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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.

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