The Good: More of the frenzied UT gibfest action that we’ve been looking for. Many, many new vehicles. Jazzed up graphics. The Bad: Game variants are only slightly changed from UT2k4. Many maps are very similar as well (Torlon AGAIN?). The Ugly: Online connection and account required to play anything except simple bot skirmishes, even the single player campaign.
I’m going to assume, for the sake of argument, that everyone reading this review is familiar with UT2k4. That’s easier than rehashing the whole previous game and allows me to concentrate on the differences between the two, of which there are not a tremendous amount. If you’re in the minority coming to the UT franchise for the first time, go find a review of one of the older games online somewhere – there are many to choose from, but as always Game-Over is the best.
I’m furthermore going to admit up front that right out of the box UT3 put a bad taste in my mouth. Installation was a breeze, but then actually playing a game required creating an online account with Gamespy – even the single player campaign required an online account. I already have a Gamespy account from some other game review – that’s not the issue – but being required to log on to even play as a single player, that’s invasive and unnecessary. Steam does that as well, but it could be argued that Steam at least does it more or less seamlessly, while Gamespy is run by retarded monkeys – inbred retarded monkeys – and whoever at Epic suggested that an online connection and verification be required for the single player campaign should die of kneecap cancer. Yes, I’m talking to you, the guy at Epic who is at this very moment bouncing his kid on his knee. That knee: cancer. And to make matters worse, for some reason I need to have a unique nickname on UT3, so my present account at Gamespy isn’t good enough – I’ve got to come up with another nickname. And the first half dozen or so that I try are already taken (or at least the server claims they are), but it checks with Gamespy first and creates a nickname over there before checking with the UT3 server and failing, so now I have more than half a dozen nicknames over at Gamespy, and Gamespy (think about the inbred retarded monkey thing), won’t let me delete the ones I’m not using so now I’m stuck with them. That’s sloppy, very sloppy. Finally, in a fit of disgust, certain that the servers at UT3 were equally retarded (and the forums are loaded with people claiming they are having trouble logging on), I just mashed the keyboard and submitted that nickname – and it passed! So now I’m playing online as (something like) asdfpoijanefpoijhaoisd. Hope to see you there! Beyond the problems logging on, people are also reporting problems with the progress in the single player campaign not being saved properly. I’ve also noticed that if you lose your Internet connection for even a moment that the single player game kicks you out – it must be pinging the mothership continually. It all links back to the inexcusable online logging, and it probably spells death for any of the many, many people still living in rural areas on dialup connections. There are rumors circulating that the first patch will remove the online login requirement for the single player campaign. That’s better, but I’m still rooting for the cancer.
So, to get down to an actual game review, much from the original game has not changed. There is still CTF, Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Duel as well as Onslaught (with some minor additions and now they call it Warfare). Assault is gone (just as well – I never liked it) and has been replaced with a vehicle-based CTF game called, originally enough, Vehicle CTF. There is now another race called the Necris in the game, but mostly the differences are wholly cosmetic. Everyone has the same armor and weapons which, as far as I can tell, have not changed at all from UT2k4. The chain gun, link gun, rocket launcher, flak gun, shock rifle, yadda, yadda are all still there. The most significant difference between the Axon and the Necris is also the most significant addition to the game as a whole: they’ve added a slew of new vehicles. So the Axon still have the Manta and Goliath and Hellbender; old favorites as well as several new ones. The Necris have a Walker and Viper and Nightshade and others – six in all. I’ve got to admit that Epic has done some great work there. The new vehicles are different, very different. So different that I’m still a big fan of the Manta, and it’s going to take me a while to get used to some of these new ones. The battlefield has become a really crazy place with all these different oddball vehicles shambling/rolling/zipping/flying around. Additionally, every player has a hoverboard that can be deployed at any time. It’s much faster than walking, though you can’t shoot from the hoverboard, and if anyone hits you even slightly you fall off the board and take pretty severe damage. You can link your hoverboard to a vehicle and be pulled along at greater speed, though this puts you somewhat at the mercy of the driver (skill), who can take sharp corners and whip you into a tree or a wall – that’s pretty much always fatal. You can also link your hoverboard to vehicles that move more slowly than the hoverboard can without the linkage (like tanks, for example). I have no idea why you’d want to do that.
With this new race, UT3 also introduces a plotline of sorts, even if it has been carelessly and pointlessly implemented. The whole concept of the tournament is over and the game is instead the story of a war. There are a couple of game engine movies here and there that try and advance the plot, and individual missions are describes as having some military goal – capturing a resource mine or a communications outpost, etc, but I’ve got a couple of big problems with it. One, you’re given a world map and a “choice” of what mission you want to do next, but the order in which you do them (and you have to ultimately do them all so it’s not like you have any real choice to being with) doesn’t seem to change how the war is going at all. Capturing a resource mine or communications outpost doesn’t give you better anything or reduce the enemy force in the next mission in the slightest. Two, and I guess some of you will find this nitpicking, the entire audio track and gameplay doesn’t match the theme of a war at all. From the very first moment when you start a mission (at which the computer announces “Play!” when shouldn’t it really be “Fight!”?) your teammates yell comments like “Better luck next time” and “You’ll feel that in the morning.” Do those sound like comments about a war? And losing any given mission doesn’t cost you anything either – you can just try it again. And they still describe the sides in the conflict as red and blue team. No, the war plotline is at best a thin shellac over the heart of the game which is still a tournament. I’m not certain why they even bothered.
By far the multiplayer variant that has seen the greatest changes (beyond Assault which is actually gone, which could be argued is the biggest change possible) is Onslaught (now Warfare) – this is also one of my personal favorites. The base concept of the game has not changed – link together a series of nodes between your core and the enemy core, and then destroy it. There are now often nodes on the battlefield that have nothing to do with the linkage, but impart some special vehicle or weapon to the team that possesses it. Each team also has a sphere, and touching the sphere to an enemy node instantly converts it to your node. This makes the gameplay even more frantic with nodes changing hands very quickly.
Graphically UT3 has undergone a huge overhaul. The new engine looks great and doesn’t seem to load my system down at all which is more than I could say of the recent Gears of War. They’ve moved away a little bit from the colorful almost cartoonish look of UT2k4 for a more gritty surrealism. Sound effects seem not to have changed even slightly, having all the same weapons sounds and teammate taunts and comments.
When I first began my review of UT3, I was very excited by all of it: the new graphics, the little changes that they had made to Onslaught, the inclusion of the personal hoverboard. The more I’ve played it however the more like UT2k4 it plays, and I’m left wondering what we were waiting over three and a half years for. The people in my gaming group, which still regularly plays both UT and UT2k4, probably will not rush out and buy UT3 for the new vehicles plus some little tweaks and flashier graphics, and I’m not sure I can recommend that you do so either.