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Unreal Tournament 3

My friend Björn (who also is the hoster of this site) sent me a few screen shots of the Unreal Tournament 3 map “Heat Ray” and said I should do something about that here. Which is what I’m doing right now. Cool, eh?

Update! Bjoern just sent me a few additional shots. Go to the updated section and have fun.

Second update! Erik “Noone” Hainke who just found this page by accident has sent me some more information, which is now incorporated here.

Unreal Tournament 3 is a First-Person Shooter by Epic Games, and is the fourth Unreal Tournament game. It’s basically all multiplayer, with the setting being something vague of science fiction gladiator fights. I haven’t played the game myself, so I’m just using the screenshots and whatever I could find on the intertubes. Let’s dive right in!


I didn’t play UT3, but I did play Unreal Tournament 2004, the direct predecessor, and with all the sci-fi going on in there, I was rather surprised to see that No. 3 has, indeed, a more-or-less realistic train. As the grim science fiction rules officially dictate, though, it appears crashed in at least some places.


It has a very sleek exterior. It's top and front are in a sort of burgundy or maroon look, the sides in silver-grey.

Does this seem familiar to you? Possibly not, but it does to me. This train is, for all points and purposes, a Thalys, the PBKA variant, to be precise! Don’t just take my word for it, see a real one.

The real Thalys has some distinct differences, but mainly, it's the same train

That picture’s from my homepage’s railroad photography section, in case you were wondering, taken by me, released under Creative Commons license. The Thalys is a high-speed train connecting Paris, Cologne (Köln in German), Brussels and Amsterdam (hence the PBKA name). It reaches speeds up to 300 km/h (no, I’m not going to translate that into mph. Get a calculator) and can work under four different electricity systems — and for what it’s worth, it passes through Aachen regularily, where I am rather often.

You may notice some differences between the real-life Thalys and the one in the game. For quick reference, I happen to have a Thalys model at hand.

It may not be the most detailed one, but it looks and drives really great nevertheless

As an example, you will see that that the transition from reddish to gray happens much later in real life, in the middle of the side grilles, and is arced, while the UThalys (cool name, huh?) has a straight line that is under the side cab window. Still, look at the details. My photo of the model doesn’t do all details justice, but you should be able to see that everything is there where it has to be. the window, the various radiators, the engineer’s emergency hatch, it’s all there. The line through the radiators is annoying, but otherwise, this is a real joy to look at.

So let’s get to the parts that suck.

One of the main, possibly the main problems of the train is that some di’kut decided to make it absolutely symmetrical, which leads to a number of problems. First of all, you see the letters on the train above? Apart from the fact that they are in an incorrect location (hey, I did tell you that the paint job was wrong), they are backwards. Train PR29 is probably not amused.

Looking at it from the front, one side is in the light while the other is in the shadow

What is the fold doing there? The front of the real train is perfectly straight. This one, though, looks kind of like a west german class E 10.12, known as “Bügelfalte” (which could be roughly translated as “crease”). This is, of course, because mirroring the train means you have to have a single axis that’s constant in there, but it does make the resulting model look worse, at least here.

While we’re here, take a look at the tracks. They did give the rails proper outlines, and even the ties and mounting got proper outlines. Thank you, Epic! This is something that most others, including oh-so-famous Valve, haven’t managed to do consistenly yet. But first of all, the rails are too wide, which makes the entire thing look a little narrow-gauge. The tie spacing is also way too large for a train that size. Hm, maybe that’s why it crashed here in the first place? Last but not least, I have no idea what those wedges are. This is the first time I’ve seen anything like that to mount rails on ties.

Also, notice that the lamps of the train are covered (just like the side cab windows). This is better seen when the train is running.


Yay for running trains! Let’s start with the obvious question: What weapon is the player holding here? Looks weird. Edit: Appears it’s a flying vehicle of sorts. Aanyhooo, let’s get to the trains of the matter.

The train is running over a bridge and will soon pass through some sort of gate.

What’s interesting is the lack of an overhead wired. My first instinct would be that the guys who made the game forgot about it. Epic Games sits in North Carolina, of all places, and as far as I can tell, such advanced technology as catenary has been in operation there only since November 2007, so maybe they didn’t know about it. However, there is this odd gate. My guess is that the train is a modified version that draws it’s power from this weird gate, and saves it for a certain time. At least that would be a good explanation.

I’ve also been informed that the train has no traces of pantographs anywhere, which makes sense if you think about it.

You’ll see that the locomotive has no shining lights, but the car windows are shining. On a route that leads through an Unreal Tournament map I can certainly understand why you wouldn’t want your train to be seen, but shouldn’t the lights for the passengers be turned off as well? Interestingly there’s a wiper on the screen here, which wasn’t in the crashed train above (and before you ask, yes, it fits perfectly for the Thalys). Edit: Apparently the crashed version has such a wiper too, only at the other end. Since there’s only ever one direction you travel in when it rains, right? The really weird thing about the car is the type of car, though. The real train uses short, low articulated with few, long and low windows.

