Unreal Tournament 3: Black Edition, The Crucible v1.2, & MapMixer 3.03 Review

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The first Unreal Tournament is a pretty fantastic game. The sequel, Unreal Tournament 2003 seemed to be forgotten after the release of Unreal Tournament 2004. But I can understand it since it’s essentially an improved version of 2003. I think the series is interesting because even though the games are multiplayer-focused, they offer extremely fun single player experiences thanks to excellent bot AI. These are basically first-person shooters that can appeal to any fans of the genre thanks to all the customization options they offer the player. Developed by Epic Games and published by Midway games, Unreal Tournament 3 was released for PC in November 2007, PlayStation 3 in December of that same year, and Xbox 360 in July, 2008. This new entry brought with it the new Unreal Engine 3 which already made an appearance Epic Games’ own Gears of War, released in 2006. One of the coolest things about this game is that the PlayStation 3 version actually supports mods. I played the Black Edition for PC which includes all prior patches of the game and the free Titan Pack expansion which included new maps, game modes, and the Titan Mutator. I downloaded and installed all five Community Bonus Pack Volumes – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, with number 4 being the standout since it includes the Domination game type. I also downloaded and installed The Unreal Old Friends Map Packs Volumes 1 and 2, the Unreal Old Friends Extended Gameplay Map Pack, the Unreal Old Friends Deathmatch Map Pack, and The COMP (Competitive) Map Pack. This review will also cover two major mods – The Crucible UT3: v1.2, which adds new weapons, a new game type, and even new mutators, and MapMixer 3.03 which basically gives players more control over everything.

I think anybody who has played the prior games will agree that the stories, or campaigns, are not anything special. They were just a way to introduce players to several of the different game types. Unreal Tournament 3 follows this mold but with an actual narrative. Yeah, that sounds pretty cool and then you play it and realize it just sucks. The funny thing is, it’s basically the same concept as previous games, each “mission” has you playing one of the game types, with a narrative wrapped around it all. Except the narrative is not interesting and the campaign as a whole is just boring. There’s not enough action which I equate to there not being enough bots to make it exciting. I feel like every mission just kind of drags on and you’re basically going from cut scene to cut scene with several missions, or game types, in between. Every now and then you unlock cards that provide benefits or changes to the gameplay which can be applied before starting a mission. These include things like reduced enemy counts, more team members, increased starting health, and shit like that. Now the actual story is just terrible and doesn’t really revolve around the Unreal Tournament Championship like in previous games so why each mission is a different game type never really makes sense but the story laughably tries to connect it all together like it all means something. You play as Reaper, leader of the Ronins, a team of soldiers. The opening cut scene shows the team in combat with the Krall which were released by the Necris on humans. Reaper is wounded and then rescued and him and the team join forces with Malcolm, leader of a guerilla force fighting the Necris and Axon. Reaper seeks revenge on the Necris and a Necris operative he saw right before he passed out after getting wounded. You know what the funniest thing about the story is? It actually ends on a cliffhanger. The voice acting isn’t great. Even the dialogue shouted by human-type characters isn’t that great. It was never great in the other games either but at least it was somewhat humorous, even campy. That’s not the case here. The dialogue is just annoying. And, unfortunately, there’s no more sexy announcer voice. You get a mix of both male and female announcers. The female usually announces events like when a flag is captured or dropped for example. You do unlock playable characters to use in multiplayer by completing specific chapters of the campaign. But, honestly, I would suggest just using a cheat to unlock them because playing through the campaign just isn’t worth it.

