You'd expect any presentation of Midway's 2006 lineup to begin with Unreal Tournament 2007, surely the most anticipated title in the company's upcoming catalog. But rather than show off a highly polished demo of the game at the company's recent press event, Epic Games producer Jeff Morris laid UT2K7 bare in its current, not-even-close-to-finished state so we could get a look at some of the nifty new features that are going into the next iteration of everyone's favorite competitive-shooter franchise. This intimate "fireside chat" gave us an interesting look at Epic's design process--but more importantly, it also gave us a peek at a good amount of the new stuff going into the game. And everyone loves new stuff.
First, Morris ran us through DM-CarbonFire, a new deathmatch map set within a Liandri robotics factory. The aesthetics of the level itself were consistent with what we've come to expect from UT: dingy and industrial, lots of dim corridors, and even some robots being put together on an assembly line in the background. Morris explained to us that since Unreal Engine 3 is so good at specific lighting and surface effects, UT2K7's levels actually ended up looking a little too polished--so the artists have added "grungification" to the process of level creation, whereby they insert dirt, clutter, and other realistic elements to give the new maps a lived-in feel. From what we saw in the video, they seem to be doing a good job.
Morris also talked about the artistic work going into UT2K7's weaponry, all of which that we've seen is returning from previous games. We got to see new versions of the rocket launcher, shock rifle, and link gun in action, and while these guns' behaviors all seemed consistent with past games, at least their visual design has evolved significantly. UT2K7's firing animations will be much more active and pronounced than in the past; you actually see the link gun open up when using its alt-fire, for instance, and the rocket launcher can be seen transforming and loading in rockets when you switch to its multiple-rocket mode.
But enough about the new graphics--how's this thing going to play? It's been previously revealed that UT 2004's popular onslaught mode will make a return in UT2K7, though details beyond that have been sparse. Morris showed off three new vehicles that'll be featured in the upcoming game that ought to shift the balance in heated onslaught matches. The paladin is a new armored ground vehicle that's used primarily for escort and defense. Though you'll have a basic energy weapon on the paladin's turret, the vehicle's most important feature is a deployable energy shield that will absorb enemy fire, and you can rotate it around in real time along with the turret.
We also got to take a look at a new version of the SPMA (affectionately referred to as the SPAM), which UT veterans will know is able to deliver artillery fire far outside its visual range. You'll be able to deploy an aerial camera that will give you a bird's-eye view of the area you're trying to target, but the big difference in UT2K7 is that you'll be able to use the mouse to fine-tune your aiming for precision strikes (previously, you had to aim somewhat clumsily with the arrow keys). Finally, Morris said the team wants to emphasize aerial combat in the next version of onslaught, so he showed us the cicada, a new flyer that's intended for ground assault. This fairly quick vehicle has a cluster missile attack of sorts that lets you lock onto a target and then hit that target, even if you fire your rockets while facing the other direction.
Speaking of onslaught, Morris used the power core from that mode as an example of the way UT's interface will evolve with UT2K7. For those unfamiliar with this mode, destroying the opposing team's power core is your team's ultimate objective in an onslaught match (along with protecting your own core, of course). In UT2K4, you gauged the core's damage level via a basic meter that hovered over the unit itself. But with UT2K7, the designers want to move as much relevant information as possible out of abstract HUD elements and into the game world itself. So you'll now see the power core taking damage, losing parts, and generally breaking down in a realistic fashion as it's attacked, and from the looks of the massive UT2K7 version of the core, that ought to add a nice, hectic element to the action.
Next, we got to see some of UT2K7's characters up close and personal, as Morris showed off several models in a static environment. As you'd expect from the previously released screenshots, these were the most detailed character models we've seen to date, and they ought to be, considering that the high-detail models of the characters being used to generate the in-game version's normal maps weigh in at between 5 and 6 million polygons (that's a lot). In story terms, we're able to put a name, the Twin Souls, to the red-suited team we've seen in recent screenshots, and we also got to see a similar set of characters in yellow armor called the Iron Guard, which UT buffs may be interested to know is led by series mainstay Lauren.
As UT2K7 is just about the best-looking game on the horizon, we couldn't help but wonder about its potentially ominous system requirements. Our plans to stave off another PC upgrade weren't emboldened much by Morris' admission that the onstage demo was running on a quad-SLI setup, either. (Yes, that's four GeForce 7800 GTXs running in a single system.) But luckily, the game will purportedly run well on reasonably powerful, middle-of-the-road hardware at the time of its release, so you likely won't have to break the bank to be able to compete. Of course, the game will have extensive graphics-customization options, so you can tweak settings to get more performance in a tradeoff for visual quality.
Finally, we had to ask about the on-again, off-again PlayStation 3 version of UT2K7, which reportedly might make the system's launch...maybe...or not? The game is definitely going to happen on the PS3, though when that will be is still up in the air. Morris talked about the challenges of adapting a PC game to a console, mentioning that while a PC excels at first-person shooting controls, a console's controller is better than a mouse for controlling a vehicle. In light of that fact, the game may be slightly rebalanced to be more suitable to the platform, though the versions will still be kept in sync as much as possible. It's also worth noting that no Xbox 360 version of the game is planned at this point, as Gears of War is Epic's primary focus on that platform.
At any rate, the release time frame for all versions of Unreal Tournament 2007 remains a hearty "when it's done." But keep your eyes peeled--we'll continue to bring you as much information on this anticipated shooter as we can scrounge before that time.