UT3 Demo: Hot or Not?

Here’s a few early impressions of the Unreal Tournament 3 demo, plus bonus anecdote from my gaming past. These are rather tainted by hungover subjectivity, so may very well not match your own feelings, but hell, outspoken nonsense is what you visit this site for, right?

Firstly, it runs like a dream. I mean, I’ve got a fairly beefy system, but I honestly didn’t expect to be able to ramp everything up to maximum and roll around in these sorts of framerates. This means I can stop worrying about whether I need to sell one of my girlfriend’s kidneys so I can go SLI. Woo.

Secondly, well, it’s not terribly pretty, is it? Technologically speaking it’s impressive for sure, but in terms of art style, that grim’n’grey approach that made Gears of War look so monotonal seems to pervade all – even the Shangri-La Oriental garden-styled map that doesn’t share the urban setting of the other two. I’ve always enjoyed UT 2003/4’s excessive technicolour look, and it’s a shame to lose it to the current grit trend. Maybe there’ll be more visual variety in the full game. I’d also argue the weapon design is over-fussy and macho, which loses any sense of their being iconic killing tools.

Thirdly, yes, it is, somewhat unsurprisingly, very much like Unreal Tournament 2004, retaining that very familiar sense of gogogo and high-speed kills. I’m in two minds about this. On the one hand, familiarity breeds contempt, and, spoiled by Team Fortress 2 and Quake Wars, I’m very aware of there being minimal attempt to inch things forward here. Little things I’ve become accustomed to of late bother me by their absence, such as the lack of a kill cam so I don’t have much sense of exactly how I instant-o-died and where the bugger that did it is camping. On the other hand, I’ve not played UT2004 for quite a while now, and I’m willing to bet I’m not alone there, so there’s a suitably-sized gap in my life for it. It’s a fine formula and I don’t resent revisiting it. I’m just concerned that there’s nothing to really mark UT3 out from what’s a particularly impressive crowd at the moment, and it may not become as established as UT games usually do.

Fourthly, I’m stupidly pleased that Feign Death is back, having been absent in UT 2k3/4. Why? Storytime!

Back in around 1999, after eating some Hot Cross Buns diligently garnished with a brain-affecting plant extract that’s more commonly inhaled, my best friend and I hauled our PCs into the same room and rigged up a serial connection to play original UT deathmatch against each other. After half an hour of our chemically-altered reaction times not making for a particularly adrenaline-fuelled match, I thought it would be really, really funny to hit Feign Death. So I hit F, crumpled to the ground and lay there for what seemed like a couple of minutes, until my mate, slightly frustrated at not being able to find me, eventually ran over my ‘corpse’, at which point I unfeigned death and started spraying bullets at him, causing him to scream and really, actually fall off his chair.

We both laughed long and hard for some time, and then happened to glance at the clock. I realised that, as a result of the slight time distortion effect that can come with imbibing the substance in question, I’d in fact been feigning death for almost an hour. My equally addled friend had, during this time, become accustomed to being in an apparently empty map, and had in fact run past my prostrate avatar dozens of times already by that point – hence the screaming when it suddenly rose up and started shooting at him. We then also realised we’d been very loudly playing Meatloaf’s Bat out of Hell on repeat for the entire duration, and the neighbours really weren’t happy about it. Slightly embarrassed about it all, we went out for snacks, only to find that someone had for some reason crossed out the name of every sandwich in the shop and scribbled ‘Ewok’ onto the front of the packet instead. So we came home, ate Ewok sandwiches and played more UT until we both basically passed out at our keyboards.

My best friend passed away unexpectedly two years ago. That night of extreme confusion and Unreal Tournament is one of my fondest memories of him. And that’s why I’m glad Feign Death is back.

