Unreal Tournament III is ideal for overcaffeinated teenage boys with PlayStation 3s, broadband internet connections, extensive online friend lists, hours and hours of time to blow, and—just for good measure—a deep appreciation of the steroid-addled dystopian sci-fi aesthetic.
(You know, the one where men are 450 pounds of muscle wearing armor that vaguely resembles football pads, women have big tits and find a way to work a thong into every post-apocalyptic outfit, and every city looks like the inside of a carburetor.)
So, for the 38 of you who fall into that group, have at it. For the rest of us, Unreal Tournament III is just so narrow in focus and so overspecialized that it’s all but impossible to recommend.
In the world of UT3, you shoot people before they shoot you, and you do this a lot. To say more about the game’s story would be spending more time on it than the game itself does. Suffice it to say: Life in the future is ugly, brutish, and short, and your demise generally comes from a huge gun that looks like a piece of construction equipment.
This is a first-person shooter of the purest and most primitive form. Don’t look for a cover system or fleshed-out single-player narrative here; it’s simple arena-style shooting, a virtual paintball game where you might as well be a mobile turret. Game play is fast—faster than Team Fortress 2, speedy enough to make Halo 3 feel downright geriatric. You’ll charge into an arena firing like a madman, get blown to rubble, then immediately reappear until your time runs out. It’s a testament to the game’s developer, Epic, that the controls can keep up with such cracked-out action onscreen. They feel perfect, in fact.
Problem is, there isn’t a single distinct gimmick here, not one innovation or refinement that sets the game apart. It’s not unfair or hyperbolic to say that, at least in terms of game play, UT3 isn’t significantly different from Doom or Quake—games that are nearly 15 years old. It’s deathmatch, capture the flag, team-based objectives, and everyone charging for the rocket launcher to blast each other into a shower of ash. It’s all done very well, but why wouldn’t it be at this point?
The visuals, much like the game itself, are an example of how a game’s elements can be expertly created on a technical level, yet offer little merit anyway. Everything is carefully drawn, and it all runs wonderfully, but the game’s style is more about detail than design. Characters practically shudder under the sheer volume of visual knickknacks on their bodies—buckles, straps, doohickeys, and thingamajigs that all become visual noise when viewed from a distance and moving; lumpy, nondescript figures bouncing across the battlefield in clothes fashioned out of medieval armor and quite possibly vacuum cleaner parts.
UT3 feels like a Neanderthal, an evolutionary dead-end in the FPS family. Epic has sharpened its game down to the finest possible edge, perfect for slicing off that paper-thin demographic—an endeavor that barely seems worthwhile. The good news about Unreal Tournament III? It accomplishes everything it set out to do. If only it had dared to do more.