Now, my impression used to be that this car was as high as the power head, had high windows and a round roof, but Erik told me that this was wrong due to the perspective. Actually, the car is lower, has a flat roof (as it should) and has correct long windows, it just has many more of them since it’s not articulated (two cars share one bogie), but separate cars (every car has one bogie). The reason for this is apparently that the entire train is a single model, with two power heads and a single car in between. This does not really work for a Thalys, but is frequently found as the basic set for a model railroad ICE. The entire train is, again, mirrored, right through the car in the middle. This means, by the way, that the train cannot go through curves. But hey, who needs those anyway?

What is next is the coupling. In the map, trains seem to be regularly coupled.

The trains are coupled nose-to-nose.

I’ve never seen real life Thalys trains coupled, but they do have couplings and I guess they could operate coupled if you needed them to. However, the coupling is hidden behind an aerodynamic cover that has to be moved out of the way before coupling can be attempted, which is closed in the game. It is possible that the UT3 developers didn’t know about that. However, it could have occurred to them, given that the lines representing this cover are reproduced perfectly on the train.

The cover consists of two halves that can be swung around to expose the coupling. When closed, the train has a very sleek and aerodynamic appearance

Maybe they thought nobody would notice in the heat of the battle. Maybe they were right.

So, after crashed and running, let’s look at where it’s meant to stop.

The Station

The station has two tracks and a platform in the middle. The platform has a low height and a weird steps construction

The station has low platforms, and no roof, only small shelters. For a high-profile train like the Thalys, this appears to be too little, but I would never ever put this past the Deutsche Bahn (German Railroad). Indeed, the trees on the platforms make this station look nicer than several real-life ones. What’s not so nice are the broken bridge and derailed trains. Still, whoever operates this has his priorities right: Train service may be impossible, but the advertisements still work.

There are times when it is acceptable to walk on the roof of a locomotive. For example, in a video game. Otherwise: Never

Standing on the train one can see that the only way to get to the middle platform is walking right over the tracks. That’s typical for small branch line stations, the likes of which the Thalys never ever gets to. But hey, who cares about reason? I’d also like you to look at the right end of the bridge. You’ll see that the ramp on there is very steep and there are no steps. This is clearly bad for wheelchair accessibility. Maybe that was the reason the station was demolished in the first place.

The lower level has a station. On the upper level, trains run through over a bridge.

When looking from below to the top rail where the trains are running, one can only see sparks when the train passes through the weird gate. It seems my theory, that the train draws it’s powers from these sparks, is correct. I’d like to draw attention to the signs: I have no idea at all what message they intend to convey and where I can and should go to get where I’m going. Sadly, this is completely realistic…

End of the Line

The other end of the rails is interesting as well. The makers of this line decided to ignore buffer stops completely and instead put in there a concrete wall that blinks.

Interestingly, there are two holes in the wall.

What can I say about this other than that nobody would ever do something that way? If you want to stop a train, you normally want a design that can absorb some impact without damaging the bumper or train. This one is going to damage either, though. And if it’s not a permanent bumper but rather just a temporary notice, why put a heavy wall in there? A small sign does the job just as well.

Behind it, things don’t look much brighter. The tracks are gone and someone built in a player-throwing-device. Well, whatever works for you guys…

The device looks odd at first, but UT players should recognize it.

Other Transportation

Since version 2004 or maybe 2003, Unreal Tournament has featured some kind of vehicles. They are generally science-fiction and horrible to control. Here, the Necris Darkwalker was used to reach the area where you can see the running trains. In the newest update, I also got sent a screenshot of it in default state.

It's a blue spider thing with red highlights

According to the game’s manual, this thing is the coolest and most powerful device even possible on the battlefield, just like all others. Erm, well. It has huge guns and it can apparently stun enemies that come to close. If you ask it nicely, it might also give autographs (no, the manual does not say that, but it’s implied).

The Game

Notice: This section does not play in the final rating.

Don’t ask me. Ask Björn. He’s the one who has and plays the game.


Okay. They have a real prototype for their train, and the locomotive is done exceptionally well. Most other details are weird and wrong, though, although it recently turned out that it wasn’t as wrong as it could have been. Still, it’s nice that someone bothers to do even so much realism when Unreal is the first name of the game. All things considered, this game recieves a “mediocre” (that’s 2 out of 3 for those of you who like numbers) rating. Not a game you buy because of trains, but not one you throw away because of them either (if you’re into trains like me).

All trademarks, patents and property related to Unreal Tournament 3 belong to Epic Games. Other trademarks belong to their respective owners. All screenshots are from Unreal Tournament 3 and are used for review purposes only. All pictures of real-life trains or model trains were taken by myself and are available under a Creative Commons Share Alike 3.0 license. They were taken from either public property or property where I was explicitly allowed to take pictures (my flat, to be precise), so there’s really no restriction here.