option for bots in an online shooter for those days when you want to simply team up with a couple friends to try and dominate online against AI foes. If there is one thing Unreal does to stand out in the console shooter arena it is offer players a plethora of options to customize their experience as they see fit.
Playing UT 3 is also customizable thanks to support for both mouse and keyboard on Sony’s hulking black box. From our test using the PC setup worked great with only a hint of mouse lag when turning and aiming, but nothing you couldn’t get used to. It is also worth noting that even without this option the game makes great use of the Sixaxis controller. While console gamers have always proclaimed that Sony’s joypad was not designed with the FPS in mind, it just feels right when playing with it here. The only downside is of course a lack of rumble that should be remedied when the Dual Shock 3 hits shelves in early 08. Customizing is essential when it comes to controls and Epic has done a fantastic job of that with UT 3. You can adjust everything including using the Sixaxis’ motion controls for your hoverboard from the options menu, plus if you feel mouse and keyboard players have an upper hand online simply create a server that doesn’t allow for that control setup, the choice is always yours.
With all of that said once you get online and get to fragging the game opens up and shows you what it’s really made of. Online options are just as abundant as everything else in the game allowing you to customize your experience however you see fit. Online matches are smooth with only minor bouts of lag and the game supports voice for either Bluetooth or USB headsets. The game comes packed with a great selection of maps ranging from claustrophobic indoor encounters to expansive outdoor affairs great for 16-player capture the flag matches. With the ability to create your own maps and the reputation of Epic delivering a steady stream of new content for its games long after release Unreal Tournament 3 could easily become the de facto of online shooters for fans of Sony’s machine.
If all of that isn’t impressive enough one only needs to take a quick look at the game to truly appreciate how good it really looks. There is no question that UT 3 is yet another showpiece for the PS3 right alongside Uncharted and MotorStorm. The game is reminiscent of Gears of War with hulking character models and ridiculously detailed environments thanks to the Unreal Engine 3. The game runs at a solid 30 frames per second with only minor slowdown during intense action sequences. The sound is technically impressive as explosions engulf you with a proper setup, but the voice actiong and music are simply mediocre at best. Overall the presentation package is enough to have you popping in the disc when friends are over to show off your $600 hardware.
At the end of the day Unreal Tournament 3 is exactly what you would expect from the series. The fast paced action is still among the best available and the visuals set a new bar for shooters. PC gamers may balk at the lack of features out of the box, but PS3 owners looking for a great online shooter will have a hard time finding a better option this winter. If you are looking solely for a solo experience UT 3 will likely leave you wanting more, but if its multi-player action you desire Unreal Tournament 3 is among the best the year has to offer.