Screenshot The most important statement I can make about this hands-on test is this: anything and everything is subject to change. Thus, it's nearly useless to talk about things like weapon damage and rate of fire as all of those things will no doubt be tweaked in the final stages.

The other main caveat are the conditions of the test-environment. Eight high-end Dell XPS 710 (Intel® Core™2 Extreme) systems with ultra-high resolution monitors (appeared to be the 24" @ 1920 x 1200 or the 30" @ 2560 x 1600) were configured in a LAN setting, smack in the middle of a room full of other loud games and piped-in rock music. Fun, yes, but not exactly ideal for gleaning every possible nuance of the game.

It's also worth mentioning that most of the other players were primarily games journalists and not hardcore Unreal Tournament players. Most everyone there was more anxious to get in the closest largest vehicle than to engage in heated close-up weapons combat. That's not to say that there weren't any heated matches, however, just that you'd probably learn more about the gameplay in a half hour with hardcore 'Tournament players than you would three hours with your mainstream game journalist. No offense intended, guys and girls!

I have to point out that this hands-on took place on a single Vehicle Capture the Flag map, so if you're a fan of other gametypes, then your mileage may vary with this preview. The map in question was VCTF-Corruption, an Asian-themed map similar in appearance to this one. The teams were Necris versus Axon, each side with its own brand of vehicles and even a unique map theme. For instance, both featured identical bases, but the Necris side had enormous twisted black tendrils snaking out of the ground and through the architecture, giving the appearance that the mere presence of the species had influenced the landscape - a nice touch. One fun addition to this level was the enormous spinning waterwheel on one side of the map. One pathway lead right through the wheelhouse and through the very spinning spokes of the wheel itself.

The vehicles available for the Axon side were the familiar Manta, Goliath, Scorpion, and Hellbender. The Necris vehicle list was a bit shorter: The Dark Walker, the Viper, and the Nemesis, a tank-like vehicle seen in the E3 Trailer. It's clear, at this point, that the Necris vehicles are much more powerful than the Axon vehicles. I recall only a couple of matches won by the Axon side during the three hours or so that I played. I assume this will be addressed during the tweak phase, but will allow that it may be that due to the newness of the Necris vehicles, all of the opposing strategies an opportunities may not be readily apparent. The good news is that a foot soldier with a shock rifle is no longer the vehicle killer that it was in 2004. These beasts have some new tricks up their sleeves and the UT3 weapons do not seem to defeat them as easily. As it should be, one would not expect a massive futuristic tank to be taken down effortlessly by a hand-held infantry gun.

Let's talk about each of the vehicles starting with the Necris batch:

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  • Dark Walker - these lumbering tripods were easily the crowd favorite and for good reason. Their tendril-like legs allow them to climb major rock formations, menacing unsuspecting vehicles and foot soldiers below. The primary weapon is a twin laser that fires a burning line of plasma, making short work of vehicles and soldiers alike. The secondary fire is an awesome "scream" that knocks infantry off its feet, making them easy prey for the primary weapon. A second gunner can sit in the underbelly and issue rapid-fire bursts, making this one terror of a vehicle. It's truly frightening to be stalked by a Dark Walker because, given its ability to climb, if you're caught out in the open - you're probably gonna die. The only drawbacks to this baby is its plodding speed and the brief delay between firing the primary weapon.

  • Nemesis - Continuing with the reptile-like theme that runs through the entire Necris line-up, the Nemesis is a tank-like vehicle that kneels awaiting its passengers and then pops up when entered. It looks and feels very organic. The main weapon here is a twin-beam that fires and connects instantly which, coupled with the secondary fire zoom, makes it an ideal long-range killer.

  • Viper - I guess you could think of this as the Necris' answer to the Axon Manta. This single-passenger speeder reels off rapid-fire projectiles that can bounce off of walls which, with a fair amount of time invested, can take down a vehicle or foot soldier. The real strength behind this vehicle is its speed and mobility. You begin to understand its name-sake when you press the space button and the vehicle spreads apart like a viper's hood, allowing you to hover high in the air.

And the Axon vehicles:

  • Goliath - Fans of the original Goliath will be thrilled with the visual makeover. It's definitely a much more manly-looking tank these days. The driver/main gunner will enjoy the two fire modes: primary yielding a single booming projectile much as in the last version, and secondary deploying a wider infantry-killer shell. The second player gets to shoot the machine gun - whee! This is a good place to note that all of the vehicles have received an upgraded suspension giving them much more believable handling. It's now less like driving a brick on four wheels than ever before.

  • Scorpion - in addition to the upgraded appearance, this little buggy-that-could fires off an electrified bouncy ball that rolls and explodes either on contact or after a moment or two lying on the ground. If you can manage to get in close to a vehicle, such as the Nemesis, a barrage of super-balls will make short work of it. The secondary is the familiar twin-blades. You can also send the vehicle itself on a kamikaze mission by holding down the C button.

