Unreal Tournament 3 probably shouldn't feel as fresh and as exciting as it does. When you get down to it, UT3 doesn't change a lot of the things that you liked about Unreal Tournament 2004. It's still the same fast-moving and action-oriented first-person shooter. Yet the game's new maps, the requisite graphical overhaul, and easy-to-understand gameplay modes all feel great. The way the shooter genre has changed over the three years since the previous game is also a factor. With most other games slowing things down and going for a more realistic, militaristic pace, UT3's hypercharged gameplay explodes out of the gate feeling refreshing and new.
Unreal Tournament 3 doesn't reinvent the UT franchise, but considering how much shooters have changed since the last one was released, it still manages to feel surprisingly fresh.
The UT games have never been about single-player action, but like in the previous games, there is a campaign mode in UT3. It's a series of matches against bots wrapped around a basic but uneventful storyline. The big switch this time around is that Unreal Tournament is no longer a sport. Now it's war, and you play as a character on the hunt for revenge against an evil Necris woman who led an assault against unarmed civilians on your colony. You and the survivors of the attack join up with a corporation, fight to gain territory held by other corporations, and so on. It's little more than a five- to seven-hour training mode to help you get up to speed on the maps and the modes so you can go into multiplayer with a fighting chance. One cool addition is that you can play the campaign mode online with up to three other players. Although joining other humans to combat the artificial-intelligence-controlled bots isn't exactly the most fun you can have in this game, it's more compelling (and easier) when you're playing with other people. You can set the skill level of the bots, too. At the lowest setting, they're complete idiots that won't even bother to turn around and fight you if you start shooting them from behind. The highest setting, godlike, is appropriately stiff, though not entirely impossible. It's just tough to fight against opponents who rarely miss.
The maps you'll see in the single-player campaign are the same maps you'll see online, at least until the mod-making scene shifts into high gear. You'll get into matches using a typical PC-style server browser, but the game tries to keep you away from a full list of every server running by moving you through some console-game-style menus to filter down to the gametype you want to see. UT3 comes with six different modes of play. Deathmatch is the standard free-for-all battle. Team deathmatch, as you'd expect, breaks you up into two teams. Duel is a one-on-one mode where two players go at it while other players spectate. All three of these modes are played on the same set of deathmatch-friendly maps. UT3 also has a standard capture-the-flag mode, complete with the translocator, the teleporter gun that has made UT's take on CTF stand apart from most others. There's a new vehicle CTF mode, which takes the standard CTF concept and places it onto larger battlefields. As the name suggests, you have a number of vehicles that you can use toward your goal of grabbing the opposing team's flag and getting it back to your base. The largest mode is called warfare, and like onslaught mode before it, it's played on even bigger maps, with more vehicles.
Warfare is a node-based mode where each team has a base with a power core that needs to be damaged and destroyed for a victor to be declared. The power core is linked to other nodes at various spots in the map. You must push forward, capture nodes, and link them together until you've got your team's nodes linked to the opposing team's base. At that point, you can damage the enemy core and, ideally, blow up it for a victory. There's a ton of pushing and shoving back and forth across the map when two great teams square off, and it's also the most strategic mode. It differs from onslaught mode by offering secondary objectives, like unlinked nodes that can be captured to give a team forward spawn points and access to more vehicles and a countdown node that will occasionally drain energy from the enemy core if you control it. Each of the objective-based team modes comes with its own set of maps.
Overall, the map quality is high, with plenty of symmetrical, interesting level layouts for the objective-based modes. One deathmatch map, called Gateway, has multiple areas that look really different, all of which are linked together with portals. You'll also get a new remake of the classic Unreal map Deck. Furthermore, the Unreal mod community has always been pretty rabid, so you know it's just a matter of time before someone makes one of those "giant world" levels where you can hide in a sink drain and snipe people with an instagib shock rifle while they float down into the bottom of a bathtub. Yes, that's right, the instagib mode is also back in the game, along with a handful of other basic mutators you can use to make quick changes to any of the modes.