Unreal Tournament 3 debuted at the end of last year on the PC and PS3 platforms. Since then, Xbox 360 owners have been anxiously awaiting their chance to get their hands on the next big title from ‘The Makers of Gears of War’. The extra time spent waiting was not in vain because Epic has been quietly polishing and fine-tuning the 360 version, adding new features and content.

A number of Xbox 360’s were coupled with widescreen televisions, running Unreal Tournament 3 in both splitscreen and fullscreen modes. PlayStation 3 users cried out for splitscreen mode and Xbox 360 owners look to be the benefactors. Not only will players be able to play locally and online in splitscreen (just not in ranked matches), but you’ll also be able to hook up with up to two more people playing splitscreen co-op on their machine – that’s right… four player co-op! In splitscreen mode, the screen is divided horizontally with both halves seemingly running at full detail and with nary a hitch in frame rate.

The Xbox 360 version of UT3 will also feature three new maps, two “re-imagined” maps, two new characters, and all of the downloadable content previously released to the owners of the PC and PS3 versions. The two “re-imagined” maps are Necris versions of VCTF-Suspense and WAR-Downtown, which will allow for Necris versus Axon play on both. The three new maps are VCTF-Rails, DM-KoosBarge, and WAR-ColdHarbour.

VCTF-Rails takes place in a daytime destroyed city setting. Each base is essentially a large courtyard with a structure to house the flag and a few vehicles. Two roads spanning a canal connect the bases. The unique part of this level comes from its namesake – rails - specifically, rail-mounted Rocket Turrets. Each side has one rail and turret that allows you to travel in it from one end of the level to the other, meaning that you can enter the opposing team’s base in your rocket turret and use it to wreak havoc or to support your flag carrier.

DM-KoosBarge is the spiritual successor to Unreal Tournament’s DM-KoosGalleon. Instead of a Viking era ship, the action now takes place on a more modern barge. It isn’t a very large level and is fairly reminiscent in gameplay to the original. Action takes place on the deck and just below in the cargo hold. It’s all very straightforward and should work for 1 on 1 games.

WAR-ColdHarbour was pictured in the Unreal Tournament 3 concept art that was released last year, but it just wasn’t quite ready to make it into the original retail package. Fortunately, for Xbox 360 owners, it is ready now and it makes its debut. The general core/node layout is an inverted V, with the single connected node sitting high atop a hill overlooking a harbor. Far below in an underground bunker, you’ll find a pair of unlinked nodes that will provide some air power.

I’ll confess… I don’t even own an Xbox 360, so adjusting to the gamepad was quite a chore for me. I did find myself becoming more comfortable with the button layout as I played, but I still struggled with manipulating the thumbsticks and using them to move and aim my crosshair. For someone that owns the machine, I’m sure the control is excellent.

The front end interface, which was much maligned by PC gamers, is fast and responsive this time around and the gamepad buttons make navigating a breeze. While poking around in the menu I did spot the Achievements list (currently at fifty), most of which look as though they’ll be accomplished through regular playthrough offline and online, though there are a couple that should present a challenge. It should be noted – though unexpected – that the Xbox Live matchmaking/online interface replaces the Gamespy components found in the other two versions.

Epic has long declared the issue of allowing user-exchanged modifications a point of contention between themselves and Microsoft. While they won’t be allowed at this point, Mark Rein seems determined to bring the best of the bunch to the 360 in some way or another. I’m sure they’ll want to put that Downloadables tab to good use.

All in all, this installment looks like the most complete version yet and I’m sure 360 fans are going to eat it up when it is released this Summer.