The DarkWalker, Warfare and the Stinger. That's why you should buy Unreal Tournament 3, Epic's fourth game in its premier PC twitch FPS series. Apart from that, it's very similar to UT 2004. This is no bad thing. 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 You've still got the Flak Cannon, the Bio Gun and the Shock Rifle, but the Shield gun has been replaced by the Impact Hammer and fan favourite tool of destruction the Stinger mini gun, which sprays light blue crystals at unlucky enemies, triumphantly makes a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, 8-12 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 PC 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, used by pressing Q, 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 when I installed the game and created an account was to 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. Pressing the space bar will make the tank transform - the cannon appearing from behind the tank. 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 Xbox 360 behemoth Halo 3 I can't think of another online FPS with better mechanical harbingers of doom.
Epic has employed a very subtle but very important tweak to how UT3 feels to play. It's less floaty than UT 2003 and UT 2004, and plays with a heightened sense of gravity. The double side steps, double jumps and wall dodges are all still there, but it feels a tiny bit slower. UT has always been known for its super fast twitch gameplay, and it still remains very fast, but UT3 feels like it has been calmed down ever so slightly.
This may be an effort to make the game more accessible. Indeed, getting straight into the action is as simple as UT one, two, three. From the main menu you can quick match with a choice of game modes only, and be dropped into a game in progress. Twitch shooters have for some been a somewhat enclosed thing. If nothing else, Epic is doing all it can from within the confines of the UT series to open its doors to a new audience.
But this may also cause problems for hardcore fans. For a PC game there's very few in-game graphics tweaking options. All you have is a slider for the quality of the visuals. Most PC games have 20 or more checkpoints for various graphical option. I'm sure you could go into some config file and manually change things, if you were so inclined, but that won't be an option for most gamers.
And it's a shame, because UT3 really is a stunning-looking game that's only really surpassed in terms of visuals by recent PC-killer Crysis. Indeed, it's Epic's best-looking game yet, better even than Gears of War, as the developer's head honcho Mark Rein told me. If you've got a PC capable of making grown men cry, UT3 will shine, running smoothly and displaying characters, environments and explosions in tremendous detail. Even with a pretty decent PC you'll be impressed by the Gothic, war-torn meaty marine art direction Epic can now claim to be specialists in. The game shows off the excellent Unreal Engine 3 in all its glory.
Other additions clearly weren't worth the effort. The single-player campaign - the most fleshed out the UT series has seen - is simply a series of battles with bots tied together by Gears of War-esque in-game cut-scenes - and won't keep anyone's attention for too long. It does, however, provide a solid training ground for newcomers to the series not brave enough to go straight online.
It's difficult to see how UT can unleash itself from the shackles of its genre. Should Epic even bother? Should we commend them for sticking to their guns and not pandering completely to a mainstream audience by revamping the game? UT has a fan base that is hugely loyal and they make each game a huge success. It's great fun of course, and UT3 had done nothing that will put off fans of the genre. Question is, is it any more enticing for those of you unfamiliar with the wonders of the Link Gun? Answer: Probably not.