Aside from the completely linear first two 'acts', the missions available to you often have a significant impact on the type of task and location you'll face next, and sometimes even the conditions of those missions. Admittedly, the net result of this branching structure doesn't add up to a lot: the fact that you might face a different scenario or slightly less stringent conditions in a subsequent mission because of a choice you unwittingly made isn't that important. Such choice does, at least in theory, give the game a degree of replayability, but it comes at the price of the almost unbearable repetition of having to plough the same three gameplay styles and familiar maps multiple times. There's certainly no real incentive to do so apart from being able to unlock a few character skins for online use.
That said, I'm still sticking up for the offline botmatches. The simple fact is they're almost as enjoyable as the real thing, simulating that tense ebb and flow of multiplayer battle in a way few games have managed to date (and lag-free, remember). At the very least, Epic should be given enormous credit for crafting AI opponents challenging and unpredictable enough to warrant serious gameplay time. Not only are they perfectly capable of kicking anyone's arse (on insane level, anyway), the presence of four skill levels ought to make as accessible or as brutal as you want it to be. The added bonus of the quality and variety of the numerous maps in the game ensures that whichever way you play it, online or off, with a friend or with bots, you'll have a blast.
Better still, if you want to access all of this content in a more freeform fashion, the Instant Action option shouldn't be overlooked either. It's split into six modes and you can plump for any of the 16 Deathmatch/Team Deathmatch/Duel maps, eight CTF maps, eight Vehicle CTF maps and 23 Warfare maps. With no fewer than eight AI skill levels, two-player split screen play, and options to tweak other key options (including various 'mutators', which tweak gameplay conditions), the permutations available are absolutely immense without being overwhelming.
Almost two years on from Gears of War, it's no surprise to see how well the 360 handles Unreal Tournament III. So capable is Unreal Engine 3 at this stage, the console copes admirably even when chaos is absolutely raging on all sides - at least on the majority of occasions. There are a few slowdown hiccups on now and then, and is some very minor screen-tearing during cut-scenes. But there's absolutely no texture pop-in to speak of, and a wonderful array of lavishly detailed environments to explore unfettered - something the PS3 struggled with even when you installed the game to the hard disk.
Our real-world online tests with the boxed version of the game brought up precious few incidences of lag, with only one co-op session on the campaign mode throwing up any glitches. As usual the game conforms to all the typical Xbox Live implementation, and getting up and running was simple. 16 players are supported via System Link or Xbox Live on the various competitive modes (apart from Duel, of course, which is a one-on-one Deathmatch variant), while co-op campaign play supports up to four players. The latter mode offers an excellent way to plough through the Campaign mode, especially if you can round up a bunch of similarly skilled mates to fight alongside you.
Most of you will have long since decided whether to bother with Unreal Tournament III - not least thanks to Tom and Jim's original PS3 and PC reviews last year. But eight months is a long time to wait for an FPS conversion, especially on a machine as overwhelmed by competing titles as the 360, so you might need convincing. Isn't it just ageing ideas in fancy new threads?
Probably, but so what? As good as Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, Frontlines: Fuel of War and Team Fortress 2 are, Unreal Tournament III is the most intense and ridiculous of the bunch. What it lacks in terms of bold innovation, it more than makes up for in terms of raw playability and refined execution, and Epic has come up trumps with a fine conversion.
8 / 10