Summary: Yesterday JCal got the chance to check out UT3 at Epic's offices in North Carolina. In this article he provides his impressions of the gameplay modes as well as the PS3 port. Get all the details on Epic's plans for mods, Xbox 360 and more inside!
Editor's Note: Epic and Midway did not allow members of the media to take screenshots during our playtest of Unreal Tournament 3 nor did they offer new approved screenshots. The shots in this article have been previously released.
But the biggest selling and most highly regarded Unreal series is the multiplayer-oriented Unreal Tournament.
The original, released in 1999, won tons of Game of the Year awards that year with its attention to level design, tons of maps, and more. Epic released Unreal Tournament 2003 in 2002 and further refined their multiplayer action with UT 2004 (an add-on/expansion to the original game) which added vehicles and a deeper gameplay mode called Onslaught (all of the PC Unreal games can be bought in one package called Unreal Anthology which was released in 2006 by Unreal's current publisher Midway).
In 2006, Epic proved it could move away from the run-and-gun style of shooter with Gears of War, an Xbox 360 exclusive third-person action title that sold millions of copies and once again netted Epic a boatload of Game of the Year awards. However, Epic hasn't forgotten its roots nor its PC gamer fan base. Next month, Epic and publisher Midway will finally release Unreal Tournament 3 (formerly Unreal Tournament 2007) to an awaiting audience.
In an unusual move, Epic has created the next addition to this franchise to not only be a solid multiplayer experience (both online and offline) but this time there's an actual single-player storyline and campaign as well rather than the threadbare plot of the previous games that was an excuse to put in bot battles in multiplayer maps. At Epic's offices in Cary, North Carolina on Tuesday FiringSquad got a chance to play some of the game's multiplayer maps and even got a glimpse of the single player campaign.
Our first match was pure Deathmatch on the medium sized ShangriLa level. The level has a courtyard at its center with a Double Damage powerup located just outside of jumping range on top of a small fountain-like structure. With 10 people running around it was still a bit small, but UT 3's character speed is quite fast so it made up for the lack of players (the character running speed in Valve's Team Fortress 2 seems slow as molasses by comparison).
The art style was Asian in tone (we were told that the art design for the Asian-themed levels came from Epic's recently launched China art asset team). We quickly found some of the more intersting features in UT 3, including variable armor power ups (some for the helment, some for the chest, some for the legs) along with the power shoes that highly increase your jumping ability for a few second if you double tap the "Space" key. Both weapons and power-ups drop when you die so they can be picked up by other players.
Of course all of the classic UT weapons are back; the link gun, the biogun, the shock rifle, the rocket launcher (now with some homing abilities if you keep the reticule on the target for a few seconds) the mini-gun and of course the Redeemer. Most of the weapons do come with their classic alt-fire modes (fire three rockets instead of just one for example). There is a new sniper rifle, and a new anti-vehicle handheld missle launcher that locks onto a target instantly.
We then moved onto another Deathmatch map (the name of which I have unfortunately forgotten) that is much larger in size and clearly meant for 32 players. This map was more of a European gothic style art design with a huge church that you could get on top of via a jump pad. Again, having 10 people play in this huge map wasn't the best experience but it's always fun to kill a person from a long way off with your shock rifle. :)
After playing the deathmatch maps we then switched over to a standard CTF set up, this time on an really weird looking H.R. Giger art inspired sci-fi map that had two bases floating in the air and linked by two somewhat narrow bridges. It was a fairly small map so it was perfect for the amount of players we had and yes, the translocater is back and was used a lot in the level to quickly move through portions of it. We think this level will be one that people will either love or hate (we grew to love it in our playtest).
The time had finally come to play vehicle CTF and we did it in a huge fashion with the level named Suspense. The map is huge with two bases linked by a massive suspension bridge with a river down below the bridge (that's where the Redeemer is). The human-based vehicles were being used for both sides; the smaller but fast wheeled vehicles like the Scorpion, the much larger tank ground vehicles, the fast hovercraft the Manta, and the larger air vehicle the Raptor.
The vehicle levels are going to be big which is why you get your own personal hoverboard as well that acts as a default vehicle (hit the "Q" button to activate it). You can use the hoverboard when you try to run away with a flag in CTF (you can't use it to actually pick it up) and you can even fire a line to a teammate's vehicle that drags you along much faster (depending on which vehicle of course). Needless to say the match was quite intense even with just a few people thanks to the vehicles.
After a quick lunch we played another vehicle CTF level; this one is called Sandstorm and the reason is that every couple of minutes a sandstorm shows up and pretty much gets rid of your field of vision until it lets up (there are other such weather and enviroment effects that can affect gameplay in UT 3 but we will keep those a secret for now). This level was unusual in that the flags were not across from each other but next to each other, separated by a very tall wall that can either be flown over by a vehicle or jumped over if you have the power shoes, There's also a tunnel that links the two sides but its over on the right side of the wall while the two flag bases are on the left side.
This time we played with the alien Necris vehicles which we have talked about before, the tripod Dark Walker and its smaller cousin with the ability to not only walk on tendrils but also to roll like a marble to cut down foes. The Necris vehicles all have a very bio-mechanical design; the flying Necris vehicle has tentacles that constantly move and want to grab you. Having the unsual looking vehicles combined with the sandstorm that can affect gameplay made playing the level a different experience.