Fifthly (and more on-topic, honest), I really like the hoverboard in Vehicle CTF mode. I think Epic have really nailed the sense of vulnerability that should come when you’re carrying the enemy flag – i.e. you can’t use any vehicles when you’ve got it – but without completely crippling you. The hoverboard is an excellent getaway device, giving you a sense of desperate speed whilst ensuring you’re still an eminently hittable target for the enemy, not a fearsomely armoured tank they’ve no chance of preventing from reaching home. Falling off it whenever you’re non-fatally shot is a neat touch too, as it’s a remarkably simple and effective method of preventing the board from being too overpowered and thus exploited by ultra-players.

Sixthly – the Darkwalker, the pilotable tripod robot thingy in the first deathmatch map, is an interesting addition. It can force players who’d otherwise be trying to kill each other to form temporary ad-hoc, unspoken alliances to take it down, as it’s such a horrifyingly massive threat that it’s in everyone’s best interest to get rid of it ASAP. Clearly as the game wears on people will become adept at taking down a Darkwalker solo, but it’s fun to see bitter rivals working in shortlived teams for now.

Oh, and more, probably. But I’m tired now.


  1. Del Boy says:

    Now that’s a great story.

    Alec’s friend, I salute you!


  2. drunkymonkey says:

    That unexpected sentimental bit in the middle there was astonishing, and touching to read. I have to say that I really like Rock Paper Shotgun’s personal approach to articles.

    I’d download the demo quick as a flash, but 1) it’s massive 2) I’m not sure if my PC would cope very well and 3) I haven’t had time in between bouts of WoW, bouts of going to college, and bouts of sleep.

  3. Jack Monahan says:

    I had similar first impressions. Above all it shows the kind of dividends that Valve’s design philosophies are paying out to them, now–UT3’s visual style is so absurdly busy (yet not all that impressive as noted) that men and vehicles are coated with a bright color shader so that you can tell which team they’re on. Which means that the original legibility of those designs failed utterly.
    You’re not going after tanks and hulking cyber-men, you’re pasting bloom-y blobs of fire into red or blue blobs. If the blob is larger, then it’s probably a vehicle.
    There seems little advancement, and the age old problems of the series rear their heads because the (admittedly beloved) original formula is so little tampered with. But then this is an unabashedly hardcore market kind of game, and they’d cry foul of much tampering… but I guess there’s just not a whole lot of heavy-lifting in the game design department over at Epic. Valve’s Source engine is showing its age these days, but the design’s the thing. Epic’s in largely the reverse situation (GoW’s cover mechanics notwithstanding).

  4. Alistair says:

    Hey – there’s the hoverboard!

  5. spirit7 says:

    Doesn’t the demo only allow medium textures and DX9? The full game should look far better.

  6. Mario Granger says:

    Thats the official word on the street spirit. But it seems many of the problems people have (or at the very least, I have) with the game is that the game is just dull visually and mechanically dull. No amount of DX10 or high res textures is gonna fix that.

  7. MrNeutron says:

    Unless the game’s lying to me when I max out the texture and world detail settings, then no, it’s got the full enchilada. The textures certainly seem high-res. I definitely agree that while technically excellent, the design work leaves much to be desired, which really sucks after the fantastic and ostentatious design that pervaded UT2K4.

    The gameplay is vintage UT, which I personally enjoy, having been casually whipping out 2K4 every now and then over the last 3 years, enjoying myself rather a lot each time. Never played it online, just on LANs and/or against bots, but it’s a fun game. Loses its shine when put next to TF2, but what multiplayer game doesn’t?

    “Valve’s Source engine is showing its age these days, but the design’s the thing.”

    Actually, the Source engine isn’t showing its age at all. One of the best things about the Steam system and Valve’s episodic release philosophy is that the engine can be upgraded piecemeal, with new features being dropped in whenever they feel like it, things like the HDR lighting in Lost Coast, and the Cinematic Physics and multi-core particle effects in Episode 2. From a technical standpoint, Source is just as advanced as Unreal 3, but it excels at different things, and the radically different (and IMO superior) art direction at Valve means that it looks quite different.

