"Over 1.2 million copies of UT3 have sold on the PS3 and PC", says Mark Rein, vice president of Epic Games, a Cheshire cat smile beaming across his child-like face. He certainly has reason to be happy. He's in Vegas, or Sin City as some prefer to call it, for a start. And he has the world's assembled gaming press hanging on his every word, too. But, most importantly of all, his smile, his buoyant mood, is because he knows that he's got perhaps the definitive version of Unreal Tournament 3 on his hands. And it's on Microsoft's Xbox 360.
UT3 has proved to be quite the gaming fanboy battleground since its release on PC last November. First it was the fact that it was being ported to PS3 before 360. Now it's coming to Xbox 360 this summer and the war has begun anew, this time more bitter, and viscous, than ever.
Much of UT3's suitability for fanboy forum wars is the fact that Epic has created two console versions of the game, each boasting an advantage over the other. The PS3 version has user-generated mods (many of you will have seen the amusing video of Master Chief suffering a head explosion from an eagle-eyed sniper in UT3 PS3) and the Xbox 360 version has split screen play. And that, as they say, is that.
But the battle lines are starting to blur. Rein himself told me at the game's official unveiling in Las Vegas last week that Epic will find a way to get mods into the 360 version of the game "no matter what", whether it be through the community or through Xbox LIVE. Interestingly though, he confirmed that PS3-owners will never see split screen play.
When you factor in the fact that the 360 version will ship with all the DLC from the PC and PS3 versions of the game, as well as three brand new maps and "reinvisionings" of two existing maps, Downtown and Suspense, so that you can play Axon against Necris (complete with new "graphical flair", as Rein puts it), you can see why the smile is now on 360-owners' faces.
But perhaps the thing that has got PS3-owners backs up more than anything else is Rein's less than subtle hint that the 360 version looks better than the PS3 version. He said as much to me when I asked him what version had the better graphics. Here's exactly what he said: "I think it goes without saying that the more time you spend on a product the more optimisation you get, and you can draw your own conclusions from that. But this is a great version of the game. And now we have split-screen as well. A lot of optimisation was necessary for this version to get decent performance with split screen. That was no easy task."
How the Xbox 360 version of UT3 plays seems an almost incidental issue. It was never in any doubt that the 360 version would play very similarly to the PS3 version. And so it proved. Just like the PS3 version it's slower than the PC game. Just like the PS3 version, it's still bloody fast for a console FPS. And, just like the PS3 version, it looks lovely. No-one, after all, shows off the Unreal Engine quite like Epic.
Personally, I didn't notice a massive graphical improvement over the PS3 version. What I did notice, however, is how impressive the game looks in split-screen mode. With most games there is a drastic reduction in frame rate and graphical quality when played split screen, but with UT3 on the Xbox 360, it looks just as good split-screen as it does when played on your own. And for that Epic must be praised.
Going by interest online it looks like Epic might well push total sales of UT3 towards the two million mark when the 360 version is released, which, for a game that is generally perceived to have performed poorly at retail, is an impressive achievement. It's also being released at a time when, apart from Battlefield Bad Company, new multiplayer-focused first person shooters look like a scarce breed on 360. We doubt it will wrestle Call of Duty 4 or Halo 3 from the top two spots on Xbox LIVE, but we do expect it to figure heavily in the top 10 following its release.
And let's not forget, Rein has promised a Gears of War surprise exclusive to the 360 version of UT3. Did we say it will push overall sales towards two million? Make that three.
"We're really excited about how it plays on the 360," says Rein as he brings his speech to an end, that trademark boyish smile showing no signs of abating. We're not surprised.
Unreal Tournament 3 is due out on Xbox 360 this summer.