When our straining ears picked up the first whispered rumours emanating from Epic that Unreal Tournament 3 was coming to PS3, we couldn't sleep at the prospect of getting our mitts on the game. And that's exactly what we did on a recent visit to Epic's North Carolina offices, where lead designer Steve Polge and producer Jeff Morris unveiled the nearly completed version of what could be one of the most thrilling PS3 titles of the year.
Sitting in a stark demo room, our faces illuminated by the cornea-burning glare from a humungous wall-mounted flatscreen, we watched as Polge and Morris pummelled each other in a frenetic firefight set in a stunning alien world. Powered by Unreal Engine 3, the visual detail was simply awe-inspiring; a cauldron of carnage so good looking it had our eyes watering in disbelief.
PLOT OF GOLD
While the visuals speak boldly for themselves, Polge and Morris are keen to extol the virtues of the game's other features, most notably its story-driven single-player campaign and how it will complement the pick-up-and-play multiplayer action that the series has become so renowned for.
In this solo campaign you'll play as a mercenary hell-bent on revenge against an evil alien warlord responsible for the death of your family and clan. "In the Unreal universe there are several great corporations that control space outside of earth," states Polge. "You're fighting for the Izanagi Corporation on the planet Taryd, a human faction that spends much of its time stealing hardware from its rivals in order to fuel its war effort."
The Liandri (robot manufacturing specialists) and the Axon (military experts) will provide the cannon fodder for early missions, though Polge reveals that it won't be long before you're clashing with an alien warrior race called the Necris. He even lets slip that you'll be heading to their home planet before the end credits roll, no doubt to exact revenge for the death of your loved ones before taking snaps of the indigenous wildlife and heading back home with a suitcase full of tacky souvenirs.
Unreal 3's single-player campaign breaks with the linear mission convention that's typical of shooters, offering instead a choice of missions. "You'll be able to make decisions about which mission to do next," explains Morris. "You may decide to stem a Necris assault or try to opportunistically help your corporation gather territory instead. There'll be a detailed strategic global map, which will have branching choices as the campaign progresses."
Time for us to get bloody. Clutching our controllers, we found ourselves in a giant space station, replete with indoor sections and outdoor low-gravity areas. Moving from one location to the next proved seamless as we hopped past fizzing bullets and strafed our AI opponents - each of which displayed a frighteningly lifelike level of intelligence - with an array of versatile weaponry.
"Our AI is trying to simulate a 14-year-old kid who's trying to exploit you on their high school LAN, explains Morris as a bot sent our character's head spinning with a precision sniper shot. "We've got some challenging bots both for the newcomer and for veterans of multiplayer games."
Many of the game's weapons had two, sometimes three, modes of fire. Ranging from a basic Assault Rifle to a devastating Flak Cannon, Rocket launcher and Link Gun (which could both heal and destroy), we rampaged through the level collecting upgrades - that beefed up our speed, armour and the amount of damage we dished out - as we duelled. And then there's the vehicles.