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Unreal Tournament 2004

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Action
Publisher: Atari
Developer: Epic Games


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PC Review - 'Unreal Tournament 2004'

by Eric on April 16, 2004 @ 1:25 a.m. PDT

Genre: Action
Publisher: Atari
Developer: Digital Extremes
Release Date: March 15, 2004


After the average Unreal Tournament 2003, my level of interest (as well as many other gamers) was not that high for UT 2004. With hot-looking new single player games like Far Cry and Doom 3 on the way, and the sequel to the king of online multiplayer Battle Field Vietnam also set to release at the same time as Unreal Tournament 2004, I really was not too hyped for this latest edition to the Unreal series. As the release date neared, however, that started to change! From early on, Epic said that they would be working vehicles into the mix for 2004, but I never really understood how they could incorporate them into a fast-paced death match shooter like Unreal and make them work. Upon playing the well-received demo, I got my first go at this new Unreal with vehicles and came away (many hours later, I might add) very impressed. This new mode was called Onslaught, and that mode alone was what got me hooked on Unreal all over again, just as the classic Assault mode got me hooked way back on the very first Unreal Tournament. Speaking of Assault, that mode also makes a new upgraded return in '04, but that’s only scratching the surface.  Developer Digital Extremes has really done a great job in getting back to the classic game play that made the very first Unreal Tournament so addictive and ensured that UT 2004 is not just a upgraded version of UT 2003.

While still a good game, UT 2003 did have some problems. For starters, the pacing and game speed was way to fast, which in turn made a lot of the kills feel like they were based on luck rather than skill. Thankfully, this has all changed in 2004. The game play is now running at a much more manageable speed and feels like that of the first UT, but it is still the fastest-paced death match shooter out there, so fear not, all of you speed freaks. The game play speed is not the only thing that has been brought back from the first Unreal Tournament. Upon first boot, any Unreal vets will quickly recognize the classic Unreal theme music  as you navigate the menus. Right away you know there is something special about UT 2004 that seemed to be missing from last year's version, and I am not talking about the much-loved Assault mode either! This only continues as you dive into your first match and start the fragging; everything feels much more balanced and complete than 2003.

Developer Digital Extremes has really done an amazing job in going back to the roots of what made the first Unreal Tournament great, but at the same time advancing the series and taking it to new levels with modes of play like Onslaught. As noted before, Onslaught is the all-new mode that tosses vehicles into the mix for the fist time in the UT series. Digital Extremes has done an outstanding job in fitting them into the game without having to slow down the game play to get them to work. In Onslaught, you play on massive (think BF 1942-size here) specially designed maps that have two bases, controlled by two teams. In each of these bases, there is a power core on which you much inflict damage and destroy to win. Before you can attack the other team’s main base, you much capture control points throughout the map. These are small sub-bases that, once captured, let you respawn people and vehicles, but they also play a bigger role here. All of the control points on the map link up, and you can only attack another team's control point if you have direct access to it from one of your team's control points. The same also goes for attacking the other team's main base: you have to capture a series of control points that make a direct link to the base before you can attack the other team's power core inside their base. If the other team recaptures one of your control points that was making a direct link to their base, your team is unable to attack and damage their base until your guys capture that control point again from the other team.

Having Onslaught set up this way is nothing short of genius! With maps this size, keeping the action focused is always a problem, and you tend to need a fairly large number of players to keep the game fun and to play it right. With Onslaught, thanks to its control point system, most of the action is focused around these points, which allows you to still see lots of intense action even with a low number of players despite the maps being so large.

Each of the Onslaught maps also has a set number of vehicles assigned to them. These very from map to map and range from jeeps, hovercrafts, and tanks to flying crafts and even spacecrafts! There are nine vehicles in all, and each one of them is a breeze to control. They're all very balanced and have their own strengths and weaknesses, so no one vehicle stands out from the group as the clear choice to use all of the time. Making sure that the poor guys on foot are not totally helpless, Digital Extremes has added a special new gun just for taking out vehicles. Dubbed the AVRiL, this gun shoots a missile that, as long as you stayed locked on the target, will seek out and impact any vehicle on which you have set your sites. Staying locked on target as the somewhat-slow missile goes off to do its dirty work is not always so easy. Anytime you shoot the AVRiL at a vehicle, a warning sound goes off to let the driver know that there is an incoming missile. Now there are only two ways to avoid the missile: outmaneuver it, or take out the person who is shooting before the missile reaches you. Consequently, a lot of times after you shoot off a missile, you will start to receive incoming fire from the vehicle you have targeted, making it nearly impossible at times to keep your target locked on till impact. It is always wise to select a good location from which to fire the AVRiL. The attention of this gun further balances out the game and ensures that even players on foot are not totally helpless when going up against a vehicle. Overall, vehicles really add a whole new level of depth and fun to the Unreal series and easily make Onslaught the most enjoyable mode in the game. If this were the only mode in the game, UT 2004 would still be very much worth buying, Onslaught is that damn fun! You might want to stop and count your lucky stars, because there are nine more modes of play packed into this puppy.

