"Vote for Greed," says Epic Games' Steve Polge, addressing the assembled throng of journalists. And without a moment's hesitation, that's exactly what we do: we vote for Greed. Right about now, Greed seems like a good thing to go for.
Was Mr Polge talking about the political concerns of the current economic climate, perhaps suggesting that we must embrace corporate capitalism in order to buy our way out of the Credit Crunch? No sir, he was talking about Greed - one of two new game modes that will be added to Unreal Tournament III via the forthcoming Titan Bonus Pack, coming to PC and PS3 in March. In addition to the match types, the expansion serves up 19 maps, a sneaky new vehicle called the Stealthbender and a smattering of power-ups and deployables. Then there's the awesome Titan Modifier - an optional setting that allows players to transform into 15 ft tall giants. The pack also include a whole bunch of technical improvements, including revamped voting systems and a dedicated mod-browser that makes it easier for PS3 players to tweak their game. Oh, and the entire thing is completely free.
Given the size of the download (estimated to be around 800mb), we reckon that £0.00 is a rather charitable price tag. Still, let's forget about such generosity for the time being - it's time to talk about Greed. The first of the new game modes creates a team-based scenario where players must score points by fragging opponents and collecting the skulls they leave behind. The catch is that skulls are only turned into points once they've been deposited at a collection point hidden deep inside the enemy base. The upshot is that each scoring run you make is a high-risk endeavour - particularly since you'll drop all the skulls you're carrying if you get killed. It sounds simple enough, but there's actually quite a lot of depth to the risk/reward balance. A single high-scoring touchdown can give your team a massive boost, but the longer you spend collecting skulls the more likely it is that someone will take you out. And of course, they'll then nab your carefully-collected craniums.
According to our notes, this is where Nanoblack is stored. Not sure what that means, but public access is highly restricted. Apparently.
To paraphrase Michael Douglas' character in the film Wall Street, Greed is good. However, it was the second of the new modes, Betrayal, that really won my heart. Here the idea is that everyone is placed into teams of three, and armed with the Instagib Rifle - a one-hit-kill weapon. Each time you frag an opponent you'll score a point, and you'll also add a point to your team's communal pot. At the start of a match each player has a frag value of one, but as time moves on the highest-scoring players will be worth more than those at the bottom of the leaderboard - in other words, you'll score more points for taking out your strongest rivals. So far so straightforward, but the twist is that you can choose to betray your teammates by shooting them in the back (you'll have to use your weapon's alt fire to do this; there's no way it's going to happen by accident). If you betray your team you'll steal the pot and your victim will have a limited period of time in which they can get revenge and reclaim their prize. After a short interval, "freelance" players are recycled into a new team of three and a new (fragile) alliance is formed.
Did you get all that? Don't worry if you didn't, because things will become clear when you play a Betrayal match for yourself. The gist is that you should kill as many people as possible, and keep a close eye on your teammates. Make no mistake, your "friends" will try to kill you sooner or later; it's simply up to you to decide when you'll do it to them. Epic have smartly decided to give "friendly fire" beams a different colour - so when a blue laser bolt whistles past your ear, you'll know that a teammate is out to get you. Thanks to the Instagib Rifles, frags come thick and fast in a Betrayal match, and there's some immense satisfaction to be had in nailing three opponents in a row before rounding a corner and coming face-to-face with an ally. Do you kill them or not? You'll only have a split second to decide. During the chaos of a press play-test it was every hack for himself, but I imagine that Betrayal will be even better when played with people you know well. It's frantic and unpredictable, and I love it.
Greed and Betrayal are both worthy additions to the Unreal Tournament canon, but it's arguably the Titan mutator that will have the biggest long-term affect on the game. Once enabled, this option gives each player a gauge that slowly fills as you rack up kills. Get it full and at the touch of a button you can turn into a 15ft high pillar of death, otherwise known as a Titan. Mr Titan has a massive health bar, a hefty shield belt and a rocket launcher with homing capabilities. He also gets a ground pound attack that will completely mince anyone nearby, and knock over players who are slightly further away. In short, if you run into a Titan then you're in deep trouble - and even if you do manage to kill him, the bugger has a Predator-style nuclear blast that kicks in when he dies.