Unreal Tournament III Hands-On - A Name Change, New Platform, and Multiplayer Carnage

Epic Games and Midway reveal some major developments in the next Unreal Tournament, then let us control some awesome new vehicles in combat.

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LAS VEGAS--Epic Games and Midway dropped a couple of major announcements regarding Unreal Tournament 2007 during Midway's Gamers' Day in Las Vegas. For one, it's no longer called Unreal Tournament 2007. Instead, the much-anticipated first-person shooter is now called Unreal Tournament III. Why the change? As Epic vice president Mark Rein explained, it's the third generation of Unreal Tournament that uses the third generation of the Unreal engine technology. The "III" is also appropriate considering that the game is also now going to be released on three platforms. That's right. Unreal Tournament III is no longer a PlayStation 3 and PC exclusive. The game is now being made for the Xbox 360 as well, which isn't too surprising, considering that Epic has garnered a gigantic following thanks to last year's Xbox 360 megahit Gears of War.

Oh yeah, and Epic brought along the PC version of the game for us to play, and, quite simply, it plays as well as it looks--and it looks absolutely fantastic.

There's going to be much more of a single-player element to Unreal Tournament III than in the previous iterations of the series, which were always primarily multiplayer focused. As Rein and producer Jeff Morris explained, the single-player story won't be anywhere on the level of Gears of War, but it will offer up some backstory to what goes on in the game. The fiction in the original Unreal Tournament set up the series as, basically, the Super Bowl of the future. In order to keep dissatisfied miners happy, the ruling megacorporations set up combat tournaments to serve as entertainment. Fast-forward 50 years or so later, and you'll play as a young man trying to get revenge on the corporations that killed your family. The only problem is, midway through your quest the Necris Black Legion, a sort of undead race invades, and then the fight is really on.

We got to play in a multiplayer match on the level called corruption, which is set in a mountainous valley filled with Asian-themed architectural structures. The mode was capture the flag, and there was vehicle as well as good, old-fashioned on-foot combat. The two sides were the Necris and the Izanagi Corporation, one of the megacorporations in the game, though the Izanagi used Axon Corporation vehicles, which are the basic default for the corporations. These included the manta, which is a hoverbike; the hellbender, a futuristic all-wheel drive transport; and the goliath, a heavy tank. Those were all fairly conventional in design and look like futuristic version of today's vehicles.

The Necris, on the other hand, have some really sinister vehicles at their disposal. The viper is a mix between a hoverbike and a tricycle. Then there's the nemesis, which is like a tank, only the turret can rise up like a praying mantis. But the really awesome Necris unit is the dark-walker, which is a tripod war machine that looks like something straight out of War of the Worlds. It's even armed with a devastating heat-ray-like beam attack. It's downright fun to pilot a dark-walker, but even if you're not lucky enough to be at the controls, you can sit back and gaze as it strides across the landscape laying waste to everything. We even ran beneath one and watched as the tentaclelike legs planted themselves around us. The other side didn't have a comparable vehicle to the dark-walker, though it was later explained to us that Epic is keeping that possibility a secret for now.

The action that resulted was fast and furious as vehicles and infantry clashed in a desperate race to capture the enemy's flag and return it to base. Many of the infantry weapons are derived from previous Unreal Tournament games. There's the blob-firing biorifle, the link gun (which has an alternate fire mode that's useful for repairing friendly vehicles), the shard-firing stinger, the flak cannon, and, of course, the rocket launcher. It's always fun to blast someone, of course, but there were also plenty of kills that were the result of someone in a vehicle running other players over or smashing them against the side of a cliff.

Not enough can be said for the visuals. The game looks spectacular, and it's quite possibly the best Unreal Engine 3 game that we've seen to date. Considering that this list includes last year's Gears of War, that's high praise indeed. The rocky terrain looks rugged and jagged, while the character and vehicle models are just incredible. The action remained incredibly smooth, even in the biggest battle, though we were playing on high-end PCs. Epic plans, of course, to give PC players the option to tweak the visuals as much as they want for the best frame rate. The console versions won't have that problem, from what we saw. Unreal Tournament III looks great, and we can't wait for it to ship. However, in classic Epic style, no release date has been announced, as the game is done "when it's done." Though Epic is hoping to get it out sometime in the second half of the year, if the company feels it needs to delay the game, it won't hesitate to do so.

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