One of the nine other modes in UT 2004 is the new classic Assault which has been brought back due to high fan demand after being absent from 2003. Assault was one of the best modes of play in the first Unreal Tournament, and this upgraded version will not disappoint fans of the classic. In Assault mode, you have two teams that are either attacking or defending set objective points on the map. What makes this mode so fun is the extremely well-designed maps, such as a rolling convoy through a desert that sees you either attacking or defending trucks in the convoy. The only downside to Assault mode is that there are only six maps for it, but each one is a blast to play over and over again. Naturally, expect there to be new downloadable maps in the future.

The very addictive Bombing Run from UT 2003 also makes a return in '04, as well as the classics like Death Match, Team Death Match and CTF! All of these modes pretty much play out the same as they have in 2003 and the first UT, but thanks to the tweaked game play speed and better balancing, they're much more fun than they were in UT 2003. It's hard to believe that the series that set the standard for death match shooters has seen little improvements in its own death match modes. Digital Extremes seems to have taken the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality with these modes in 2004, and I really can't blame them. Besides balancing and tweaking the classic death match modes, there’s not a lot left to do to them at this point with this engine. They are still quite fun and a blast to play, but with other modes like Onslaught and Assault, you will most likely end up spending very little time with the classic UT modes. It's still nice to see them included.

Back when UT 2004 was first announced, Epic said that UT 2004 would be fully compatible with UT 2003 servers, but as the development of 2004 came along, Digital Extremes started making lots of changes to the network code, and for the better. When all was said and done, on a code level, UT 2004 was actually quite a bit different than UT 2003, so there was really no way to make them cross-compatible. Digital Extremes did the next best thing and included all of the maps from UT 2003 out of the box, as well as several of the bonus map packs that were released for the game. So right away, you can start fragging on some of your favorite maps from 2003 and feel right at home. Overall, UT 2004 has almost 100 maps out of the box, and although about 50% of them are old ones from 2003, that is still a very impressive amount of new content. All of this content does come at a price, although it's a pretty small one to pay. UT 2004 is an extremely big game, weighing in at six CDs and taking a good 30-45 minutes to install on the faster systems and an hour on lower-end systems. Besides the long install time and annoying CD changes that force you to stay by your PC while the game installs, UT 2004 also takes up 5.5 gigs of hard drive space. For most of us, this is not really a problem anymore, as big hard drives are quite inexpensive nowadays, and it's pretty common to see 60-80 gig hard drives coming standard with PCs now, but there are still a lot of people with small HDs, and this game will really hurt them. For the few who actually have a PC DVD-rom, there is a limited edition version of UT 2004 that ships on 2 DVDs, which is far less painful to install.

Graphically speaking, Unreal Tournament 2004 holds up pretty well against other titles out there, but this version of the Unreal engine is really starting to show its age when compared to games like Far Cry and Doom 3. It is still quite easy on the eyes and sports some great particle effects and high resolution textures, and on the up side of things, the game runs extremely well on the lower-end cards out there. We here ran it on both a 9800 pro and a GF 4 MX, and while it clearly looked a lot better on the 9800 pro, it still ran at a very good frame rate on the GF MX and looked nice.

Unreal Tournament has always been about head-to-head online play action with other humans, but this year, Digital Extremes actually put a bit more work into the single player game too. There is a nice tournament system setup for the single player that lets you compete and win points and recruit players to join your team. The bot AI, which has always been good in the UT series has been further improved in 2004, and on the higher settings, the bots will work as a team and be quite deadly. It is often hard to near impossible to tell if you’re playing online over the internet or offline with the bots. For all of you still on dial-up, you might want to give UT 2004 a look, as it can be quite a blast to play offline.

What at first looked like a cheap way for Epic to make as much money off of a series as possible by making annual updates ended up being far from the truth. Epic and Digital Extremes really put a lot of time and effort into UT 2004, and it shows. This is not a simple UT 2003 clone with a few extra maps and players; they have really advanced the series with the inclusion of vehicles and taken it to the next level. Onslaught alone makes this game a must-buy for all the fans out there. If you are an online gamer and looking for the very best death match game out there today, there is no better, more polished game out there than Unreal Tournament 2004. This is the game UT 2003 should have been! If you haven't already, go out and snag yourself a copy of this masterpiece!

Score 9.4/10

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