The Unreal Tournament games are not known for their stories but they are known for their gameplay and I would even say their customization options. So what can we tweak in Unreal Tournament 3? Sadly, not that much. The developers significantly reduced the amount of configurable options given to the player. And I believe this is all due to the limitations of the console versions. I can’t really prove it but that’s my guess. Outside of the campaign, there’s obviously multiplayer which I didn’t try and Instant Action returns where you can basically set up an offline multiplayer game with bots. You can, of course, set up your character, select what game type you want to play, the map, set up a map cycle, apply different mutators, and set how many bots. You still can’t rename bots in-game but just like Unreal Tournament 2004, you can rename them by editing the game’s files. The stripped customization options is why I would recommend downloading and installing MapMixer before jumping into anything. MapMixer gives you so much control that the only downside is that it’s overwhelming. It comes with an overhauled menu interface, you can easily create multiple playable characters, and it gives you a ridiculous amount of depth in terms of customization and even randomization. There’s two different ways to set up and launch a game. You can use the Quick Session which basically replicates the options given in Unreal Tournament 2004 and then there’s the Advanced Session which is far more complex. There’s a map list editor where you can set up and save different map lists, you can set up and save different sets of rules for each game type, you can even create custom game types based on your customization options. You can set up Map Sources which are used to create auto map lists if you have that option selected in the Maps tab. There’s actually a lot to read and understand and you may find yourself messing with options often just to see how it affects your experience. One of the coolest things is the configurable Bots and Factions. You can create your own Factions which are basically custom bot lists. However, within these Factions you can edit their appearance, tweak their intelligence by adjusting their aggressiveness, accuracy, tactics, strafing ability, combat style, jumpiness, reaction time, favorite weapon, and skill modifier. You can even clone bots. When selecting a game type, you can pull bots from different Factions if you want. The developers should really be embarrassed that a mod like this has to even exist because, honestly, without this, the game feels like a very generic shooter. The bots, themselves, don’t seem as intelligent compared to the bots in prior games. MapMixer helps but they don’t always act intelligently. I find that they would run into walls and pile up there because enemies were above them. I also noticed they would sometimes not react to being shot. The bots are still more intelligent then what we see in most games but both the bots and level of control have seriously taken a shit here.

Okay, so the story sucks, the default customization sucks, but what about the game types? Well all of the classics like Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Capture the Flag are here and are exactly like they were in prior games. Duel also makes a return and there’s also Vehicle Capture the Flag which is just Capture the Flag on large maps with vehicles. You may be asking “what about Assault”? Yeah, that’s gone. Somebody at Epic Games must have said “let’s not include Assault”. Why? I have no idea. It was one of the coolest and definitely more unique game types in the original game and was positively expanded upon in Unreal Tournament 2004 but apparently it wasn’t good enough to make the cut for Unreal Tournament 3. However, there is a new game type called Warfare. Although “new” isn’t really the right word since it’s just Onslaught with a new name and some minor additions. Warfare is a team-based mode where your goal is to destroy the enemy team’s PowerCore. You must capture nodes in a connect-the-dots fashion to create a link to the enemy’s core. However, now you’re provided orbs that can instantly take over a node. In Unreal Tournament 2004, Onslaught maps recommended up to twelve or fourteen players at the most but I thought it was more fun with like thirty. Warfare is basically the same thing. I would recommend playing it with a lot more players than what the maps recommend. I just found it more enjoyable that way. Now there’s two actual new game types – Greed and Betrayal. Greed is a team-based mode where you collect skulls by killing enemies and then you must take your skulls to the enemy base’s hoop to score points. If you acquire enough skulls you will be rewarded with power ups like shielding and amplified damage. When you die you drop all of the skulls you obtained. It can actually be a really fun mode. Betrayal sounds cooler than it actually is in my opinion. All players are provided with an Instagib rifle and you acquire points by killing enemies and even betraying your team mates. Betraying team mates by killing them will grant you the team’s points. It’s not a bad mode but it’s the Instagib feature I don’t like. For those who don’t know, Instagib rifles can kill opponents in one shot. Sadly, Domination, not even Double Domination, made the cut but the original game type was included in Community Bonus Pack Volume 4. Domination requires your team to hold onto as many points on the map as possible for as long as possible to increase your score. The more points you control, the faster your score increases. There’s even Domination game types for up to three or four teams. I think one of these packs included the Instagib Team Deathmatch game type which is just Team Deathmatch with Instagib rifles. The Crucible mod includes a new game type called Road Rage. It’s a team-based mode and the objective is to destroy the other team’s statue. The focus of this game type is vehicular combat. You can take over bases and outposts where you can upgrade and enhance your vehicles using money earned from killing enemies, shooting barrels, ramming vehicles, and completing objectives. However, I believe this mode is best played with real players. The two Road Rage maps the mod comes with are enormous and the bots don’t seem to know what to do so it just ends up being really boring.

