"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.
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.
The sheer power of the Titans mean that they'll have a significant presence in any match in which they're enabled. A decent player can work their way up to Titan status fairly quickly, so if one side gets one (or perhaps even two) then the opposition will usually be able to counter with their own. Titans are certainly extremely powerful, but since they're unable to pick up things like flags and skulls they're essentially forced to take the role of tank-like support characters. Still, one Titan in the right place can change the tide of a battle - particularly if one manages to get near the enemy core during a Warfare match. The size and power of the giants tends to make them a popular target for vehicles and turrets (as well as other Titans), but if one manages to survive long enough then they might manage to refill their gauge. If this happens then everyone else better start praying, because a charged-up Titan has the option to turn into a Behemoth: a 30ft monstrosity that will instantly murder anything in its vicinity. Behemoths only have a lifespan of half a minute, but that's more than enough time to send your score rocketing.
Only one of the 19 maps in the Titan Pack has been specifically designed with the giants in mind - a Capture the Flag level entitled Morbid. Here we find a series of large interconnected chambers, separated by large doors that can only be opened by a Titan. Standard-sized players can travel by the tight corridors that run above the hallways, but you'll need one of the big guys to lend a hand if you're to ever get the enemy flag out of their base. It's an interesting concept, one that makes for a fairly hectic pace as several giants stomp about the relatively cramped halls of the Morbias Station Gamma transport hub.
There isn't really enough time or space here to cover all the maps in detail, but as a whole they seem to offer a decent spread of variety in style and content. Three of the stages were previously included in another UT download, while another five have already been made available to Xbox 360 gamers - the rest are all new. Koos Barge is a claustrophobic map deathmatch aboard a boat in a storm, replete with plenty of hiding and sniping spots that suit a game of Betrayal. Then we have Cold Harbour, an impressively grand Warfare map that sees two teams fighting for control of a mountaintop missile launcher. Hold on to the prime node for 60 seconds, and the enemy core will be showered with rockets. Perhaps the most interesting scenario is Stranded - an asymmetrical team-based map that places one team in a temple at the top of the hill and the other aboard a cargo vessel that has run aground on the beach below. The former group gains the benefit of the Eradicator, a powerful new artillery turret, while the lower party gets access to a wide range of vehicles, including the Stealthbender. Other maps feature the Stinger Turret - a twin minigun emplacement with the power to knock people off their feet, just the thing for keeping unwanted visitors at bay.
As its name suggests, the Stealthbender is a sneaky cousin to Unreal's established Hellbender vehicle. While it's fairly slow on the move, the Stealthbender gains the benefit of a cloaking field and a wide selection of armaments. In addition to an EMP mine and two spider mines, the 'bender also carries the two new deployables supplied by the Titan Pack. The Link Station is a portable repair point for allied vehicles, while the X-Ray field creates a small area in which players will take more damage when hit - the idea is that you use it to undermine people moving through choke points on a map. Anyone moving into the field is also subjected to a rather snazzy effect that makes their skeletons visible.
That pretty much wraps up the exhausting list of added content in the Titan Pack, but before I sign off I have to give mention to the PS3 mod-browser. In the past users were forced to download mods on a PC before passing the files over to their console via a USB stick, but soon they'll be able to pick from a selection of new modes, maps and models that will be chosen by Epic themselves. Given the sheer volume of content this quality control barrier is no bad thing, and completist gamers will still be able to use the old method to access the complete range of mods. The browser itself seems pretty intuitive to use, and it was easy to see the potential in the example mods that Epic showed us. Within a matter of minutes I managed to transform my character into a highly-impressive recreation of Cloud Strife; a few minutes later I was zipping downhill in SnowReal - a total conversion that transforms UT into a basic but impressive snowboarding game.
All in all, it's hard to see why any Unreal player would want to ignore the Titan Pack when it makes its debut next month. Betrayal, Greed and the Titan modifier would easily be enough to justify a charge of at least a fiver or so, but given the fact that you're also getting a whole buffet of extra maps and toys, and the entire thing will cost you nothing... well, why on Earth wouldn't you want to pick that up?
Unreal Tournament: Titan Pack will be released via free download on March 5, for PC and PS3.