Take a moment to pity poor Unreal Tournament 3: the game finally sees the light of day after experiencing several delays and a name change only to find that it has to compete with recently released titles such as Halo 3, Call of Duty 4 and Quake Wars. Talk about an uphill battle!

The good news, however, is that Unreal Tournament 3 not only lives up to the high standards of the franchise, it's Epic's best effort in years and it's a must-buy for fans of the series.

In some respects, Unreal Tournament 3 hearkens back to the first Unreal Tournament. UT3 is much weightier, in contrast to the floatier feel of UT 2004, and the overall effect is one of a striking return to form.

Beyond shooter staples such as Deathmatch and Capture the Flag, UT3 narrows its focus with a new vehicle-centric mode called Warfare. Rather like a combination of Domination and UT 2003’s Bombing Run mode, Warfare fares well.

Indeed, Unreal Tournament 3 is actually rather strategic - cooperating with teammates and guarding waypoints is vital, so don't think you can just run around spraying ammo. Some of the matches take 20 minutes or more, and we would have also preferred to see a return for the under-rated Assault mode – it’s too bad Epic didn’t include both.

NEXT PAGE: graphics and our expert verdict > >

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While the graphics are suitably dark, we were disappointed there weren’t more outlandish environments – there’s nothing in Unreal Tournament 3 memorable like UT’s low-gravity rooftops or UT 2003’s dreamlike Tokara Forest.

The one exception is the sensational looking vehicles. We loved the organic mechanical look of the Necrid vehicles, with 50ft tall Darkwalkers that resemble the tripods from The War of the Worlds. Seeing several Darkwalkers loom menacingly over the horizon is an unnerving experience and it's moments such as these when Unreal Tournament 3's production truly shines.

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Unreal Tournament 3: Specs

  • 2GHz Intel Pentium or AMD Athlon, 512MB RAM, Windows XP/Vista, 8GB hard disk space, nVidia 6200+ or ATI Radeon 9600+ graphics card
  • 2GHz Intel Pentium or AMD Athlon, 512MB RAM, Windows XP/Vista, 8GB hard disk space, nVidia 6200+ or ATI Radeon 9600+ graphics card

OUR VERDICT

So does Unreal Tournament 3 live up to the high bar set by its prestigious predecessors? Well, on a gameplay level, absolutely, and fans of the previous titles will lap this up. On the other hand, if you're hoping for a game that will melt your eyes with cutting-edge graphics and stimulate your mind with a deep, highly customisable online experience, Call of Duty 4 is probably your game. True online warriors, of course, will buy them both, which is what we recommend you do

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