It is testament to Unreal Tournament 3's beauty that it can stop you in your tracks to admire its sheer spectacle. But that's the effect Epic Games' First-Person Shooter can have at times, trapping your eyes with moments of mesmerising splendour. Just before you realise a rocket has been fired into your back and totally obliterated your body. Ouch.
Ladies and gentlemen... welcome to Unreal.
As Unreal as it gets
The combination of beauty grinding against weapon-heavy violence is what Unreal has always been about. One of videogames' visual stalwarts, the series has always managed to impress on a graphical level, offering luscious gothic/sci-fi architecture, big guns and effortless frame rates to go with its adult oriented action.
Unreal Tournament 3 certainly continues to carry that proud tradition. From the moment you launch the game you're greeted with blistering 60 frames per second smoothness, which is made even better by the sheer amount on display. Detailed textures, snappy animation and explosive effects are the norm, while the level of detail is simply incredible.
Water shoots up from damaged hydrants, wreckage dissolves from the battlefield, heat haze and transparent airlocks ripple your vision, meteors drift across the screen through space nebulae, and motion blur gives it all a head-turning dynamism.
Does it play as good as it looks? The astoundingly positive answer comes quickly, although with a large dose of irony - because in those opening minutes of enjoyment you have with the game, it will then proceed to steal hours from you as you get into its glorious groove.
There are many ways to play UT3, and they all revolve around a core concept - kill or be killed. You have a vast number of modes to choose from, including Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag (and its vehicle iteration), Duel (one-on-one battles, winner stays on) and Warfare (where you have to destroy an enemy base's power core while defending your own). All these are online, with some for up to 16 players, although you can add computer controlled opponents of various skill levels to make up the numbers.
Complimenting these extensive options is a single player campaign that tells the tale of war between humans and the Necris, a monstrous and vicious race of the undead. The five main chapters are divided into tasks that guide you through the fundamentals of the game, getting you up to speed on how to play and familiarising you with some of the maps you'll be engaging with in multiplayer. A nice additional touch is the ability to play through this mode online with up to three others.
Fans of big weapons will feel right at home, thanks to a fantastically entertaining array of artillery that ranges from the likes of Bio Rifles and dual wielded Enforcer pistols, to Shock Rifles and thermonuclear warhead launcher, the Redeemer. Vehicles aren't left out in the cold either, with an impressive variety that can have you hoverboarding (with SIXAXIS Wireless Controller motion control capabilities), rolling in a battle tank, or even creating mass havoc in the War of the Worlds styled DarkWalker - a giant tripod walker that shoots powerful lasers.
Making all these instruments of destruction more fun are the exceptionally well devised maps containing an even mix of tight corridors and wide open spaces which provide the core element of playability and fun in any deathmatch driven FPS. Each stage is created for maximum diversity, making games unfold with an unpredictable spontaneity that's always engaging, and the responsive controls keep proceedings fair. Built-in modification tools that let you download or build your own levels, game types and more round off the slick package nicely.
All of these things make Unreal Tournament 3 as good as it is, creating an utterly captivating experience. The game sums up everything which has made the series popular, rolled into a devastatingly good package. Lock this one in and load it up... oh, and don't forget to breathe through the majesty of it all - or you'll only have yourself to blame when that rocket hits.