Somewhat belying the fact that I'm an evil badass from space intent on puncturing a planet with giant alien vertebrae and dripping blackened tentacles, I'm currently more occupied with giggling like a schoolgirl.
Skimming over charred hill and craggy dale in my personal Viper hover-bike with a joy previously reserved for nuns singing atop the Alps, I tumble over the crest of a hill beneath the sunny skies of the IzanagiCorporation's base of operations.
I see a tank in front of me, and instinctively raise the Viper's suicide hackles - slowing down and bringing up its sides so that my craft looks like a mixture of Batman in flight, a Cobra about to strike and an angry short man leaning back and arching his shoulders so that he can spit into the face of a provincial bouncer. I release the payload and the body of my craft jets into the innocent wall next to the tank while I'm flung backwards and neatly scythed in half by the blades of a passing Scorpion buggy. The tank, it seems, was empty.
As I suppress manic laughter at my ineptitude, a door behind me inches open and the beaming face of Epic boss Mark Rein pokes through and stage-whispers to his cohorts: "You're not showing them that crappy game are you?" I nod almost unconsciously, my grin extending further upwards; I've just seen a vacant Necris Darkwalker and am about to piss molten laser-fire into the faces off all those who oppose me. Today is a good day.
"One thing we've always found is that science-fiction kicks ass," claims UT's characteristically exuberant producer Jeff Morris later on. "It's so liberating
to be able to go in and say stuff like, 'wouldn't it be cool if the giant robot fought the giant lizard thing?' We don't have to worry that the thing never actually existed - we're not trying to do the Wehrmacht in 1944."
No, they're most certainly not. Despite the occasional nod to reality, the vibrant, fast-paced world of UT has always had both feet in the somewhat surreal, with more of a focus on fun, instant gratification than its more po-faced rivals.
IN YOUR FACE
"UT is a very 'short time to spectacle' game," agrees Morris. "When you spawn there should be a cartwheeling, exploding vehicle and two guys dogfighting in front of you. Forget walking anywhere!"
The thing is, less than half the people who bought the previous outing, UT2004, simply did not connect their musclebound deathmatch to the Internet, so by way of response Epic are upping their single-player adventures considerably. We're talking proper characters, dialogue, branching storylines, twists, turns and general narrative trickery - something you might think difficult given the game's inherent frag-fest setup, but not so. Once again, the kickass nature of science-fiction saves the day...
"The key piece of military technology in this time is the 'respawner', which allows military forces to come back to life over and over," explains lead designer Steve Polge, a perceptible twinkle in his eye showing just how much he loves that his job allows him to impart such brilliant nonsense.
"What that's done is changed military combat from being between large armies to being between small units of highly trained soldiers, who know that they have infinite lives and know that they can throw themselves at something." Life, then, is dispensable - yet not always infinite since maps might see the destruction of the enemy's respawner. Or the respawners may only be capable of giving life to combatants a certain number of times before they hit their limit. Their 'frag limit'. Do you see? Do you SEE?