Review by IndoLomo

Reviewed: 07/17/08

Much better than expected.

A friend and I both recently bought this game while, quite honestly, waiting for Halo Wars. We just wanted to stave off the impatience.

And that's where the surprise came. We were immediately immersed in game that neither off us understood anything about, despite pseudo-Sci-Fi cinematic cut-scenes and intros that left us a bit baffled and anxious for action.

There seems to be quite a bit of allusion to 'Warhammer 40k' here when it comes to design aesthetic but I'm not sure if that was present in the original Unreal games or not. Certainly when it comes to the armour and slightly archaic, almost gothic, feel of the equipment, weapons, scenery etc...

Also, the vehicles seem to be 'borrowed' from other titles and again I'm not sure if that was an original Unreal trend and I, being a long-time Sci-Fi fan, know that creative 'borrowing' of certain science fiction ideas and technology is almost essential and almost certainly unavoidable in this day and age.

1. Control
The control method we picked up in seconds by simple trial and error. I'm seriously glad that 360 game designers have the common sense to use an almost universal control dynamic when creating new games now as this certainly makes immediate familiarity possible with the newer titles. Ergo, anybody who's ever played a first-person cooperative shooter on Xbox360° will have no problem figuring it out.

2. Weapons
You have a standard 'one-button-weapon-change' (B) and it is joined by a 'petal menu' of weapons. Something players of 'Rogue Trooper' will be familiar with and undeniably works.

The weapons themselves are awesome! I was extremely satisfied with the range of firepower available, their distribution and ease-of-use. (My particular favourite, as always, was the sniper rifle which had me immediately racking up the headshots while my amigo blitzed the enemy headlong.)

Other weapons include the Enforcer Pistol (good), the Avril (I hated it), Link Gun, Shock Rifle and Flak Cannon (all very, very nice) and the Stinger and Rocket Launcher which are both instant love affairs that make you a death-dealing machine. Also there's the hilariously out-sized Redeemer which fires one extremely nasty, nasty rocket that, in my only time of using it, allowed me to destroy 3 inhabited enemy vehicles and 4 enemies in one shot.

There are a few other assorted, and slightly more unusual, weapons but I couldn't comment on their use as I'm yet to try them out.

3. Vehicles.
Vehicle control is easy but I still managed to get myself stuck more times than I'd liked. The Hellbender jeep and the Scorpion buggy are two of the most common Axon vehicles and both are pretty cool. Having said 'common', in 'Campaign', you are almost immediately availed other, much heavier vehicles and a few flying machines. Having a vehicle, and this is a touch I liked a lot, by no means secures you on the battlefield. It increases your mobility and firepower but you're a real target for rockets and the lovely Redeemer that I mentioned. Even a persistent fellow with a rifle can be a real pain for the lighter vehicles.

Flying machines, for Axon, include the lightweight Manta, which is more a hovercraft and behaves similarly to its Banshee counterparts in Halo. Then there's the Raptor which is a bit heavier and the Cicada for which the saying 'death from above' is quite fitting.

There are a few tank-like vehicles too, the Paladin, SPA, Leviathan and Goliath are all mean machines all of which trade increasing firepower for less mobility.

The Necris vehicles are all comparable, as one would expect, to those of Axon. They all have a Matrix feel to them.

The Nightshade and Nemesis are like tanks but, it seems, hover rather than rely on traction.

The Fury is an airborne machine that has a nasty sting in the form of a plasmid beam.

Then there's the legged Scavenger and Darkwalker. The Scavenger is speedy and vicious while the Darkwalker has better firepower and has the ability to stun all those around it or caught under it.

If none of these appeal or if you need a quick-fix, everyone is given a hoverboard which can be simply accessed by pressing (X). The hoverboard is speedy and good for traversing the arena but disables your attack ability while in use.

4. Arenas and Modes.
These, and the weapons, are where Unreal Tournament 3 goes above and beyond Halo 3. Some of the maps were so well designed that everyone, even a well hidden and effective sniper such as myself, often finds themselves getting shot in the back by a quick-thinking real opponent or an overzealous AI. (More on the AI coming up.)

All of the arenas seem to be huge and all of them require some navigation, especially as the user-friendly radar of Halo is replaced by simple on-screen arrows and instructions.

The arenas are both beautiful and interesting but both of those are features that you'll find, once playing, you will not have time to appreciate.

Campaign mode, which is what I was playing most, throws you into a series of, at first, familiar scenarios. The UT3 takes on 'capture the flag' are incredible and great fun. I'm not going to say much more about them as I think that you need to experience them for yourselves to really appreciate the depths that the developers have gone to to create what, in my opinion, was one of the most addictive campaigns I've ever played.

5. Co-op and AI.
And that brings us to the co-op modes and AI. Split-screen, which is purportedly exclusive to the Xbox360°, is absolutely intuitive and absolutely excellent. I didn't find myself even noticing my friend's half of the screen as we both told each-other of our plans and directions. In fact, I have to say, I rarely had time to even follow him as often another team member, in our case AI's, needed my help more. So you become immersed in co-op play in a different way, readily heading off on your own or being diverted to another foe, all for the greater good. By which I mean, the action is so frenetic and surprising that you find yourself fighting as an army, not as a team.

And why is that? The AI.

Our other team-mates were AI as were the opponents and yet it barely once actually felt like that. In capture-the-flag, you often find your AI cohorts are acting as flag-bearer, although they do need your help securing the flag and returning it. Just like real team-mates.

The only time I was made aware of the shortcomings of the AI's is when they decided to man vehicles. Then it was like watching my grandmother trying to operate alien machinery as, in one instance, I observed my AI team-mate first wedge a tank in between two walls and then spend minutes trying to rectify the situation by driving backwards and forwards while firing ordnance, seemingly randomly, in the air.

Other than that, the AI is seamless and, with the added comments of some AI team-mates during gameplay, sometimes hilarious.

Jester: "Why am I always the first one to get shot!?"

In conclusion, I've been playing a lot of Halo 3 recently and was convinced that is was the pinnacle of online and cooperative play. I'm starting to change my mind.

UT3 has the best AI I've seen so far on any system which was demonstrated to the extreme in Campaign mode with one other human player and a team of AI's and an opposing team of AI's. (This was on the novice setting too. Where their aim isn't up to much but they have persistence to drive you insane.)

Definitely worth it. Don't wait for Halo Wars to come out.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Product Release: Unreal Tournament III (US, 07/07/08)

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