E3 07: Unreal Tournament 3 Preview

By Chris Faylor and Chris Remo, Jul 18, 2007 10:21am PDT
Upon seeing Epic Games' Unreal Tournament 3 running on PlayStation 3, the first thing that struck me was the game's ridiculous attention to detail. Everything, from the caulk between bricks to the wood grain of a window frame to the rusted girders on the sides of buildings, has a textured appearance to it, a far cry from the usual flat images slapped on the side of a model. Numerous neon signs of various colors illuminate different portions of the map. Legible traffic signs appear overhead. Trash and old flyers litter the walls and ground.

Despite the detail, the level is oddly lifeless. It gives the impression that a lot of people left in an awfully big hurry, like something from War of the Worlds. As it turns out, that was the intent all along. In the words of producer Jeff Morris, the goal was to "reference War of the Worlds enough without getting sued."

Known as Heatray, this is one of Unreal Tournament 3's 40 multiplayer levels. A large player-controllable tripod-esque vehicle, the Darkwalker, resides somewhere on the map. It is numerous stories tall and equipped with both a charged laser blast and a gatling gun to mow down faster-moving targets. Meanwhile, a concussion blast knocks down players attempting to be clever and hide between its legs. In a team or co-op game, two players can independently control the two main weapons. Make no mistake, the Darkwalker is a fearsome machine.

It is also a target that almost every single player on the map goes after the second it becomes occupied. To encourage players to go after such dangerous targets, they are filled with powerful items. Somewhat akin to a pinata, damaging the Darkwalker looses a variety of helpful power-ups, such as the always-handy damage multiplier.

New to the game is Warfare, a gameplay mode that replaces the existing Assault and Onslaught modes. As is all the rage in team-based shooters these days, Warfare is a node capture-based mode. Players must create a line of capture from node to node, the number of which varies depending on the map, and as the line of capture progresses forward the team's spawn point moves forward. Meanwhile, when a node is unlocked, it spawns a new spate of vehicles, providing an additional incentive to capture as quickly as possible. On top of all this, Warfare games feature a capture orb, a small sphere that can be carried by one player, allowing that player to capture nodes instantly or initially build them at a greatly increased rate. The only vehicle that orb-carrying players can ride is the hoverboard, keeping them from ensconsing themselves in heavy mobile armor.

Of the 11 weapons in Unreal Tournament 3, none of them are new to the series, with Morris explaining that the large number of fan-favorite weapons in the UT franchise made it difficult to introduce an entirely new gun. Instead, the configurable firing modes of certain weapons have been tweaked to include functionality found in past UT titles. For example, the rocket launcher can now lob grenades--one, two, or three at a time.

Morris also made special note of the PS3 control scheme, handled by the team that did the control for Gears of War on the Xbox 360. Weapons are selectable via a radial menu that is superimposed over the screen at the touch of a button. A dodge move is mapped to one of the shoulder buttons, allowing players to easily aim and move while sprinting out of a rocket's path. To highlight this, the producer charged up the impact hammer and used dodge to rush an unsuspecting bot, leaving an impressive blood splatter on the screen. The move also results in the subtle touch of motion blur when turning quickly.

UT3 features a feign death maneuver, which causes a player's body to instantly crumple towards the ground with ragdoll physics after a tap of the d-pad's down button. For all intents and purposes, the player appears dead--but a sharp player might notice that the appropriate "Player X killed Player Y" text never appeared onscreen. Many players are too preoccupied to bother reading that text, providing an effective and amusingly devious strategy. Morris also revealed that the PS3 edition of Unreal Tournament 3 will make use of the system's motion-sensitive Sixaxis for control of hoverboards and the apocalyptic Redeemer guided missile. Support for keyboard and mouse controls could not be confirmed, despite multiple inquiries, though it is a strong possibility given Epic's support for the control scheme in the original Unreal Tournament on PlayStation 2 and Sony's statement that it will allow developers to support mouse and keyboard control during gameplay.

According to Epic producer Tanya Jessen, 50% of Unreal Tournament 2004 owners never went online on PC. Hence, intelligent and believable bots are a key point for Epic, as is a much more in-depth single-player campaign than in any past UT. Overall, the single-player mode will follow a branching path, allowing players to choose their battles, which will then affect the enemy presence on other maps. Single-player is estimated to last between 8 and 10 hours, and supports cooperative play.

In all, the multiplayer maps for Unreal Tournament 3 are being designed with 12-24 players in mind; Morris claimed that more players simply make the game too hectic. Cross-platform multiplayer between PC and PS3 is possible, but final support has yet to be decided.

Perhaps the most surprising feature of the PlayStation 3 edition of Unreal Tournament 3 is its support for user-created content and mods, simply requiring players to either download them from a PC and stick them on a USB memory stick or, if Epic has its way, potentially acquire them using the PlayStation 3's online PlayStation Store or web browser. "We didn't want to port it to PS3 and lose all the awesome things about the PC version," said Jessen.

Both the PC and PS3 versions of Epic's Unreal Tournament 3 are expected this fall. An Xbox 360 edition will release next year.

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