After doing our Justify Your Engine with Epic's Mark Rein, we got some hands-on time with Unreal Tournament 3. While we didn't have time to test the new features like vehicles, we did get to play a few rounds of traditional deathmatch. And yes, it was still great. The FPS genre has slowed down in the past few years, literally. Games like Halo may be fun, but they don't have that crack on speed sense of split second intensity that the UT series has offered since its first incarnation. The major blame should probably fall on analogue sticks. They just don't work as well as a mouse for extremely quick 180s to rocket jumps to sniper rifle headshots. But in UT3. the controls are extremely tight—they've clearly been given a lot of love. The razor responsive mechanics are in no way hindered by analogue sticks. I don't know how that's possible—maybe we've just gotten more used to the controllers, maybe it's Epic ingenuity (and new adjustments like a rotary gun selection—but UT3 has not been slowed down and I will not be playing it with a mouse, even with that option.
Of course, UT3 wouldn't be part of the franchise without its trademark weapon set, and the amount Epic tweaks the fan favourites can make or break a game *cough* lighting gun *cough*. My personal favourite has always been the flak cannon, and it returns here with gusto. Regular fire can still kill baddies in one shot from close enough quarters, but the big difference is alternate fire. It's still an explosive grenade, but the shell seems less restricted by gravity. Still requiring trajectory calculations to strike your target, I was at one point able to bomb an enemy from... I dunno... pretty far away. After congratulating myself, I wondered how I even knew that was possible as this was my first time playing the new version.
The answer: polish. Physics explain themselves when implemented so cleanly.
The shockrifle is another fan favourite that has been done justice. At first I didn't recognise the design. It's beefier in your hand. Precision shooting has been made easier with the weapon, something that will need tweaking for instagib fans, but as a weapon in normal play it's become far more manageable to strike opponents. Using the alternate fire, you can still shoot balls of energy, and shoot the balls for that trademark combo explosion. The combo still requires a high level of precision, which is good, since I think the explosion is bigger than before. Or maybe staring at one of the most beautiful effects I've seen in a next-gen title made the moment seem larger than life.
The one level I played had a perfect layout for killing sprees. It was so natural that I quickly found my running pattern, dominated, repeated. (The bots were on easy I think, but shhhh).
Based upon those too few minutes of play, UT3 is an absolute must buy. And based upon my projected awesomeness, it's also a must get fragged by (me).