Unreal III

Once more into the fold, this time we’re reviewing Unreal III. Now I’ve been a fan of the Unreal series since way back, played nearly all of them (except Unreal II, which really sucked). But the original, 2003, 2004—ahh, Unreal Tournament 2004, how I miss the.

Well anyway, today we’re doing the latest installment, Unreal III. I shouldn’t say I’ve been ‘following’ the development of this one, but I do have a picture of myself standing next to the lead level designer somewhere. When you go to enough game conventions, you meet people.

By and by, I have got to say that Midway, the game’s developers, did not do a great job with the packaging here. I looked over this one four times before I finally asked an employee. I don’t usually go into the game shop looking for a specific game, but Unreal III was a bit special. The box is largely white and red, and doesn’t stand out real well on the shelf. If I hadn’t specifically been looking for it, I wouldn’t have found it. Again we are seeing the ultra-thick case with a single DVD inside. I dunno what the deal is with this, but here it is.

Play Time: Step 1: Open the box. I bought this one from Electronic Boutique, so the box has already been opened. It contains the game DVD and manual, which I will not be reading.

Step 2: Installation! Pop in the drive select my language, and away we go! I like that there’s no annoying full-screen installer. One improvement that I’m seeing over the previous Unreal is the lack of a CD key. It’s extremely annoying to buy a game and then have to enter a 15-digit key to install it. Hackers and pirates are going to hack and pirate your game, at least make things as painless as possible for the for the paying customers(take that Fallout3).

Unreal III has a nice, clean, simple installer. It doesn’t take up your whole screen or fight you for control, which means you can do other things during the long, long installation process.

However, said process looses serious points when it reaches the end and asks me to restart my computer. Seriously.

Step 3: Play! As we enter Unreal III, we are at first greeted by the splash screens for Midway and Epic, two companies which refused to higher me. We are then asked for a CD key. Forget what I said about this game scoring points for not having a CD key, there turns out to be one after all.

The menu screens are all white and red, which despite reminding me of old episodes of MASH, is really a pretty gawd-awful color combination. Expect to first be greeted with an online login page. If playing online is your thing, great, but I found the bots in 2k4 to be so impressive that I never once felt a desire to play against actual humans. Fortunately, the login page includes a handy ‘play offline’ button for the rest of us.

Possibly my favorite feature in the Unreal series is the “Instant Action” button on the main page. If I hadn’t had to go through so much to get here, it woulda been extra nice. But apparently everythings about killing strangers on the blagosphere these days, I digress.

Anyway, Instant Action it is!

…Except that ‘instant action’ no longer means ‘instant action’ in Unreal III. In the previous instalment, when I hit ‘instant action’ I got instant freaking action! Here, ‘instant action’ seems to mean the same as ‘new game’. I was so confused by this that I actually went back to make sure I had indeed clicked the ‘instant action’ button. Sadly, I had.

Graphically speaking, I am unimpressed with this game. The new trend seems to be the things look more realistic when they’re fuzzy. I dunno how making the game look like the player needs glasses is supposed to improve things, but seeing as how I happen to already need glasses, I find it really stupid.

This is real now.

My favorite game type, Onslaught, has been renamed to Warfare. No real rhythm or reason behind this change, just change for changes sake. The worst kind of change.

After being disappointed by Instant Action and headshotting a lot of bots, I am going to give the game’s Campaign Mode a try. However, I was once again disappointed when an error message popped up saying I needed an online profile. To play an offline game. Seriously.

Story/Plot: Unreal III is an FPS and I do not ask my FPS’s for plots. The fact that the campaign mode requires online access in order to play offline has cost this game a sticker, but I don’t really care to much. I never played the campaign mode in the previous installation because it wasn’t any different than setting up games and playing myself. They just threw in some characters and some drama, the levels were all the same.

Environment/Graphics: I have to say, my opinions are really mixed. The environments are unique, just like every previous Unreal game(that was not an attempt at sarcasm, Unreal’s unique brand of, well, unreal environments is just… unreal!), but the whole fuzzyness factor just gives me a headache!

Up close, everything is beautiful, with detailed normal maps and impressive textures. However, it’s all starting to get a bit overdone. In fact, everything has gone so crazy that I have trouble telling what’s what.

What really kills it is the lighting. Everything just looks fuzy! And yes I do need glasses, but it doesn’t look fuzzy when I load up Unreal Tournament 2004, and I’m sorry, but if I had to say which game has the better graphics, the award is going to 2k4. I actually am getting a headache trying to play Unreal III.

Indoor maps are another story. Inside, you really get to appreciate the enjoyable aspects of the game.

Interface/Controls: Excellent. Unreal has never disappointed in this department. If there is one thing this team knows how to do, it’s create intuitive and easy to use controls. If there’s one thing they apparently don’t know how to do, it’s create a lighting scheme that doesn’t SUCK.

Design: Levels are EXCEPTIONALLY well-designed. With 11+ years of awesomness under their belt, these developers are bound to be good at it. Weapons an items are well-placed, the designs are original, while still very solid. The different environments are unique and immersive, even if they do look like crap because of the lighting and rendering.

Now I have met the lead level designer personally at a convention some years ago, back when they were working on this very game. The levels looked good then, before the development of the fuzzy light engine.

Still, from a pure play-standpoint, the level design is fantastic.

Vehicles are back with a vengeance, and are as fun and exciting as ever, However, since you have to play with them on the headache-inducing outdoor maps, it doesn’t really say much.

But the Unreal series taught us how to do in-game vehicle right, and they’ve brought along some fantastic new ones with this game. It may be worth the headache and eye-strain of the fuzzy outdoor levels to play around with a few of these.

One more most notable addition is the hover boards, these things are freaking awesome! You always have a vehicle! You can also hitch rides and get towed around on these things, which is just so very much fun.

Performance: the performance is good. I cannot complain about it. The menus are a bit annoying and the whole red and white color scheme isn’t great, but the game runs quite smoothly and there are no game-killing glitches. It is definitely a finished, polished product.

The End Result: I’m not impressed. I want to score this game highly, but objectively, it gets 3 stickers.

Final Thoughts: I watched the earliest demonstrations of the engine technology at E3 in 2004, the game looked awesome. I played an early playable demo at E4All in 2006, the game looked awesome. I bought the game retail, it looked like crap. How does a game spend that long in development, and actually come out looking worse than it’s predecessor?

They did a lot of stuff well, yes, the problem is all the stuff they did well they also did well in all the previous games, and some things they’d done well previously they did crappily on this time.

If I were to judge Unreal III on it’s own merits, I would actually have to score it much lower. This is not the vein of the Uninformed Gamer, but Unreal III is a pale ghost of it’s former iterations, and received it’s meager score based primarily on the franchise it was built upon.

If this is the direction FPS games are taking, it’s time to do an about-face.