Staff Editorials

Unreal Tournament 3: Six Months On
Posted: 24.06.2008 19:33 by Comments: 17
Earlier this month, Epic Games teased Xbox 360 owners with some screenshots of the upcoming port of Unreal Tournament III. They failed to summon any interest. It's extremely unusual for such an event to occur. If we take Epic's track record, (let alone the success of the Unreal Tournament series), their games have been at the forefront of Shooter fans' minds since 1999. The Unreal franchise is a legacy, one that even commands a widely accepted graphics engine. Is the reason simple ignorance or is there something more worrying at work? We attempt to find out.

The most obvious place to start is with the Xbox 360 release date. The game is due out nine months after its PC and PS3 counterparts. Anyone with sense would have bought the PC version (due to the superiority of the mouse and keyboard) and the rest, would have made do with the PS3 version. Nine months is a long time to wait for a game, even by the most hardcore of followers.

On the other hand, could it be because of Call of Duty 4? Last year was a gaming renaissance, with Call of Duty 4 taking the top spot in sales and critical success. Is it possible that the Call of Duty 4 revolution silenced Epic's child? When you look at the meta-reviews for Unreal Tournament III and Call of Duty 4 side by side, it's not as bad as you'd think. Call of Duty gets an average 94, whilst the PC version of Unreal Tournament III hits an 83 and the PS3 gets 86. Supporters of Call of Duty will sprout that earlier this week the UK retail chain, GAME, named Call of Duty 4 its best game of all time. The cynics among us will see that purely as a marketing gimmick.

Confusion may be creeping in at this point. Nobody got excited about some screenshots, what's the big deal? The bigger picture is far more worrying, especially now Unreal's got some steam behind it. Everything links to the PC server stats for Unreal Tournament III. A quick glance will show a healthy server count of just under a thousand. That clocks in about twelve thousand possible player spaces. The actual player rate is around 500max a day. Emails from Epic Games to server hosts confirms the fact that no-one is playing. Originally this was due to a shoddy server browser and a lack of anti-hacking tools. Six months on, things have improved; patches have been released and stability has been reinstated. The PC version crashed in price, with retailers trying to generate some interest. The game is still available at a rock-bottom cost of ten dollars, yet the player base hasn't improved.

No-one's playing the current versions, is it really a problem? Competition isn't to blame and neither is a poor product. Have Epic simply put Unreal Tournament in a retirement home, with their new love-child, Gears of War getting their full attention? The figures above could be easily interpreted. Unreal was a game of pros. Unreal Tournament, and its follow up 2004 had a gigantic following. It was the game of E-Sports, on par with Quake and Counter Strike. Its modding community was and still is feverishly hard at work. Did Unreal Tournament III just come at a bad time? Fans and purists would have moved back to 2004, where cheaters were controlled and it's possible to play without Lag.

Once again, observant readers will be crying out about 2003. Unreal Tournament III's launch and subsequent failure smells of “been here before.” Unreal Tournament 2003 was released four years after the original. It was bought by thousands and promptly shelved. It failed. 2004 arrived and was heralded a return to form. Fan’s faith was restored. Is it possible that Unreal Tournament IV will complete the cycle? You'd think that the choice of multi-platform would widen its appeal. Maybe multi-platform development was III's mistake; too large a scope. Fanatics will regurgitate the age old argument that PCs are made for First Person Shooters. In III's case, it's exactly spot on. Unreal had been attempted on consoles before (Unreal Championship on the Xbox), and was met with a turning of the back. The controller just cannot handle the fast paced nature of the game.

The key point of this exploration is that the luke-warm reception shouldn't have affected the PC. We expected player numbers to increase steadily once the issues were fixed. It hasn't happened and it's worrying. For Xbox 360 owners, it's the equivalent of Halo 3 being released, but no-one playing it online. For a game made for competitive online multiplayer, it's shocking that it has crumbled. Even more so if you factor in the idea that online is the future.

The main aim of this editorial was to get to a conclusion of what's next. Did Unreal Tournament III come to the party late? Did it fall down to hype? It's unlikely that Epic will abandon the franchise, but it's been done before. Is it another sign that PC-based competitive gaming is declining? You can argue why we should care, as it's just a game, but Epic and the Unreal series have helped shaped gaming into what it is today. It's a situation that has been swept under the carpet by the release of other games.

The solution is not the same as it was in the past. PC-centric development meant that patches or even complete rebuilds could be done within a year as in the 2003/2004 situation. The modern multiplatform development cycle makes it virtually impossible. It's worrying times for one of the most thought-after developers in gaming, and it's about time they sat up, tossed aside their chainsaws and took notice.


