After what seems like an eternity (although in reality only four months) Xbox 360 gamers have finally got their hands on Unreal Tournament 3. Due to the game receiving an exclusive console debut on the PlayStation 3 the wait has been a long one for Epic's many 360-owning fans - some would say too long. But it's here now, and there are big questions that demand to be answered. Has it been worth the wait? Is it worth owning now that Bad Company is on the market? And will UT3 keep 360-owning shooter fans happy while they wait for Call of Duty: World at War and Epic's own Gears of War 2? The answer is a resounding yes, yes and yes.
The DarkWalker, Warfare and the Stinger. That's why you should buy Unreal Tournament 3. It's certainly the best Unreal Tournament game in years, but those expecting a complete revamp will be sorely disappointed. The philosophy, clearly, is on getting back to UT's roots, like a kind of fusion between the original UT and UT 2004. You've still got the Flak Cannon, the Bio Gun and the Shock Rifle, but the Shield gun has been replaced by the Impact Hammer and fan favourite tool of destruction the Stinger mini-gun, which sprays light blue crystals at unlucky enemies, triumphantly makes a reappearance.
The number of game types has been reduced and refined. There are now six ways to play UT3 - deathmatch, team deathmatch and duel, as well as capture the flag, vehicle capture the flag and new game mode Warfare, which replaces Onslaught, and instantly rises to the top of my favourite UT3 game mode list. Focusing on capturing nodes, 2-16 player Warfare adds orbs to the mix, which can deal massive damage to enemy nodes as well as repair your own. Unexpected momentum changes are now a grim reality of any Warfare match, and, as a result, are much more fun.
This won't mean much to you if you're new to the series. Quick heads up then - the Unreal Tournament games have been going for near enough a decade now, and have always been hugely popular with FPS fans. They've always been a lot faster than console shooters too, focusing on instinctive eagle-eyed sniping and quick-fingered dodging over the more considered, slower-paced play of, say, the Halo series. Indeed, watching professional Unreal Tournament players show off their mad skills is a bit like watching some crazed gamer cyborg, such is the jaw-dropping nature of what they're doing. But the skill required to compete with most UT players online has perhaps hindered the series' mass market appeal. It has always been somewhat of a hardcore FPS.
Which is something Epic has clearly thought about with the latest iteration. The hoverboard switches you to a third-person view of your character, who will now be speeding about the battlefield like some bastardised steroid-infused Marty McFly. It's pretty useful for capture the flag matches, as it allows you to move about a lot quicker than on foot. But it can often feel like a blessing in disguise. If you're hit while on the hoverboard you're knocked off and vulnerable for a couple of seconds. Sitting duck time.
Back to the DarkWalker then, one of a series of excellent new vehicles belonging to new evil alien race the Necris. When you're not in it, you're in fear of it. It looms ominously in the distance, sweeping particle lasers at any and all who get in the way. Think the horrifying Tripods from H.G. Wells' science fiction classic The War of the Worlds spliced with a tarantula. But when you're in it, you kind of feel like a god, perched as you are high above everything, slowly bringing about death to anyone foolish enough to get close. It's sweet stuff.
This is where Epic has made the greatest strides - with the vehicles. The Fury, another Necris vehicle, brings to mind those squid things from cult sci-fi film The Matrix. The Scavenger is less unique, but very useful for quickly running over infantry, and the Necris tank the Nemesis feels a bit like using a nuclear bomb to crack a nut. The first thing I did was jump straight into a VCTF match and try out as many of the new vehicles as possible. And the old classics, like the Mantra, are still as blood-splatteringly satisfying as before.
One of UT3's most thrilling moments is carving up unsuspecting on-foot enemies with quick moving vehicles - ROAD RAGE FTW! Another imperious vehicle is the aptly named Leviathan, a slow-moving tank with an absolutely devastating cannon. Firing it means instant death for anyone even remotely close to its area of impact, and the sound effect from the cannon charging and then blasting is something every sci-fi fan needs to hear. Apart from Halo 3 I can't think of another online FPS with better mechanical harbingers of doom.