Unreal Tournament III

There are nearly as many flavors of the first-person shooter as there are Eskimo words for snow. Unreal Tournament III belongs to the same genus as Quake and Halo—the over-the-top, science-fiction-themed frag-fest. And while the game shares the same bulky, space-marine-styled heroes, exaggerated physics, and nutso weapons as its compatriots, there's enough happening in Unreal Tournament III for it to stand on its own two rocket-boots.

The game's A-ticket attractions are the massive, ornate battlegrounds where opponents compete in objective-based clashes. Gorgeous alien landscapes play host to massive turf battles between factions vying for power nodes. These mêlées come stocked with a mind-boggling variety of weapons and vehicles, greatly reducing the rinse, lather, repeat burnout that comes in online shooters with less to do and smaller places to do it.

Though it's devoted to arena battle, Unreal Tournament III does sport a single-player campaign. The story works like an offline tutorial, familiarizing newbies with the maps, objectives, and weapons they'll encounter online. It doesn't boast a Half-Life level of immersion, but the schooling the AI bots dole out is a great warm-up for those who want to jump online to splatter flesh-and-blood enemies.

Beyond the game: Main character Malcolm shares the same protein-shake build and grizzled attitude as Marcus Fenix from Epic's other awesome shooter, Gears Of War. The comparisons stop there. The two games feel and play very differently.

Worth playing for: Players can jump on hoverboards to close distances faster, and hitch behind friendly vehicles for a quick lift across large battlefields. Who knew Back To The Future II would prove so influential?

Frustration sets in when: If you aren't a PC gamer, you're going to have to wait until March 2008 to play the game on the PlayStation 3. The Xbox 360 version is probably further off on the horizon.

Final judgment: American Gladiators armed with FutureWeapons.

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