Unreal Tournament is Epic's way of displaying their latest engine. Despite this, Epic continues to push gameplay with their series. Unreal Tournament III continues in this legacy.
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When you first pick up the controler, you'll notice that Unreal feels much like previous games in the franchise. Players run and gun while using their weapon's function that best fits the situation. Almost all weapons have multiple functions. The Flak Cannon can be fired like a futuristic shotgun or concentrated flak can be lobbed for an explosive/shrapnel effect. In close range, the shotgun effect is more useful because it prevents you from taking splash damage; however, at a distance, the shrapnel bomb is more useful because the shotgun effect spreads out and deals less damage. Another weapon is the BioRifle. This gun shoots globs of toxic waste that slowly drains an enemy's health. The second function allows a concentrated glob that is the size of at least five normal shots. This instantly kills any opponent it hits, while causing splash damage which drains nearby opponents' health. The drawback is that the second function must be charged and has a slower rate of fire. Most weapons in Unreal Tournament III work like this. The exception being the Sniper Rifle. Sniper Rifle's second function is the scope. The scope makes the Sniper Rifle the only weapon capable of firing across most maps with pinpoint accuracy. The drawback is rate of fire.
Unreal Tournament 2004 introduces vehicles to the fray. Unreal Tournament III keeps the combat interesting by leaving the vehicles in. Smaller vehicles are generally used by one player while larger vehicles promote team play. Unreal Tournament 2004 added the Leviathan tank. The Leviathan is a 7 man vehicle with over 5000 shield points (the average vehicle is around 800). Unlike Unreal Tournament 2004, the current Leviathan's mega cannon comes out of the back (not the center). Against other machines, the Leviathan makes matches somewhat one sided. Other returning vehicles include the Hornet and the Scorpion. I enjoy the Hornet because it takes the action to the air. Aerial combat is much smoother than any of the Halo games. The Hornet is extremely responsive and manuverable. To balance out the Hornet, Epic added the AVril Launcher. Basically, it's an anti-aircraft rocket launcher that is included in the weapon set whenever there's a Hornet. While I don't like getting shot down, I enjoy the balance. The Scorpion is another fun vehicle. It features electric bola as well as hooks. The hooks are retractable and used for decapitating enemies in your way. It's fun driving into the midst of enemies, whipping cookies, and using the hooks to tear up a serious multi-kill. Other vehicles have their usage, but weren't as much fun to drive. Unreal even added their own answer to the Warthog (Halo). While not as much fun as the Hornet or Scorpion, their version has its place.
New Necris vehicles add to the mix. The most notable Necris vehicle is the Dark Walker. Standing 4 stories tall, this seems like something from the Tom Cruise War of the Worlds film. Not nearly as powerful as the Leviathan, but it can withstand a beating and features a powerful energy beam. The Necris also have a mine laying vehicle which can cloak itself. There are orb spinning vehicles. It seems as if HG Wells had some influence in Necris designs. While the Necris vehicles can make a battle interesting, the standars (human) vehicles were more fun to play with and better balanceds on the maps.
Unreal Tournament III leaves the tournament roots of the series by adding a story. It's humans versus the Necris. In past games, the Necris were former humans who had their bodies reworked so they could live after dying. Harvesters would put the freshly dead corps through a process which would turn the skin pale, but give a new life to the former human. The series now portrays the Necris as an alien race. The humans must defeat the Necris queen to complete the story's campaign. According to the story, the Necris are attacking areas where "respawners" are still working. This means that warfare is more like a deathmatch than actual war. It's a silly way to explain the ability to die repeatedly, but they had to figure some way of giving the game an excuse to use the tournament style play. Because of the respawners, Malcolm (former Unreal Tournament champion) is appointed as a general in this war. My initial thought was, "Uh... yeah... very likely." So, just take a gulp when the story plays out and accept the fact that Epic wasn't writing Gears of War, but using a simple story line to explain this war. I liked the story in Unreal Championship II: The Liandri Conflict much more because it fit with the series' cannon better than Unreal Tournament III.
Unreal Tournament III is an FPS title at core. Because of this, it features the staples of FPS game variants. Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Capture the Flag are the core modes of multiplayer. Epic added Duel to the series. Duel puts players in a queue and only allows two out at a time. The winner of the duel stays, while the looser has to wait at the end of the queue. The duel ends when one person achieves a predetermined number of kills. Warfare feels like a renamed version of Onslaught (which debuted in Unreal Tournament 2004). Warfare requires players to secure power nodes. When a node is secured, the team can move forward. The objective is to secure nodes in a path to the opponent's base; doing this will render the opponent's reactor core vunlerable. The game ends when a reactor core is destroyed. While I enjoy the vehicles, Warfare is my least favorite mode of play. Thankfully, you can play Capture the Flag on some maps with Vehicles. Epic added free downloadable content for Unreal Tournament III that adds 3 additional modes of play. One of which is a betrayal match where players will score points, but must also kill their teammates to score higher. I would've liked to see the Nali Slaughter and Horde modes return from previous Unreal games. Nali Slaughter had players killing the Nali (a peaceful race) while Horde had bugs and minor enemies swarming around players to kill them. It was a last stand type game.
In the story mode, Epic added a card system. Winning matches gave players cards that they could use to shift the odds in their favor. Whether it was decreasing the opposing team by 2 members or giving your team your favorite weapons at spawn, I didn't find the card system very useful. This feature could have been omitted without reducing the experience. Instead of cards, I would have liked to see the adrenaline system. Adrenaline fills up as you take damage and score. When adrenaline is full, you can spend the points on health regeneration, super speed, invisibility, or increased damage. The effects of adrenaline were short, but made play more interesting.
I have only a few gripes about Unreal Tournament III. First, you can't play multiplayer online. So, if I'm playing with my friend, we can't take the two of us online to play against others (like you can in Halo or previous console versions of Unreal). Before Unreal Tournament III, you could play four players hotseat. This has been reduced to only two. Players cannot select their models, but are forced to whatever model Player 1 has created. The create a character only has a few teams and minimal customization. Finally, I wish Epic would've allowed Player 2 to sign in and earn awards for their accomplishments.
Overall, Epic is keeping the Unreal franchise true to its roots (in terms of play). The games are still fun. While the storyline isn't as interesting as Unreal Championship II, Unreal Tournament III more than makes up for it with a great combat system and excellent maps. I strongly recommend Unreal Tournament III to FPS games. It's easy to pick up and play, while offering a level of depth that keeps the hardcore gamers coming back.