By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Jun 24, 2008
Even Epic has admitted that UT3 was released mainly as a technical product, in that it was mainly produced to show off the Unreal3 Engine in all its' glory. By releasing it as a fully packaged retail title, they failed in implementing any real SP Campaign (aside from a series of Bot-populated skirmish maps connected by GoW-style cut-scenes). The game is still $100 retail in Australia which is ridiculous, while games like CoD4 are already dropping in price markedly. Aside from that, could it also mean the end of the 'twitch shooter', remembering how badly Quake4 did in MP (whereas it had a good SP Campaign)? As for waiting, PC gamers have to that a lot with ported gamers (GoW, Assassin's Creed etc) and it hasn't harmed their sales. But console gamers have so many titles thrown at them each month, that unless it is an entirely new game with new promises of gaming fun then it will slip under the radar (how is the lead up to the 360 version of SupCom?). The again, one really won't know until it's released, though with pricing the way it is, shelling out 100 dollars+ for an already existing game, that is waning in popularity is really a waste of good dosh. Thanks for the article.
By Orv (SI Core) on Jun 24, 2008
I bought it out of brand loyalty to the series, but uninstalled it after about a week. The game engine is fantastic, but none of the maps appealed to me much. It seemed like hi-tech textures and candy with little feeling of artistic, organic flow.
Warfare mode just doesn't grab me like Quake Wars or Battlefield series games.
It's a shame, because I was a huge fan when Unreal and Unreal Tournament hit the net.
I guess time will tell if Epic can get things going again with the series.
By Orv (SI Core) on Jun 24, 2008
Oh, as an afterthought, I have to add that the UT3 console-style menu was a HUGE turn off for me too. I am soooo sick of getting games for the PC that look and/or feel like console ports.
By Kres (SI Elite) on Jun 24, 2008
I don't think that UT has a chance against engaging titles such as Battlefield and CoD. I never really liked UT arena sort of FFA's. It seems that with previous UT releases, it got marked for me as FFA clash. Run, shoot. I'm certain it evolved through the series as it was way back that I've played it. But I'm not certain as I don't really got any interest in UT any more. Which is exactly what the point is for this editorial? In my case, that is completely correct then.

As I'm often saying, I'm waiting for a combo of CoD and BF to get me hooked back up. I missed Frontlines: Fuel of War for some reason. Didn't seemed to do it for me by its screens, videos, and reviews.
By direxps3 (I just got here) on Jun 24, 2008
Anyone with sense would have bought the PC version (due to the superiority of the mouse and keyboard) and the rest, would have made do with the PS3 version.

But PS3 version is compatible with mouse and keyboard... 360 is not. PS3 version has DLC becouse it is open platform, 360 does not becouse of M$ content control politics... too bad:-(
By Yammer (I just got here) on Jun 25, 2008
I loved UT2004. I played like the devil out of it till my trash talking friends got tired of getting fragged all the time. I wish they would have played coop with me against bots or other teams, but not their style.

Anyhow, then I played with bots and SP mode. Still fun and with mod community there where enough maps and mods to keep interest till WOW began eating up alot of my play time.

I picked up my pre-ordered copy of UT3 and well it looks great, if you like dingy. They tried so hard to make it gritty and tough looking that alot of the maps just seem to fade to gray and dull brown. Same can be said about your selection of characters. The look too much the same basically rusty / dirty. If I want to be surrounded by grunge and dirt all the time I'll work in the yard or in the corner of the garage.

Give me some exotic bright places like Far Cry with flash to match the quick game play and toons whose armor does not look like it was compiled from left overs in a garbage dump. I don't mind dark and dirty levels and bots, but almost the entire game looks that way and it is a terrible waste of a great game engine.
By Jokermx (I just got here) on Jun 25, 2008
It was a combination of bad timing of its release, as well as it being a poor product.

Come to think of it, if Epic had released it a couple of months before the outrageously stacked months of november and december, it would've received more acclaim, thus having bigger sales numbers and a bigger community.

Don't just compare it to Call of Duty 4 in terms of sales and score, but in what they both offered. Overall, COD4 was a much more intense offering. The single-player campaign was unique: few games offer that level of intensity. Its multiplayer was -even though not very innovative- fun. Combined with great maps, and the ability to customize most aspects of your character, it partially covered the fact that it offered the same old game types: deathmatch and capture the flag.

Then we had the Orange Box. It was one of the most astounding products of last year. You may argue that Valve already had a big community (much like Epic did), but the Orange Box was, in my opinion, the best deal you could get. Portal was and still is an amazing game. It offered a unique gameplay mechanics and an awkward-yet-interesting story. Team Fortress 2 might fall into COD4's mutliplayer description: it didn't offer any unique gameplay mode, however, it did offer a genuinely fun experience. It's art style was great, combined with an (ripped-off?) achievements system and a loving, caring developer like Valve, it was one of the best multiplayer experiences of last year, and as of this year, the community keeps growing and growing, thanks to Valve's "communist" support.

