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Unreal Tournament 3
Review By: Andrew Joy
Developer: Epic Games
Publisher: Midway
Genre: FPS
ESRB: Mature
# Of Players: 1 (2-16 online)
Online Play: Yes
Accessories: PlayStation Network (online play), HDTV 720p
Buy Now: Buy Unreal Tournament 3 at Amazon.com!

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Is online gameplay killing narrative? It seems a strange question to ask, I know, but I ask it almost every time I pick up one of the more anticipated titles this generation. Sometimes I think the answer is yes, especially if it is a follow-up to one of the many so-hot-it’ll-make-you-sweat franchises out there. A number of games that once revolved around the single-player experience now tend to last little more than six hours, offering more online options than actual missions. Of course, as with every trend, there are always those that buck it. Take Unreal Tournament III, for example. While the series generally focused on the multiplayer aspect to begin with, this time its horizons have expanded to include a story not directly involved in the titular blood sport. Unfortunately, I’m not sure whether it should be applauded for stepping outside its comfort zone or flogged for tripping so bad on the threshold.

When it comes to the story, it isn’t that there is any one thing wrong with it so much as it is...everything. Unreal Tournament III starts out when the Twin Souls mining colony is set upon by the Necris, setting up a quest for revenge for a group of security guards-cum-mercenaries through an ashamedly generic they-destroyed-our-home JRPG plot. Unfortunately, the aforementioned team doesn’t get very original either, consisting mainly of the brother/sister team, the religious zealot and, of course, the token black guy. Yeah, it wasn’t that good in the Doom movie, and it isn’t any more entertaining here. There are a couple of twists in the story – including a real shocker for longtime series’ fans – and the Necris – with a religion sprung up from their new lives as reanimated assassins – are rather fascinating, but just as the game begins to really get interesting, it ends on a painful cliffhanger.

However, perhaps the biggest problem – or, at least, my biggest problem – with the narrative is that it so rigidly adheres to Unreal Tournament’s (or, really, any multiplayer-centric game such as this) established gameplay mechanics and then attempts to write a story around it. Now, to the type of person who wants to quickly initiate newcomers, or even if you are someone who likes to really get into your games, this may sound like a good idea...but, it isn’t. While it does act as a decent tutorial, it simply isn’t very entertaining. Instead of being regaled some epic tale (no pun intended), you get some 40 missions dedicated to introducing you to gameplay modes, maps and cramming some contrived, deeper meaning – like flags, which may have looked like and been called such for God knows how long, actually being some device essential to your opponent’s ability to respawn – down your throat.

Unreal Tournament III

You can play the campaign online (though it seems unusually buggy and/or laggy – there are only so many times I can run down the same hall without ever reaching the end), but, again, that brings us back to the real draw of Unreal Tournament III: the multiplayer. And, given the choice between slogging through some square-peg-in-a-round-hole story with predetermined maps and game modes or just letting the adrenaline pump and reveling in the unpredictability of what’s coming next, we’ll take the latter (but it is still nice to have your options open). While a lot of the multiplayer is team-based, if you’re looking for an every-man-for-himself type of experience, Duel provides something more personal, offering (not necessarily even) 1-on-1 match-ups where awaiting contenders can become spectators and watch the battle, while Deathmatch still makes up the meat and potatoes of the series.

On the team-based side of things, you’ve got Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Vehicle Capture the Flag and Warfare. All of them are fun in their own way, but that last one is probably my favorite, and also perhaps the only one here that might require an explanation for the uninitiated. In Warfare, the object of the game is to destroy your enemy’s power core while still protecting your own from attack. In order to do so, however, you have to take control of the prime node (and sometimes a series of others in between) by destroying the current one or delivering an orb. It’s a battlefield of current flux, and a great time. No matter what you’re playing though, the fast-paced nature of Unreal Tournament III generally guarantees that the gameplay will devolve into shooting first, asking question later (or wait until someone screams, “Your side!”).

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Posted: 2008-04-29 15:38:58 PST