Tuesday, February 26, 2008


In parallel with BioShock I was playing Unreal Tournament 3, as the former is best suited to long stretches of time, and the latter is best suited to short ones. Unreal Tournament is very clearly a multiplayer game. But, unlike most multiplayer games, the Unreal series allows you to play offline versus bots, and unlike most games with bots, the Unreal series has had excellent enemy AI. Each release, they change things up a bit, while keeping the basic structure of the game the same: your objective is just to beat each map once. Each deathmatch, each capture the flag, each objective-based warfare map.

The graphics are phenomenal—basically on par with Gears of War (In fact, the character you play as is pretty close to Marcus Fenix, and you have a Cole-like sassy black guy sidekick.), and UT3 is generally "prettier" in addition to the level of technical excellence. The gameplay is fast, furious, and well-tuned as always. All of the weapons feel "right" to me, and they handle exactly as I'd expect them. The story is ridiculous, and for a while it's pretty amusing that there even is one. (Previous incarnations of Unreal Tournament, the story was just "you're in a tournament; win.") It's a generic story of aliens invading Earth, and you fighting back. But the single-player game still plays exactly like the multiplayer component, with things like constant respawns, and flags that demand to be captured. The first time I heard capture the flag explained I burst out laughing.

Main guy: To take this territory, we need to disable the enemy's respawners. To do that, we need to remove their Field LAttice Generators.
Sassy black guy: You mean the things that look like flags?
Main guy: Yes, those are Field LAttice Generators, or FLAGs for short.
Sassy black guy: They look like flags. They wave like flags. I'm pretty sure they're just flags.

There are a bunch of little scripted conversations like that that show up at proper times during battles and really give the game an unexpected personality. And classy lines like the girl yelling out "Bullshit! Why am I always the first one to die?" really make you feel like you really are playing with jerks online. (Well, not really. Not playing with jerks online is the reason I like single-player UT in the first place.)

UT3, though, has a lot of missteps... probably more than any game in the series so far. They dropped three of my favorite game types in this edition: the ultraviolent basketball game, the objective-based assaults on enemy bases, and domination, where you have to control points of interest for a period of time to score points. I was really shocked to find those missing. What you're left with is just deathmatch, capture the flag, and the outdoor game in which you must control nodes that link your base with the enemy's, renamed to "warfare" from "onslaught." That's half of the game types missing. Not cool.

The warfare game mode has two great improvements, and one really bad addition. Since the game features huge maps that relies on vehicles, each character now carries a hoverboard that they can use when they don't have any other vehicles, drastically reducing the time wasted running from place to place. Also, the maps are more varied in their objectives, with many secondary objectives to pick up rather than just "connect to the enemy base so we can destroy it" every time. But the terribly obnoxious change is that each side now has orbs that can be used to instantly control a node, instead of it taking like 30 or 40 seconds like it normally does. This makes the game disgustingly random at times. I hate them.

The AI is also strangely bad, in an unfortunate departure from the legacy of the series. Maybe it's just because I was playing the campaign on "normal," but my teammates were at times dumb as bricks. Maybe they suck less on higher difficulty levels. The guy on my team who was good at sniping and base defense was always the first one to grab the orb, basically the most powerful offensive weapon you have. And then half the time he'd just stand there confused, seemingly not sure what he was going to do with it. If I didn't know that I was playing with bots I'd have assumed that the guy picked up the orb and then left the computer to go to the bathroom or something. (Disclaimer: apparently the just-released patch improves the AI.)

The maps are strange. Some are mediocre, some are terrible, and some are absolutely fantastic. The core FPS gameplay is still excellent, and they didn't do anything to ruin deathmatches—they're still, in my opinion, the best around. But the lack of what I consider very key game types for an Unreal game really hurts the game and its replayability. I expected something great, but UT3 is just... incomplete.

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