So, normally with this type of review - the type ending in a big score - the criticisms are left to the end. Let's not do that this time - it means finishing on a sour note, and then trying to rope it back with a hasty "But it's awesome!". UT3 is insane, and brilliant, so we're going to get what's wrong with it out of the way early.
Developers Epic chucked out a remarkable stat a while back: more than half of all UT2004 players never played the online shooter online. Not once. And you've got to imagine the minority who did venture out onto the internets also put in some time with the excellent bots. That pretty much settles it - UT is primarily a singleplayer game.
So for the fourth edition, unaccountably named Unreal Tournament 3, Epic have concentrated a lot more on the offline campaign. Here are the two worst things about UT3: the bots and the offline campaign.
You play 'Reaper', a man in a dress with a hilariously crap goatee. You, your sister Jester, your token black sidekick Othello and apparently Catholic sniper Bishop are all that's left of the Ronin, a band of yada yada destroyed by whoever when they inevitably etcetera. It's tragic. The campaign consists entirely of one-off matches comically unrelated to the absurd briefings, and punctuated now and then by cutscenes of you arguing with a man in a beret.
Example: "We've been tipped off to meet an informant who says he has info for us about something called the Strident." Loading complete. "You are on Red! Capture the enemy flag!" Sorry, that's Field Lattice Generator - "FLaG". And you're not trying to hit a score limit, you're "exhausting the enemy respawner". These concepts are explained to you by your sister while she encourages you to rip her limb from limb 20 consecutive times in the tutorial.
If you're familiar with the work of Charles Dickens, of course, this will all be familiar territory. The only saving grace of this agonising gumph is that Othello, the only character acted with any flair, has the sense to mock it mercilessly. "It looks like a flag," he notes. "I'm calling it a flag."
It's tempting to take Othello's irreverence to mean that the whole thing is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but these preposterous mechanics are closely tied to the plot about the slaughter of your family. I think they're expecting us to somehow take it seriously.
In Deathmatch, though, and to a lesser extent Capture The FLaG, the matches themselves are great. Let's take a whirlwind tour of the changes to the basic combat: Shield Gun gone! The original Impact Hammer is back, and it's superb - smashing someone open with it jars your view and splatters you with thick black blood. The Enforcer still sucks!
But to its eternal credit, if you fire it at point-blank range, you hold it gangster-sideways. The Biorifle is gorgeous and deadly, the Lightning Gun's shot-trace has been merged with the Sniper Rifle, and the Minigun is now absurdly over-powered.
Now brace yourself for this one: the Flak Cannon has been nerfed. A little. It's slower, but still lethal and even more gruesome when fired point-blank. After the initial outrage fades, this actually makes a lot of sense - it was so powerful before that there was rarely any reason to switch away from it.
Here the Rocket Launcher firmly dominates medium range, so you're always flicking between the two when you're fully stocked. Movement is slightly slower, and there's a halt when you land from a jump, so there's less airy-fairy bunny-hopping all round.