Frag fest

Multiplayer mayhem in Unreal Tournament III
By MITCH KRPATA  |  December 31, 2007
3.0 3.0 Stars

VIDEO: The trailer for Unreal Tournament III

If you can accept that multiplayer shooters are essentially sports games, it goes a long way toward getting you into the appropriate mindset to enjoy them. The science fiction and fantasy mish-mash of games like Quake and Halo gives the impression that something epic and earth-shattering is occurring, but their version of Capture the Flag is actually less complex than your typical game of Madden. Score more points than your opponent, and you’re the champ. And in the world of the first-person shooter, console games have always seemed like the minor leagues: slower, uglier, and harder to control than their PC counterparts.

If nothing else, Unreal Tournament III is one of the first console shooters that doesn’t lose the speed or precision of a computer game. In many console shooters, using the dual-analog setup of a standard control pad makes it difficult to turn 180 degrees quickly, but here it’s not a problem. Even so, you also have the option to hook up a keyboard and mouse, which is still the ideal control setup. Better still, you can choose to jump into games only against keyboard and mouse players, or only against control-pad players. Freedom of choice is a good thing.

The game offers a few different scenarios. Deathmatch and Capture the Flag are old favorites, neither one surprising but both executed skillfully. Especially when so many games are trying for something like realism in their sci-fi shooters, it’s nice to play a game whose maps are studded with floating health packs and rotating suits of armor to pick up.

The new Warfare mode gums up the works a bit with some nonintuitive mechanics; your team’s aim is to destroy the other team’s “power core,” which can only be accomplished by capturing “support nodes.” Even trying to describe it is exhausting. Warfare also demands that your character cruise around on a Back to the Future–style hoverboard, which controls poorly and looks silly. The several vehicles you can commandeer are a bit better in this regard, but nothing is as fluid or as responsive as simply maneuvering on foot. It’s tempting to retreat quickly to the simple pleasures of the Deathmatch.

The PlayStation 3 version of Unreal Tournament III also takes inspiration from a more unfortunate aspect of PC gaming: advertising features in the retail release that will only be available for download later. The mod community—those golden-hearted amateurs who toil at designing maps and game modes for other players free of charge—is always what gives PC shooters legs beyond the initial retail release. Developer Epic Games has promised a vast array of homebrew options for the PS3 version of the game, but there’s a catch. You have to create these mods on the Windows version first, and that feature wasn’t ready by the time Unreal Tournament III had hit shelves.

Furthermore, the only way to transfer this user-created content from a desktop computer to the PlayStation is to use portable media such as a Sony Memory Stick or an SD card … which the 40 gigabyte PS3 model doesn’t even support! Your only option there is to use a USB device. Your PS3 will download custom content automatically from a server that’s currently using it, but since nobody can make any, good luck finding some. No, it’s not a dealbreaker, but why would a publisher ask you to spend $60 on a game that isn’t actually done yet? This is the downside of the awesome hardware potential of the current console generation: they can always patch the software later.

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