  8. Thiefsie says:

    basically the only thing showing it’s age in source is the lighting, and frankly it is pretty sub par these days, EP 2 is marginally better with some sort of stencil buffering on the torch for instance but the lights are still similar to pre-calculated bsp maps and thus pretty much aren’t dynamic = miles behind the ball on most contemporary engines. This and the definite low texture detail compared to other engines is why source is lagging behind.

    Short of a huge engine rewrite this isn’t going to change, so in 2-3 years time when ep3 hits expect it to look pretty bad… unless they go for a new engine.

  9. Jack Monahan says:

    MrNeutron: Good points, but what Thiefsie said. Valve’s done great things with the piecemeal engine upgrades, but it’s like that scene in Brazil, where the old ladies get their faces stretched: it’s a losing battle. Not so deep underneath, they’re still old ladies regardless of how much stretching, and Source is the same. We’re talking essentially Quake 1 era tech with the BSP-based stuff. If you’ve ever attempted to make a Source-engine level of moderate complexity (or heaven help you, “outdoor areas”) then you know just how ancient some of the core components are.
    It’s a good thing Valve is so meticulous about concepting and visual design, because pre-computed lighting for levels of that complexity take a very long time to output, even on beefy machines. Not a huge factor, but I’m sure it was at least some factor in Portal’s brevity. Those levels may look simple, but that’s a lot of careful coaxing out of some very old bones.

  10. Theory says:

    Short of a huge engine rewrite this isn’t going to change

    The entire point of a modular engine is that that’s precisely what doesn’t need to happen. A developer could take Source and write their own non-BSP map system for it and it’d (assuming Valve haven’t been telling porkies) slot right in with the existing code and not break anything. Ditto for shadows – in fact modders have already done that, with just game code!

    The question is why Valve haven’t done either themselves yet, and I think it may simply be because they don’t need to yet; they multi-threaded it instead.

    (Textures are a design decision by Valve. There’s no limit to the resolutions the engine can handle, and TF2 and Dark Messiah have very large ones for people with 512MB VRAM.)

    If you’ve ever attempted to make a Source-engine level of moderate complexity (or heaven help you, “outdoor areas”) then you know just how ancient some of the core components are.

    We’re making ridiculously complex maps without any issues. Once you have an understanding of areaportals and visleaves you can do anything even UE3 can, world-wise.

    Also, have you played Ep2? It’s kind of, you know, set outdoors. :-p

    It’s a good thing Valve is so meticulous about concepting and visual design, because pre-computed lighting for levels of that complexity take a very long time to output, even on beefy machines.

    Valve have an internal tool that spreads the load across all the computers in their offices. Their maps compile in seconds. ;-)

    Those levels may look simple, but that’s a lot of careful coaxing out of some very old bones.

    Listen to the commentary – it’s another design decision. Don’t the other games they make give a hint?

  11. Crispy says:

    Anyone remember the hoverboard in Malice?

  12. Ghiest says:

    I thought EP2 was just a replay of things done before, as much as RPS loved it, I can’t say I applauded it that well. Yes you had a different car on the out door sections but it was still the same- stop you to kill something to extend the gameplay ect, I thought it was pretty stale until the last part of the game. As for UT3, having not been a huge fan of Unreal tournement since the original, I can say it’s a refreshing change from the slower paced FPS games (cod4/halo3 ect) and only TF2 as a scout come as quick as most of hte game play in UT3. I don’t get the idea that it’s mostly bland, comparing it to stuff like TF2 where most of the textures are colourised blue/red (obviously) which makes the levels seem very boring, just the game play makes up for it.

    Ut3 it’s gameplay is fast and furious, I couldn’t care less for the big tripod thing… I think it doesn’t deserve a spot in a FPS game for some reason. But shangrila is a very good map for team play. But I must say I don’t like vehicle combat, never have since BF1942 it has no place in a FPS imo it just detracts from the skill of the people playing. All in all I like Ut3 as I like allot of other FPS it’s different enough to make me want to play it along side some of the others atm, which I think is good enough.

