"Someone just tried to combo me with the Shock Rifle. Awesome."
A small pang of pride settles in as Epic Games' Jeff Morris announces to the room his respect for the unknown assailant. If you're reading this, Jeff, it was me. Yes, I was 'epic_test3', the one pulling off the old-school FPS tricks (wall-jumps, double-tap dodges, combos) in our little soiree in your multiplayer shooter, Unreal Tournament 3.
I have some history here: when the first UT came out in 1999, I spent four hours downloading the demo over dial-up, and even chose it over Quake III. When 2004 came out, I was there shouting "Use the Link Gun" to the newbs on the server, ducking as the recently added vehicles barrelled past. And the old skills are still relevant: UT3 may be shiny and new, but there's a classic deathmatch game under the sheen.
Epic have always been conscious about the fun factor: no spawn queues, no reloading and no expanding target reticule. Getting the player to the fight and giving them the biggest, baddest guns is their priority.
It's a model that's stuck since the dawn of UT, but they're tweaking it further for UT3. There's a new addition; a deployable hoverboard that whizzes the player across the vast maps they've crafted. It has no offensive or defensive capabilities, because having people fight on it changes the combat dynamic too much. Its main use is to help get the players to the fight as swiftly as possible.
In addition to being a nippy way to cross the terrain, it also enables you to tether up to any friendly vehicle and hitch a ride. This includes things like the Viper, a gravity-defying hoverbike that can jump ungodly heights. String three or four people on to this and you practically have a dropship. My kind of tactics.
Epic estimate that roughly half of the people who bought UT2004 never took it online, preferring instead to take on Epic's brilliant bots. For that group, they're adding a campaign mode that takes place across a large number of the multiplayer maps, where you and a team of three AIs will take on a server full of bots. It's slightly more involved than their previous singleplayer addition in UT2004, which took place in a tournament setting.
The campaign is made up of a series of fights on a branching mission tree, where you choose a fight - say, picking a side mission that'll net you a bit of Necris technology. The choices you make will affect future missions as well, so there's a slight layer of tactical decision-making to it all. For those of us who do want to play with people, you can replace the teammate bots with up to three other people on the fly, and take on the missions co-operatively.
Back to multiplayer: there's a new mode, Warfare, which is a mash-up of the old Onslaught and Assault modes, where two teams are fighting over linked nodes. There are only two nodes live at any point, in order to force the teams to clash over them. The ultimate goal is to get to the other team's power supply, using captured nodes to your advantage. They may give you extra vehicles or provide a spawn point for the orbs - the powerful globes that make capturing further nodes easier.
Within the battle, you can pick a role: orb runners, for example, are tasked with getting the orb into the next node on the chain; special ops will be flitting between all the sundry items on the map, hitting unlinked nodes for potential upgrades (not all nodes are linked) and destroying barricades.
The power supplies are protected with Epic's take on the hoary old favourite: the mounted gun. The defensive spam cannons in UT3 are mounted on rails, so you can move their position and better protect the vast area the power supplies cover, as well as chase the annoying, sneaky players who think they have a sitting duck.