Amongst the glitz and bustle of Midway's overly-lavish Las Vegas gamers day, every journalist's first port of call is centered just behind the make-shift sushi bar, in a off-side PC LAN-rig where Epic Games - now proudly touted as "the makers of Gears of War"- is offering press the first chance to try out their latest Unreal Engine 3 bad boy, the freshly-renamed and gorgeous-looking Unreal Tournament 3.
As massive UT fans ourselves, we waste no time in climbing over American blog scribes to get at the Midway-branded mouse and keyboards - but it's not so bad being a spectator either, as a rocket-flinging UT3 match is arguably as fun to watch as it is to play, especially with stunning graphic effects like this.
Upon jumping into our very first game - a Vehicle CTF match on an oriental-ish locale called CTF_Corruption - it's apparent that UT3 plays very much in the same vein as 2004, with familiar walking speed, field of view and weapon physics that put up few surprises.
Corruption is a rocky island littered with streams and waterfalls, and two oriental-style temples housing the good old flags. The design of the level is tight, with both sides of the map paralleling each other exactly but at the same time cleverly littered with diverse terrain and scenery to remove any impression of a blueprint, mirrored 'arena'. There's plenty of interaction to be found as well; a spinning windmill provides an interesting roadblock in your path to flag-y goodness, forcing you to time your vehicle acceleration to get through the gaps without getting flattened.
The weapon roster is a mix of oldschool favourites; the Rocket Launcher, Shock Rifle and Flak Cannon have all made a return, along with the graphically suped-up Bio Rifle, Enforcer and Link Gun, which all pack an absurd amount of polygons dedicated to making every nook and cranny of their make-up chug and move with each extra-satisfying blast.
It's not all same-old, same-old though; the Mini-Gun for example now packs a much more accurate blast radius and is extremely devastating as a long-range weapon. More exciting though is the revamped secondary function, which fires off single-shot 'nail rounds' which, if close to a hard surface, can pin your opponent to a wall for some hilarious and brutal rag doll kills.
Another facet of the game that has seen improvement are the re-tinkered and balanced vehicles, many of which have undergone very welcome visual overhalls. We found that the roles of each vehicle are now far more defined, whether it be as a scout vehicle, hard-hitting behemoth or nippy-ride to dispatch on-foot opponents.
As expected by far the most enjoyable vehicle to pilot is the massive War of Worlds-inspired Dark Walker; against infantry it's a near-invincible killing machine, tearing through flesh with its cool-as-hell flaming laser beam, which fires in bursts for you to drag across the terrain, taking out multiple opponents and leaving a scorching trail behind. It also has the advantage of being up to crouch underneath and behind terrain, proving troublesome when we trying to bullseye the bugger with our rather-sluggish Goliath battle tank - It's quite simply the vehicle to have.
The alien Necris vehicles - which also include a tank with liftable turret and speeder bike - did seem to give the red team somewhat of an advantage in our time with UT3 - the Dark Walker in particular managing to decimate our lowly blues time and time again - though Epic assures us that extensive balancing has undergone at the studio to make sure that Axon and Necris toys match up fairly.