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Visuals

Superficially pretty, with the high detail models, subtle distance haze, lighting effects, and so on. But to my eye, once you get beyond extreme close-up at high resolution, all those details seem to smoosh together into a sort of grey blurry mess. This looked horrible at the 800x600 resolution the game defaulted to; it's better, but still an issue, at 1280x1024. There's lots of fine detail, but when that disappears (i.e. more than ten yards away) there's no intermediate-level detail to replace it.

Gameplay

Deathmatch, Team deathmatch, yawn. Been there, done that, having waaay too much fun with TF2 to care any more. My tastes in online shooty-goodness aside, it seems generally well done. Movement is slick, map design seems good (the two in the demo are a bit less claustrophobic than many UT2k4 maps, which is a plus for me) nice range of weapons, with a mix of old favourites from past Unreal games.

I'd be far more interested in the "warfare" mode (which is sorta "onslaught-with-knobs-on", I believe; Onslaught was my main reason for playing UT2k4) but I can't seem to find it in the demo.

Vehicles

I never played Vehicle CTF in UT2k4, but I fired it up to have a play with the vehicles, in the absence of Onslaught/Warfare. They all seem kinda slow compared to the old ones, which is unfortunate - some of the best fun to be had in UT2k4 was blasting around the landscape in a fast car, squishing enemies and performing ludicrous stunts.

The scorpion's new gun is more conventional, possibly more effective in many circumstances, but also more BORING than the old energy-ribbon-thing.

I'm not sure that turning the Hellbender into a two-seater and giving the driver control of the skymine is a good idea (the old way encouraged teamwork, as a 1-man HB was vulnerable, but a fully-manned one was downright dangerous to lighter vehicles and infantry). The new visuals of the skymine projectiles, while very pretty, make it damn difficult to see what you're shooting at, particularly when you combo (which is pretty much compulsory if you want to kill anything).

The raptor doesn't feel as fast and maneuverable as before, and I miss the roar of the old secondary-fire missile as it arcs away on a smoke trail - the new one is downright dull by comparison.

General Design Stuff

I've got lots of little niggles here.

In UT3's team deathmatch mode, player avatars are tinted their team colour. I think this has been done because it's the only way to get any sort of sane IFF, given the incredibly detailed/varied models flying around (and the "grey blurry thing" effect). Problem is, in amongst all the highly-detailed, realistically-lit models, it looks kinda silly. Part of what bugs me here is that UT2K4 did a pretty good job of this. As soon as you went team-based (rather than free-for-all) all the models gained huge slabs of primary team colour, and little coloured icons over their heads.

The game menus seem strangely unresponsive. There's an appreciable pause between mouse click and something happening. The menu items themselves are teeny-weeny things, in the middle of acres of space (OK, there's a fisheye zoom on the menu, so that items get bigger as you mouse-over, but that just makes them moving targets). This is a minor niggle, I know, but it's just amateur to have the first screens the user interacts with be such a pain to use. Again, UT2k4 did it better, if less prettily.

As for the very first welcome screen being "username and password, please" (which still often pesters me even after I've ticked the "remember password" and "login automatically" boxes, and frequently fails to login altogether)... Grrr.

OK, this is a pre-release demo, and some things may well be fixed before the final release, but I doubt it's all going to magically get better.

Conclusions:

  • The engine is an amazing technical acheivement, in terms of the amount of detail it can throw around, at high resolution, with decent framerates.
  • From an artistic standpoint, the models and textures are fabulous - up close. Unfortunately, at anything beyond in-yer-face-claustrophobic-deathmatch range (and the DM maps are more open than before) it's all very same-y.
  • The game they've built on all this? Not so much. I'm not finding any positive changes to the gameplay compared to previous versions; I'm not impressed by the new vehicles, and from a servicing-the-gameplay standpoint, the visuals are actually a step backwards. It feels like the "fun" element has been lost in the quest for stunning high-res screenshots and a high-powered engine.
  • I've been spoiled by TF2, in multiple senses. Not only have Valve provided such a high level of game design that other games seem boring by comparison, but the commentaries and interviews allow me to analyse and articulate the reasons WHY the other games feel dull. Scary.

TF2 has reminded me just how much FUN games can be, and the UT3 demo just doesn't hit the spot. Which is a shame, as I was really looking forward to it. I'm still interested in "Warfare" mode, but I'm not really going to buy the whole game knowing that all the game modes I have played are not of interest, just to check out one I haven't.

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