  13. Andrew Farrell says:

    Also it’s important to remember that no-one really gives a fuck about lighting.

  14. Jim Rossignol says:

    Lighting is all that matters to me.

  15. Jonathan Burroughs says:

    Malice > Unreal Tournament 3.

  16. Freelancepolice says:

    I quite enjoyed the demo. It’s got that gears of war browness though.

    Also did anyone get excited hearing the main menu music?

  17. Andrew says:

    People say gameplay is more important than lighting, but where would games be without lighting? Nowhere, that’s where.

  18. The_B says:

    I think the most important thing to note is exactly what Alec says here about being spoiled by QW and TF2. As I’ve said before, it really isn’t a revolution – but for the classic pure deathmatch style fun, I think UT3 does what it sets out to do as well as it can in the current climate. It’s not trying to win many awards for originality, and in a way it’s only true competition’s latest incarnation (Quake 4’s MP) went by pretty much unnoticed and underplayed anyway.

    Obviously it’s success is already almost guaranteed on the modding community alone, so as long as you don’t expect hard tactical class based teamwork like QW:ET, BF2 or TF2 then UT3 is going to be everything you expect it to be. I wouldn’t say it’s underwhleming, it’s just not really going to blow many people away as such – and I think Epic might almost already be admitting this by not including any ‘new’ game modes in the demo. Personally, I’m predicting an 80% ish scores upon release for this.

  19. Seniath says:

    God, Malice….for it’s time that was a damn crazy TC. I wonder if I’ve still got it lying around at home….

    As for UT, erm, bit dull. Playing it actually made my eyes hurt a little, trying to pick things out in the grime (was on the urban level). WIll have to have a fiddle with the post-processing. But I don’t know, it just didn’t /feel/ like the UT I know and love (ever so slightly less than Q3A). The weapons had far too much going on on them, I mean, what the hell was the front of the GES Biorifile doing?

  20. born2expire says:

    “Andrew says:

    People say gameplay is more important than lighting, but where would games be without lighting? Nowhere, that’s where.”

    dont you mean… in the dark?

    in all honestly i LOVE this demo, COD4 got a big meh from me. bitch if you will but there will always be a market for hardcore deathmatch games, and UT3 fills the void Q4 left, and battlefield-esque games dont appeal to some people, id rather have a polished game to go head to head with my friends.

  21. schizoslayer says:

    I think you’ll be hard pushed to find much dynamic lighting or shadowing actually going on in either Gears or UT3. Despite Unreal supporting it it runs so slow that even Epic have avoided it as much as they can.

  22. Ryan Williams says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks UT3 kind of looks like ass.

    I’ve got it entirely maxed out and it runs smoothly, but it just seems so grotty and not particularly nice to look at. I was really surprised when I went on the oriental-like map and found a complete absence of vibrant, beautiful colours, which is a particular shame as the map is literally crying out for it.

    I’ve seen comments from developers of UT3 who put some serious thought into the assets in the game, including the statue on the oriental map which apparently had a number of iterations and loads of research.

    Actually, you know how in most games/films/art you have a lot of stuff that is meant to blend into the background, and then something that’s all lit up nicely and vibrant that you’re meant to notice? It feels like everything is in the background in UT3, all blended into one muddy mess.

    It’s a massive shame.

    Gameplay-wise it’s just your average UT so there’s not that much to distinguish it in my opinion apart from its graphics, and with those falling way short of impressing me I can’t see much worthwhile here. The general UT gameplay seems very bland and overplayed to me.

  23. A Lost Anecdote « Meerling says:

    […] June 26, 2008 · No Comments Decided to rescue the below from languishing in the middle of a post about a demo over on RPS, as a) it was a damn silly place to leave it and b) I want to remind myself to make […]

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