  • Hellbender - not much to say here, other than the visual upgrade is quite striking. It looks less like your mother's Humvee and more like the militaristic killing machine that it's meant to be. The driver, however, has taken control over the popular skymine gun. Player two controls the twin beam o' death.

  • Manta - even less to say about the Manta, though it's certainly been the recipient of a graphical overhaul. It plays pretty much the same as it did before.

The final thing I want to mention about the vehicles are the hoverboards. Striking your Q key will result in your player pulling up a hoverboard that allows you to travel a good deal faster than on foot. You can speed things up by using a grapple to latch onto vehicles. While in hoverboard mode, you can perform a few fancy aerial tricks but, to balance things out, you cannot draw a weapon. This seems like a good time to point out that you can, in fact, carry the flag on your hoverboard. The same flag-carrying rules that were implemented in 2004 seem to have been applied here - no flags in flying vehicles (i.e. Mantas, Raptors, Vipers, etc).

The weapons available in this demo were:

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  • Enforcer - your default weapon, a pistol that fires a fairly rapid single shot or a triple-burst in secondary.

  • BioRifle - Yes, the rumours of its demise have been greatly exaggerated. This lovable little bundle of goo has enjoyed a significant facelift, as seen in the latest released concept art. The fire modes are exactly the same, though the sludge has a new odd-looking glow about it.

  • LinkGun - The recipient of a major visual overhaul, now an odd whitish color, this weapon returns, in functionality, to its Unreal Tournament state. That is to say, it still retains its healing abilities towards vehicles, but the primary fire is smaller and faster and the secondary is pretty much an arrow-straight beam of finite length.

  • Stinger - Essentially a projectile version of the minigun. In fact, the modes are exactly the same: a fast, inaccurate wide-spread and a slower firing higher-powered shot. I was told that it can nail opponents to the wall, though I saw none of that. It too can be seen in the latest trailer.

  • ShockRifle - Other than the visual upgrade, this weapon remains largely the same in terms of firing modes. The primary fire beam seems slightly slower than that of the 2004 version and the secondary cores seem a little faster and smaller.

  • FlakCannon - As have the rest of the weapons, this one has received a transformer-like makeover. The weapons in UT3 are visually very interesting. Nearly all of them have quite elaborate animations. The primary is the same, though the secondary has a much shorter arc.

  • RocketLauncher - The biggest things to note about this iteration of the weapon are the slower rocket speed and the much more useful lock-on. The lock-on probably won't be useful against people, but against some of the slower vehicles, it is tremendously more effective.

As I noted initially, the test conditions weren't optimal for determining some important factors such as weapon balance and damage, so I can't comment too much there. Unfortunately, the SniperRifle was not in this build and it seems to be the final key to maintaining a proper balance. The other weapons seem to be a step in the right direction to move this series away from the hide and seek long-range affair that it had fallen into. You're gonna want to get close to make your kills it appears. The weapons sounded and felt more powerful up close, though I'll leave final judgment on that to a later date when things are closer to completion.

One hotly-debated element of the series is movement. I can tell you that double-jumps and wall dodges are in at this point. Though, I'm not sure why. In my limited testing, they didn't seem to make much of a difference. I think you probably won't even notice they are there. As has been promised, the gravity of the player seems to have been increased. Dodges yield a much shorter distance, reminiscent to the original Unreal Tournament, and jumps, in general, don't seem to take you as far. I think it's safe to say that the fighting will be on the ground instead of in the air.

The players are much larger and more detailed than in 2004 and are much more visible. I had no trouble, at any time, discerning my enemy from across the map. In addition to the return of the ability to feign death, the more brutal death camera roll of Unreal Tournament have returned. You can almost feel the force of impact. There was some gibbage present in the game, though I'll go on record as stating that I want more!

Visually, the game was impressive. Geometrically speaking, I don't think the game is much more elaborate than would be possible in Unreal Tournament 2004. The lighting and intricate details are where this game really shines, and it definitely adds to the immersiveness of the game. Nice little touches such as falling leaves, exhaust smoke, and mud splatters on vehicles abound throughout. The game ran very well on the high end machines mentioned above, slowing down only slightly in the more open areas with lots of activity.

I do just want to mention the streaming level technology. The way it works in-game so far is this: once the level ends, the scoreboard is shown first over the top of the ending level and then over the top of a black screen, which lasts for just a few seconds. The new level then appears and you are frozen in your spawning point (though you can move your view around) with a small message at the bottom of the screen proclaiming "waiting for other players". Once everyone is connected, the game starts seamlessly.

So the bottom line is that the game is shaping up much as we've heard it would be. Gone are many of the annoyances of the previous game, returning are many of the things for which people praised Unreal Tournament. It's quite fun to play, it looks amazing, and I'm looking forward to spending some more time with it in the future, testing out Warfare and the core gametypes.

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