Of course, UT3 isn’t just about the gameplay, oh no, it’s about having a fantastic time with a game that plays brilliantly and looks equally awesome. So was I disappointed? Of course not; we already knew what the Unreal Engine 3 was capable of from Bioshock and Gears of War, but as the game the engine was built for UT3 is the real test, so passing that test is important. Better still, the game is surprisingly scalable. Ok, so running on last year’s tech will require you to lower the detail settings and resolution, but given games like Crysis are simply unplayable on anything older than the contents of your fridge, being scalable at all is laudable.
If you’ve invested in a multi-core processor you’ll be pleased to know that UT3 utilises all the available cores, running in single player with 19 bots on a Q6600 I saw each core running at about 70 per cent load; in multiplayer the load is a lot less as there’s no AI opponents to drive, so a dual core processor will be fine. On the subject of hardware UT3 has one more trick to offer: Ageia PhysX. I’m sure the three of you reading this who own PhysX cards will be disappointed to hear me say this, but the implementation in UT3 is not exactly compelling. For a start, although there is apparently some improved physics simulation in the normal game, I couldn’t see it, which means that if you want to see the benefit of the add-on board you’ll be restricted to the two Ageia maps currently available.
Of these the Tornado level is probably the coolest, with bits of debris being pulled of buildings (destroying cover and making sniping that much easier) and hurled around, sometimes hitting an unwary combatant. The Lighthouse level is a big tower with walls you can shoot through to open up new passage ways and such like. The problem with both of these levels is that although the PhysX implementation sounds great in theory, it doesn’t actually add any more enjoyment to the game, and Ageia seems to think that increased realism means more bits flying around. I’m not giving up hope quite yet, because once the modding community gets going we may well see some must-have PhysX content, but for now I can’t recommend anyone buy a PhysX card just for UT3.
In this sense it’s a good thing that epic hasn’t shoehorned PhysX into the game proper. For all its small foibles UT3 is a fantastic game; the single player story is gripping enough to make one run through worthwhile, the variety of multiplayer modes and maps is enough that after two weeks I still haven’t played all of them (is that a good or a bad thing?) and already a stream of custom mutators have populated the web, be it adding infinite ammo or making Hoverboarding players immortal. Add to that the removal of all the superfluous rubbish brought in with by 2K3 and 2K4, along with the truly awesome graphics and you have a match made in heaven.
Unreal Tournament 3 isn’t perfect and it isn’t innovative but it doesn’t need to be. If you’re looking for a back to basics online shooter with the capability to also cover large scale combat with panache you really can’t do better. UT3 really is in a class of its own, and for that reason I can’t help but recommend it.