The Unreal Tournament III beta demo has been out for a couple of weeks now, with two deathmatch maps and one vehicle CTF. I managed to find a little time to play it in between the delights of The Orange Box and BioShock (yes I know I’m late to the party). I played a lot of UT and its sequels over the years, so I was pretty interested to see how the newest entry’s looking.
Well, I would have to say that it’s… meh. Which is not to say it’s bad; it’s not. It’s pretty good, even. It’s just that it’s essentially the same game I’ve been playing for years now. It has shinier graphics, new maps, new models. And sure, there are hoverboards now, and some new vehicles (the only new one in the demo being a huge alien tripod thing, which is good fun to stomp around in, and having it occasionally drop into an otherwise unremarkable DM map works surprisingly well), but none of that distracts much from the feeling that it’s yet more UT. I think I’ve just had enough.
Maybe it’s unfair to judge the game in the absence of the promised new game mode, Warfare. Described as being something like a cross between Onslaught and Assault, it sounds like it could be quite interesting. However, it would have to be pretty special to take over from Team Fortress 2, my new online multiplayer best beloved. I realise that putting UT3 up against TF2 isn’t exactly an apples-to-apples comparison, but I can’t help but point out how the latter’s light-hearted, comical style makes it stand out from all the other shooters around in exactly the way that UT3, with its burly, gritty men doing serious, gritty things in gritty, gritty environments, doesn’t.
Getting back to the actual game, the changes that have been introduced are generally for the best. The one new vehicle present is the most interesting new addition. The hoverboards address the problem of getting around in large maps when you find yourself stuck without a vehicle, evident on some of the larger Onslaught maps in UT2004. With Warfare’s maps purported to be up to three times the size of Onslaught’s, it’s obvious some solution was necessary.
The game makes some gestures towards greater accessibility; notable are the pop-up instructions on how to operate the vehicles, particularly helpful in the case of more complicated ones like the Hellfire SPMA. It’s nice, but it’s not going to do all that much for the steep learning curve.
One particular annoyance was the terrible, terrible server browser, which refused to remember my filter settings and wouldn’t properly sort servers by latency. Given that it’s a beta, though, that kind of thing is somewhat excusable. I also would have liked a filter to exclude servers with a large number of assholes on them, because I seemed to end up on them quite often. I suppose that’s not really the developers’ fault, though.
Anyway, I don’t doubt the game will do pretty well, as it should; like I said, it’s not bad by any means. I thought it was great when I played it in 1999. For me, however, I suspect it’s time to move on.