In these days of persistent weapon or ability unlocks, party systems, and pseudo-realism, a first-person shooter like Unreal Tournament 3 feels like a relic from the distant past, when all you needed was a fast-moving game of deathmatch to keep the crowds entertained. While there's something to be said for honing a classic style of gameplay to a sharp point, that doesn't exactly make Unreal Tournament 3 a must-have Xbox 360 game, either. While it throws in a few odds and ends that didn't appear in the other versions, the lack of support for user-created content strips away one of the major things that the series still had going for it. What's left is a decent, but pretty unimpressive first-person shooter.
UT3 is just as multiplayer-focused as its predecessors were. So yes, there's a single-player game, but it's really just a series of matches against bots wrapped around a handful of cutscenes to move it along. The story's pretty goofy this time around, as it's gone from a sport to full-on war. This makes things like Capture the Flag matches seem a little pointless, so the game tries to justify its modes in the context of an actual war by claiming that the flag is really a "Field Lattice Generator" that somehow helps the enemy by allowing them to respawn in the area. It's sort of funny, but the game made more sense when it was a futuristic sporting event.
The typical modes you'd want from this sort of first-person shooter are present, though the game is broken up with a very distinct line. Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Duel, and Capture the Flag matches are your standard shooter-style matches, with the sort of map variety you'd expect from an Unreal Tournament game. Then there's Vehicle CTF and Warfare, which are larger maps that allow you to jump in a variety of vehicles. Warfare is a node-based mode where you have to capture nodes linked to your base and capture your way across the map, eventually exposing the enemy base to attack.
While you may end up loving every single mode in the game, it seems that most of the player base is interested in playing Warfare matches, which never felt like UT's strength to me. The game's fast pace really lends itself to very sharp, very skill-based deathmatch and other small-map gameplay. Either way, with a seemingly small base of players to begin with, spreading them all across all these different modes makes it difficult to find a cluster of players in any of them, especially if you're trying to get players to join your campaign mode game. I played quite a bit of the campaign in an open match and never had one person join it. So that mode seems like it's really only possible with friends.
The gameplay in Unreal Tournament 3 builds on the previous games in the series, with the same basic weapon loadout and movement mechanics. So yes, you can double jump, yes, you can use the flak cannon, and yes, the bio rifle is still totally lame. Some of the movement doesn't translate to the Xbox 360 so well, though. Rather than giving you control of crouching, the game automatically ducks whenever you get near a vent or anything else that requires you to crouch. A decent solution, but it still feels really weird every time it happens. Also, the double-tap on the movement keys--used to lunge in any direction in the PC version--works a little differently here. It seems that if you're double jumping while moving, it'll turn that second jump into a more directional lunge. If you're used to the movement options of the PC game or any previous UT game, it'll feel weird.
The Xbox 360 port also does away with customizable characters in favor of a series of set configurations of humans, undead humans, robots, and so on. The models look fine--actually, the whole game looks quite good, with a lot of the same dark-and-often-brownish level design you've come to expect from gritty Unreal Engine 3 games. It runs at a nice frame rate on the 360, even if you're playing in the new two-player splitscreen mode. The audio is full of raucous explosions and angry yells from the fighters, as well as the same sort of Mortal Kombat-inspired announcer you'd expect.
While it's tempting to just label UT3 as "old-school" and claim that anyone who is into this sort of thing will be into this sort of thing, Unreal Tournament 3 doesn't feel like a good fit on the Xbox 360. It's a predictable entry in the series, and it's also competing in what's still the most competitive genre on the platform. I ended up liking UT3 for its constancy--at times it feels like a warm handshake from an old friend. But it also feels totally routine from start to finish. The lack of user-created content--which is possible in both the PC and PS3 releases of the game--only drives this feeling home that much harder. As such, UT3 on the 360 is OK, but from a features standpoint, it's also the least desirable version of the game.