New vehicles, gritty design and a great collection of maps make this a worthy sequel
The campaign tells of a war, and battles to gain control of various locals or maps. They are presented on a global map sometimes giving you the opportunity to choose between alternative battles. To make things slightly more interesting they introduce a card system, that lets you add players to your side or increase your vehicle armour. They can only be used once and are just designed to make some missions easier, again they don't really add much to the game. During the campaign the characters will try to explain why Flags are capped and why Enemies respawn, which just doesn't float at all and frankly is a little insulting. Before missions you may here the same introduction several times which completely pulls you out of what little story there is. The missions are just maps from the game with certain enemies and a specific setup, sometimes with a slight redesign in terms of lighting or effects. Only unlike in UT2k4 you can't choose your squad members or progress through a ladder system. A lot of work has been put into the campaign, the cut scenes in particular. Unfortunately these things do little to make the game any better when you are just playing bot matches between the cut scenes and none of the characters are interesting.
The one good thing that comes from the campaign is the introduction of the new enemies and their new vehicles, some new vehicles have a similarity between the human vehicles but really they bring something fresh to the battlefield, they operate differently and just become rather imposing. One is a war of the worlds type three legged contraption which roars as a secondary fire to knock enemies down, another is a ball with legs that you can roll over enemies and spin out some sharp blades. It makes the vehicle matches on some maps more interesting when there are differences in balance, or just creates a fresh feel when its Necris vehicles only. The other introduction is the hoverboard, fast moving single user vehicle that can latch you onto vehicles but doesn't work on water (McFly you Bojo) but should you get hit while on one, you get knocked down and are very vulnerable to attack for a few seconds. Vehicles are fairly well implemented but I think matches without vehicles, especially against bots are more fun. The upside of vehicles is that you can more easily dominate with them, and you will get more monster kills etc in them. Aside from the occasional tip or description from a fellow squad member about a map during the campaign there is not a lot of incentive to play through it. To add some incentive Epic lets you unlock characters during the campaign, these can then be used during instant action battles and your character selection, some are only unlocked via side missions and others are available through codes. The characters feature interchangeable body parts, so you can customise your own character in a few different ways.
The rest of the game is thankfully quite good and graphically it's no slouch. Gears of War has better textures but the level design and color is more vivid in UT3. The effects are also very nicely done, plenty of gibs fly when the action heats up, the biorifle charged up goo is very satisfying when it sticks on enemies and blood smears over your screen if the action is close. The game is designed to be a little bit darker than previous games, the weapons look different and the maps are grittier. Although more colourful than Gears it still is a bit bland or brown at times compared to the previous games, this helps though when blue and red units stand out against a more placid background and it keeps the action up. The sound in UT3 is very good, from the dialogue to the weapon and pickup sounds, the music also is up beat and complementary to each of the levels. As usual the announcer is good value.
The enemy AI feels very familiar to the UT series, especially UT2k4, they do similar things and are certainly as competent, in some ways though they are still a bit over skilled in vehicles, mostly again due to the AI having better aim than smarts. They may try to emulate your actions more than previous games, and they cover you more when you have a flag. Orders for each team member can be given through an in game menu, basic things like attack and defence are included, although in general the AI seemed to do just fine without specific instructions, even though it can be quite deficient at defending an exposed core. I didn't have anywhere near the level of AI frustration I had during the ladder campaign in UT2k4, although most of those problems were related with a specific game mode (Domination) that is no longer present.
The maps across the board are great, their design and flow is extremely polished, some feel a bit more like a quake game than unreal but this is a good thing.. Many of the maps use some great design principles in terms of weapon and spawn placements, and the levels are easy to remember thanks to the high detail, although some more deathmatch maps would have been nice. Overall the inclusion of the Campaign in UT3 was probably a waste of Epic's time; it adds nothing to the game and probably takes away from it. Had they opted to go for more maps, more game modes and a better tournament system involving management of your own team I think they would have benefited more from it. The other thing worth mentioning at this point is the lack of people playing UT3 online, while you can find a game fairly easily it might not be the game type or map you would rather play. If you are more inclined to play against human opponents this could become a problem, but against bots this game matches the best and is a blast.