The time had finally come to experience Unreal Tournament 3's Warfare mode. Again the basics are grounded in UT 2004's Onslaught mode. There are two teams who each have to destroy each other's power core in their main base to win the game. However the difference between Warfare and Onslaught is that Epic has made an effort to really make each Warfare level have different objectives. The first map we played was basically similar to a UT 2004 Onslaught level with players taking over bases and linking them when they are adjacent to each other. When one team has more bases under their control than the other the final power core is exposed and can be destroyed. The level itself is a large rural style map with green grass and has an organic feel to it.
One big difference is that each team has one special core that acts kind of like a map in CTF. A player from each team has a core (a small glowing ball) that they hold onto and run with. If they find a base held by an enemy team that person can instantly destroy their hold on it by taking the core to the designated spot and instantly take it over for your team. The caveat is that the enemy can usually see you coming with that very bright orb and will naturally do what they can to stop you. The end result, as one might imagine, is a tight and strategic gameplay mode that offers high rewards for high risk as teams try to capture and hold onto each base node.
The final level we played was yet another Warfare level but this one is a bit different. One side has vehicles for the start of the level while the other has a base that can be defended with both laser and rocket turrets that can make quick work out of even the toughest vehicles. There are only three nodes on this map; each team's power node inside their bases and a neutral node that teams can capture to gain access to flying Raptors which is also the easy way to get to the map's Redeemer which is situated on an island that is not easy to access any other way.
As one might expect, teams switch sides after the completion of each round. The overall goal is still the same; destroy the enemy node, but this Warfare map has a different design and objective that will keep players on their toes.
Of course one of the more interesting things is that the PS3 version will fully support mods made for the PC version.
PS3 owners can simply download the mod when they go to a server that has it installed, or download and save it to a PC USB flash drive and transfer it to the PS3 (Epic told us Sony has made special arrangements to have a folder on the hard drive for PS3 UT 3 mods).
And what about all the inevitable mods that are based on an existing IP (Star Wars; Star Trek, etc) or even porn mods?
Epic told us they have a list of potential mods that will be blacklisted for PS3 owners (in theory a UT 3 mod based on Star Wars could leave Sony open to a copyright lawsuit rather than just the mod team that made it). Epic's UT3 limited edition will have 15 hours of video tutorials on how to make mods for the game (made by the 3DBuzz team which have done similar work for previous Unreal games) and yes, Epic will have a "Make Something Unreal 2" mod contest for UT 3; they plan to announce details as soon as they get sponsors lined up.
And what about the planned Xbox 360 version? Epic told us that they plan to discuss having mod support with Microsoft after the PC game is done but made no promises since Xbox Live is a closed system rather than the PS3's open network setup.
We also got to see a little bit of UT 3's single player campaign. As we said this is a story-driven campaign rather than a rather lame story thread designed only to link bot battles in multiplayer games. The storyline is pretty basic; humans are being overrun by the alien Necris and your character has to go out and fight the good fight alongside a heavily armed special ops unit. We got to see a couple of single player trailers for the game (they were created in Unreal Engine 3 but will be presented as film files rather than in-game cut-scenes) that show the aliens devatasting human locations, including a rather modern day city via some kind of giant tendrils that seemingly come out of rifts in the space time continuum.
While we didnt play any of the single player campaign it looks like it will be much more enjoyable than just a simulated bot battle.
Speaking of which, the bots in UT 3 should be the best ever programmed for the series. Long time Epic AI programmer Steve Pogue told us that the bots can not only handle thing like Deathmatch and normal CTF but they are a lot better at handling the vehicles and can even pull off some of the special moves like the Scorpian's eject self-destruct feature. He told us that at the AI's higher levels they have been beating Epic's very experienced UT 3 developers team. Since about half of the previous game's players never went online it's nice to know that Epic will be able to give those folks the same kind of multiplayer experience (are you listening, Bungie?).
A quick word on graphics and features; yes, the game does run on both DirectX 9 and DirectX 10 but Epic isn't really using any advanced features for the DirectX10 version; they deliberately wanted to keep system specs on the low side to let as many people play the game as they could. If you have an AGEIA PhysX game physics hardware card installed, UT 3 has an option to offload the game's physics to the card but there won't be any extra effects generated (AGEIA is demoing a custom UT 3 level that does include special effects like destructible environments via a tornado that can destroy and suck up players, vehicles, and even buildings, but Epic is not developing that level themselves).
Players will also be able to customize the looks of the characters (there are four different teams, two human and two alien, each with four different characters) with different helmets, faceplates, armor and so on.
And what about that promised PC demo? Epic told us that the ShangriLa deathmatch level and the Suspense vehicle CTF level will be included alongside a deathmatch level we got to see but not play; HeatRay, an urban city style level that occasionally drops a Necris Dark Walker vehicle via a spaceship for one lucky player to access if he or she is quick enough. The game will support bot play as well as online and LAN multiplayer play. No there won't be a Warfare map in this demo but Epic said if they update the UT3 demo at some point they might put in a Warfare level (they have added content to previous Unreal Tournament free demos in the past).
So will UT fans love UT 3? While we only got to see parts of the final game it's hard to believe that this next game in the series won't be the best yet in this long running franchise. The Warfare style of gameplay is an excellent refinement of Onslaught, the new human and alien vehicles are terrific, and the game looks great and plays really fast. Our only question mark is the single player campaign. Will we want to play it straight through or will we get bored with it and just start playing multiplayer? In any case, Epic has once again loaded up UT 3 with a ton of content that would be enough for three normal games nowadays. Epic still plans to release the PC version of Unreal Tournament 3 this November; that playable demo should be released in a matter of days.
|© Copyright 2003 FS Media, Inc.|