If you make a good game, people will buy it. Instead of blaming piracy, or any other stupid factors, working on fixing said problems would be better.
By scribbles (I just got here) on Jun 26, 2008
It's fairly clear I think. Like someone mentioned let's start with the interface, well it sucks. UT2004 had a better interface and a server browser, it's hard to get excited about regression. Second, UT2004 feels something like Gears of War, very little of the high flying UT2004 experience is there. It hardly feels like competitive gaming, the vehicles are not as good, the movement is not as good, etc... The problem is that it didn't improve from UT2004 and regressed in many areas, like disabling double jumping. The levels are large where for example there's no opportunity for wall jumping. All in all you're left only with dodge moves which is lame. If UT4 will be like 2004 I think people will play it, but after UT3 I don't think Epic knows what its doing. UT2004 vehicles were made by a separate mod team. Original Unreal was published not developed by Epic. So a lot of the credit for the success of UT franchise goes to others than Epic, and I don't know if they can do it on their own. Btw, I still do play UT2004 daily (tried UT3 and went back) but there are not many good servers around anymore.
By scribbles (I just got here) on Jun 26, 2008
And should I mention disabling manta runs, shield jumps, made shock combos harder, the balance is not quite the same, and so on... They basically neutered the game.
By ut3gamer (I just got here) on Jun 26, 2008
I think Who wrote this article clearly doesn't play UT3 it seems that people tend to write and think about something they see or hear somewhere else...

UT3 is alive and its the most incredible game I ever played taking in consideration that I was a UT99 player and played CS and COD4... UT3 is just amazing and for people like this that write this articles, should play a litle UT3 and hang around with the community to really understand what is going on.. this is a poor article, just based in old information... clearly doesn't know the amount of interest in developing maps, new user interfacesm new weapons, new characters, excelente gameplay with ware fare and Vehicle ctf maps etc... etc...

poor article. looks more like someone that plays COD4 or something else and wants to put UT3 down.
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Jun 26, 2008
^Think you should state that that is your opinion ut3gamer, and not make such an inflammatory statement. I have owned all Unreal games, and while fun this has to be the worst iteration of the my opinion.
By Kres (SI Elite) on Jun 26, 2008
Well that's his opinion in any case. Though really one of the rare ones in that direction. We had this editorial posted on digg, that caught a decent sum of comments:

Mostly they're negative toward UT3.
By Orv (SI Core) on Jun 27, 2008
I personally think that Epic made a mistake by trying to develop UT3 as a cross-platform FPS. The concessions they were forced to make in order to keep the title viable on consoles ended up watering it down for the PC. Combined with the washed out "Gears of War" techno-grunge style, and a less than adequate browser, it just doesn't seem like traditional Unreal Tournament to me.
The mod community could possibly fix this - but I'm doubtful that, considering all the other games competing, there will be enough long term interest.
With the window of opportunity being so small for game releases, they just missed the mark to catch and keep the attention of the target audience.

Just my opinion.
By Orv (SI Core) on Jun 27, 2008
Kres, I noticed at the bottom of the Digg page you linked someone named "bippitybop1" did a copy/paste of the comment I made at the top of this thread.
He didn't quote me, he just took my words as his own.

Odd, very odd. =P
By Kres (SI Elite) on Jun 27, 2008
Lol that's one dry soul. :)
By [--]Torturia (I just got here) on Jun 28, 2008
UT3 is alive, though it does not have the following of its former iterations. Going multiplatform screwed the PC version. They should have stuck with the PC, you know the platform that got them where they are. If they had stuck with the PC, they would have done it right and then maybe dabble w/console versions that they could dumb down. The glittering $$$ prize is what they went after and now they shall pay for it. I still find more UT99 servers w/players and active UT99 sites than I do UT3. I won't comment on the lack luster 2k series, which gather dust amongst my other games I lost interest in.
UT3 has potential, once the console-isms have been removed or optioned out.
By Dribble (I just got here) on Jul 02, 2008
Epic hate the PC fanbase and managed to annoy most of their hard core fans enough they've gone else where. The game obviously divided the community, in some ways it's unavoidable (e.g. it's not ut2004), other ways quite avoidable (console ui, major bugs - no webadmin, custom maps still don't work - to be fixed in patch 3).

Obviously all the PC fans posted on their forums asking for stuff to be fixed. Epics response was to literally delete everything, and issue warnings/bans. i.e. if you post anything not completely positive it will be deleted in 5 mins and you get a warning/ban. This masterful act of appalling public relations cost them the support of pretty well every PC user who did like the game (but wanted it fixed pls).

They then back this up by continuously complaining about how all PC users illegally got the game and didn't pay for it, releasing patches very slowly, etc ...

I think they basically decided to forget the PC and concentrate on consoles. That's their choice but the effect is the PC fans are rapidly forgetting them.