Once you finally decide on a game type, choose your map, whether your online or offline, everything should feel familiar. You can run, jump, double jump, crouch, strafe, and The Crucible mod enables you to sprint and even grab onto ledges. Dodging returns and I immediately lowered the dodge double-click time value to as low as possible since there is no “off” option. As you may or may not know, I found the dodge mechanic in the previous games to do more harm than good and always ended up disabling it. But for those that find it useful, it makes a return. Now the arsenal in Unreal Tournament 3 is familiar and includes less weapons than the previous game. The Enforcer pistol returns and can be dual wielded. You’ve also got the Impact Hammer, Bio Rifle, the Stinger Minigun, Rocket Launcher, Flak Cannon, Sniper Rifle, Link Gun, Shock Rifle, AVRiL Longbow, and the Redeemer. Gone is the Mine Layer, Shield Gun, Lightning Gun, and Grenade Launcher among others. Now The Crucible replaces most of the default arsenal with new badass-looking weapons. There’s an assault rifle, shotgun, sniper rifle, trident machinegun, lightning gun, a new rocket launcher and pistol, and you even carry a hammer as a melee weapon. When wielding the hammer, the view will switch to third-person. There is some more depth to the combat when playing with The Crucible weapons. For example, some weapons like the trident machinegun have crazy recoil which can be reduced by crouching you can even perform different hammer swings and combos. The mod comes with its own configuration options like reducing the jumpiness of bots, regenerating health, and stuff like that. The mod makes changes to movement speed, getting shot messes up your aim, you can enable hints to display during gameplay, and there’s quite a few little things you may not notice until you play. And just so everyone knows, The Crucible was created by RuneStorm, the same team that brought us the Ballistic Weapons mod for Unreal Tournament 2004. However, I found The Crucible to have some annoyances. The weapons need to be reloaded and for some reason the creators made the “L” key the reload button by default which is not ideal and I have not found a way to change it. The weapon icons at the bottom of the screen still represent the vanilla weapons. And I found the lightning gun to just be a very annoying weapon. You can charge it up for a devastating attack but the primary fire unleashes this lightning beam I guess that grabs you or pushes you, and it’s just annoying when you have multiple players and/or bots using this thing.

Without the community map packs, I found the vanilla map selection to be quite low compared to previous games. There’s a handful of maps for each game type but the selection is just lacking. Weapons, health, and armor are still scattered around as are power-ups like shielding and a damage amplifier. The maps are still set in random unconnected locations, so it seems, but if you enjoyed having hundreds of maps to choose from in Unreal Tournament 2004, you’re going to be quite disappointed here. The Translocator does return and functions exactly the same as it did in previous games. You use it to transport where the transport module lands. Whenever you select a game type with vehicles, instead of a Translocator, you’re provided with a hoverboard. You can ride it any time at the press of a button and you can even use a grappling hook to hitch a ride with vehicles. However, if you get shot, you immediately fall off the hoverboard which is annoying. The developers seem to be obsessed with vehicular combat and I honestly didn’t care for it all that much in Unreal Tournament 2004. I feel like vehicles are just needed because the maps are so huge. Yeah, you can kill opponents faster and some of them look cool but I always prefer engaging enemies on-foot. The Crucible comes with its own set of vehicles like traditional cars and you can even shoot out the windows with your active weapon as your driving. Since Unreal Tournament 3 vanilla lacks many things compared to its predecessors, you probably won’t be surprised to know the mutators are no different. Classics like Instagib and LowGrav return, there’s one that slows down time when you kill an enemy, but none are really that exciting. Titan is the standout. You can grow into a large killing machine by killing more and more enemies but that’s really it. There’s no real depth to it. In fact, with bots, I find that they start transforming much later into a match and manage to kill you instantly wherever you are then they just don’t stop. The Crucible mod itself is just set of mutators but there are some unique ones like the Hammers vs Pistols one. It’s exactly what it sounds like. You’re equipped with a hammer and a pistol for the entire match. The Crucible Melee mutator lets you play with only hammers. The Bloody Hell mutator amplifies the gore so that’s pretty cool.

