As I sit here writing this on a train travelling to Omega Sektor I can't help but wonder just how I managed to wrangle a day out of the office to go and play the successor to what is indisputably one of the greatest tournament games of all time. Better still, I'm going to play it in its natural environment: a LAN centre - and a rather good one at than.
The reason for my excitement is that, as much as Riyad tries to insist that I am too young to know what real gaming is, I grew up playing the original Unreal Tournament and can unreservedly say that, Counter-Strike aside, I cannot think of a game to which I have devoted quite so much time. In fact, thinking about it, UT even had a rival to Counter-Strike in the form of a mod called Tactical Ops, which was, in many ways a more enjoyable game. But I digress; my point is that I am as qualified as anyone to be quivering with excitement over the chance to play UT3.
As you should know, the Unreal franchise started back in 1998 (just months apart from Half-Life) with a single player game by the same name - receiving praise for the graphics, gameplay and (at the time) brilliant AI. While this was all well and good, the real popularity came with the subsequent release of Unreal Tournament.
To cut a long (though admittedly interesting) story short: UT was a hit, a big hit. Partly down to the huge flexibility of the engine, which allowed for countless new game modes and mods (Insta-Gib and Team Fortress Gold anybody?), and partly down to the fact that UT was quite simply the best LAN game available at the time. Even the later ports to various consoles weren't entirely awful.
The next two games in the series, Unreal II and Unreal Tournament 2003, were published pretty much simultaneously in February of 2003 and, while the former was a reasonable single player yarn, the latter was a bit of a let down for fans of the franchise. This was partly rectified by an official mod, called the expanded multiplayer (XMP) add-on for Unreal II, which was actually a pretty good multiplayer game. Alas for XMP, it was released rather late after Unreal II and was overshadowed by the next instalment in the Unreal series: Unreal Tournament 2004.
Released a mere year after UT2K3, 2K4 was the successor to the original game that fans, like myself, had been waiting for. Aside from a few people moaning about having to buy a new game only a year after the last one (clearly unaware of the discounted trade-up offer), 2K4 was a great sequel. Aside form maintaining the same intense Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Capture The Flag levels as with the first UT, the newly added vehicles gave a great twist to the existing game modes as well as allowing for some interesting new ones - a personal favourite being Onslaught.
And so we find ourselves back in the here and now and, more importantly, we find me sitting in front of a PC which just so happens to be running the latest test build of Unreal Tournament III. Better still Vice President of Epic Games, Mark Rein is about to sign a t-shirt (stop judging me!) and answer a few questions. Clearly then, the time is ripe to grab a few of these rather good canapÃ©s I have surrounding me and set to killing anyone foolish enough to be on the same server.