Unreal Tournament III

The greatest shooter ever to have a hero called Malcolm is back

Gulping down a cherry vanilla Dr Pepper I snaffled from the gigantic fridge in the Epic common room, I temporarily forget the taste of fizzy Benylin while chatting to producer Jeff Morris.

"Favourite vehicle and weapon? Recently it's been the Axon Hellbender because of the instant shock combo weapon the driver has. It's pretty addictive spewing out this string of shock balls that you can trigger one after another like firecrackers, obliterating any pedestrians in the way!"

When you chat to everyone at Epic involved with Unreal Tournament III, one thing is apparent - apart from their love of fizzy American pop - their passion and belief in the game they're making.

While I'm here to play the latest build of UT3, it's clear that the development team are working like Tarydium miners to get the game done as soon as possible - and while as we go to press this looks like being November, Epic's ebullient vice president Mark Rein reiterated to me once again that it'll only be released "when it's done."

Unreal Tournament III is set on the planet Taryd, a distant planet from Earth ruled by three competing corporations: the cyberpunk Liandri, who actually created the tournament; the military Axon who specialize in beefy hardware; and the oriental Izanagi, who nab bits of technology from the Axon to continue their war effort.

In the new single-player Campaign mode, you start out playing on behalf of the latter, along with three AI-controlled team-mates (or co-op with a multiplayer drop in/drop out ability) to take revenge on the person/s who killed your dear old dad.

You use a cool 3D globe map to choose which branching missions you take on next, la Command & Conquer, and your choices will affect how the story arc progresses.

"Your choices can have huge ramifications down the line in who and where your future fights take place," says Morris.

"The special abilities bestowed by completing optional objectives really helps flesh out the universe, and it's great fun to pull these rule breakers out when confronted with near impossible odds." So, for example, you could find yourself taking part in a mission to steal a rival faction's vehicle - if you succeed, that vehicle will be unlocked for future missions.

Partway through the campaign, the game's fourth faction - the alien Necris - invade the planet, intent on stealing precious Tarydium, infecting everywhere with the goopy nanoblack substance that runs through their veins, unleashing the reptilian race the Krall, and basically turning the human race into an exciting new kind of pie filling.

This is where the choices really do have a major impact - do you stem the Necris invasion, or perhaps use it as an opportunity to increase your faction's territory at the expense of the others?

These Machiavellian machinations are all well and good, but let's face it, however good the single-player mode is, UT has always been about the multiplayer - the first time I sniped someone's face off and heard the guttural tones of "Headshot!", accompanied by a screen awash with bloody bouncing gibs back in 1999, I was hooked.

UT3 has six types of slaughter: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture The Flag, Vehicle CTF, Duel (one on one!), and Warfare: the brand new mode that's a hectic mix of Onslaught and Assault.

I immediately hurled myself into a Deathmatch against five other bots on Average difficulty - one up from easy and five away from the frightening Inhuman setting - on an Izanagi Corporation map known as Shangri La, complete with pagodas, statues, lanterns, waterfalls and atmospheric cobwebs strewn across indoor levels.

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