The visuals are a definite improvement compared to prior games. The textures look better, the weapons look better, and the animations are solid. The reload animations in The Crucible mod are quite something, actually, specifically the rocket launcher. A little claw thing comes out and reloads the rockets. Overall the game is much darker in tone and everything just has this gritty feel to it. The colors are more washed out and it just doesn’t have the same style as previous games but The Crucible maps do include a good amount of color. I also can’t help but think of Gears of War whenever I play this, and even Bulletstorm for that matter. Although, I should say Bulletstorm resembles this since it came out later. It’s not that surprising since all three of these games were created by the same developer and run on Unreal Engine 3. During this era, Epic Games loved creating big bulky characters and bulky weapons and they felt the need to make three separate games share the same visual style with Bulletstorm looking the best in my opinion. Even the way the map environments look and feel remind me of Gears of War. I just can’t shake the Gears of War feeling. I’m not going to say this is Gears of War in first-person, because it’s not, but I can’t say the visual style here is unique. I did find the lighting to be a mixed bag. Overall, it looks good but some areas are just too bright and anything with light or that lights up in some way just has an extremely bright glow to it, making the presentation look ugly at times. Now the audio is actually quite good with powerful weapon sound effects and explosions, and The Crucible weapons just sound brutal. The music, on the other hand, is just forgettable in my opinion. The previous games had some catchy and memorable tunes. Besides the menu music, none of the songs in Unreal Tournament 3 stand out to me. Performance-wise, the game ran fine, however, I should warn you that when you first fire up The Crucible mod, it could take up to fifteen minutes to load into the map the first time you play. It shouldn’t happen again after that. According to what I researched, this is because it’s loading or caching all of the shaders. Other than that, I experienced no real glitches or bugs or frame rate dips. It was a smooth experience all around.

I really believe that the developers skimped on Unreal Tournament 3 because of console limitations, even if the PS3 version does support mods. I don’t hate consoles but I feel that if you need to remove major elements of a game just to support specific platforms, then don’t release it for those platforms or don’t make it at all. Better yet, wait until you can release a complete game across all platforms. What makes the series fantastic, or at least the previous games, was their fun game types, fun multiplayer gameplay, the combat itself, and the customization. Unreal Tournament 3 strips stuff out of what made most of these things fun in one way or another. The lack of customization options, reduced map count, smaller arsenal, dumber AI, and a story that does nothing to make up for any of this. Worst of all is the removal of significant game types including Assault and Domination. I’ll never understand that either. Why remove them? In fact, why not just keep adding game types to each new game. There’s no need to remove game types, it’s just not necessary. I can say I did have fun with Unreal Tournament 3 but only after installing mods. I would say if you’re not playing with mods or at the very least, the MapMixer mod, it’s just a generic shooter and disappointing entry in an otherwise fantastic series. I won’t accept the excuse of this being “tighter and more refined experience” because it’s not. That’s bullshit. It’s just less content and doesn’t come anywhere near the standard the previous games set for the series.

Ultimately, I cannot recommend Unreal Tournament 3 unless you can find the PC or PS3 version on sale. And I only recommend those versions because of mod support. The vanilla game, itself, is just a massive disappointment. While I had a great time with the previous games, I found the overall experience here to be forgettable and boring for the most part. Only after installing mods did I truly start having fun but they’re not enough to really save the game from its problems. I have no idea if people are still playing this online but if you’re a newcomer looking to get into Unreal Tournament, I would say stay away from this game or at least be sure it’s not your gateway into the series. Check out the prior games first. They’re far superior.

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