Many were disappointed with the videogame Unreal Tournament 3, which was rush-released for the PC at the end of November in order to hit the Christmas market. The clunky demo was a warning. When the retail game arrived on my PC it certainly looked lovely, but there was still too much that was wrong and unfinished. And it simply lacked the fun of UT2004. If you ever played the earlier UT2004 (the best single-player shooter ever made) then you’ll know that it was some measure of UT3‘s failure that it actually managed to make the ONS-Torlan map from UT2004 tepid and unexciting and anything but ‘classic’. But I didn’t eBay my copy of the game, in the hope that fan-made PC mods and official patches might eventually infuse some fun back into it. Many hoped the same. Yet, as Strategy Informer wrote on 24th June 08…

“The game is still available at a rock-bottom cost of ten dollars, yet the player base hasn’t improved. No-one’s playing the current versions”

But now, eight months after release, an important breakthrough seems to have happened. It’s the June-released WAR-Torlan Winter map, created by some blessed mod-maker by the name of Sanch3z. Unzip his Torlan Winter into your My Games folder, load it up — and you have a well-polished UT3 Torlan map that’s orb-less, river-less, has the same linked node set-up as Torlan does in UT2004, and is generally as close to the original UT2004 single-player map as we’ll probably ever get in UT3. And his Torlan is deliciously snowy, reminding me of the best UT2004 map (Arctic Stronghold). Wonderful. Suddenly UT3 is worth its current budget price, just to play this one map.

Oh, and if you do play UT3, you might want to choose to be the red team rather than the blue. Why? Because the red team wins more often, it seems

“In an analysis [ in the journal Cyberpsychology & Behavior ] of 1,347 matches between elite teams playing Unreal Tournament 2004, researchers at the University of Denmark in Copenhagen found that the red team won 55 percent of the time.”

Darn. I always play the blue team.

And while I’m on the subject of patching up the PC version of Unreal Tournament 3, and generally trying to rescue it from dumbed-down console-port hell — there’s a new free Community Bonus Pack (8 new fan-made levels) from the same people who made the Community Packs for UT2004. There’s even a sophisticated pseudo-mod (in beta) that attempts to junk a great deal of the horrible console-oriented menu system, and to make it more PC-centric.

Even Epic Games seem to be showing some corporate responsibility for their ill-formed game. A new official v1.3 patch is due early next week. And Epic are putting $1-million toward the Make Something Unreal community competition, phase one of which has just finished. It promises a shed-load of new fan-made maps, maps that can’t help but be better than most of those that shipped with UT3.

Maybe we’re finally starting to move towards an overhauled UT3 that’s actually fun and has some genuinely exciting maps to play — like UT2004 was and still is. Let’s hope so.