Unreal Tournament 2004 PC Review

Many regard the Unreal Tournament series as one of the best multiplayer-focused first person shooter series to ever be made, combining superb graphics, crisp control, and fast-paced gameplay all into a package which brims success. Now, the third instalment in the series; Unreal Tournament 2004, is finally here after its long await, and it tries to build on the success of its predecessors. However, this is no easy task, and while some thought Unreal Tournament 2003 hadn’t brought much to the table in terms of innovation, the overall outcome of the game made it one of the biggest hits of last year, and indeed a huge smash.

But before I commence, and rejoice on the success that is ‘Unreal Tournament 2004’, and present you with the ins and outs, let me introduce you to the game with a brief synopsis.

“Unreal Tournament 2004 is a multiplayer first person shooter that combines the kill-or-be-killed experience of gladiatorial combat with cutting-edge technology. Ten game modes – both team-based and “every man for himself” — provide even the most hardcore gamer with palm-sweating challenges through unbelievably detailed indoor arenas and vast outdoor environments. As the ultimate techno-gladiator of the future, players will take their fates into their hands, battling against up to 32 other players online in action-packed, frag-filled arenas.”

Gameplay

“The Tournament is a true measure of skill and determination… Let battle commence!”

So what are these game modes? Well, first and foremost we have the classic Deathmatch, followed by Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag (CTF), Last Man Standing, Double Domination, Bombing Run, Mutant, Invasion, and two brand new modes — Assault, and Onslaught. Now I say brand new, but many fans of the series will remember Assault from the original Unreal Tournament, but it was left out of Unreal Tournament 2003. Moreover, the mode has been redesigned especially for Unreal Tournament 2004, and includes objectives which will see player’s face-off to defend and attack fortified bases, leaping from fast-moving trains and barrelling across alien deserts amongst other things.

This is probably the most impressive mode aside from Onslaught in my opinion, because of the detail and sheer velocity at which the games can be played at. For example, on a certain map called ‘Mothership’ you’re fighting in space in two different types of space vehicles — and, while you’re not re-enacting a scene from Star Wars, you can even dock and fight in hand to hand combat. It’s a superb addition to the game, and is sure to appeal to many-a-gamer. And while arguably the worst assault map of the lot because it isn’t as polished as it should be, it’s extremely enjoyable, and that’s saying something.

Onslaught on the other hand is completely new and exclusive to Unreal Tournament 2004, in which opposing teams are pitted against each other to capture and hold strategic points in order to attack and destroy the enemy power core. It contains a range of tactical strategies for the hardcore gamers, and many simplistic ones for the lesser gamer across 9 maps in total. Vehicular combat is really what comes into play in this mode however, because of the massive outdoor environments, and while you’ll find the ‘Leviathan’ (a five man behemoth in terms of power) in some maps, others you’ll have to rely on other means of devising strategic force. This works as a brilliant way to distinguish between maps, and makes it all the more of a complex game mode.

As well as the Leviathan there are many other vehicles surrounding Unreal Tournament 2004 in onslaught mode; the ‘Goliath’ for example, is essentially the tank of the game, and packs a real punch. The primary cannon can destroy almost anything, whether it is vehicle, node, or main gun, while the secondary weapon can be used to fight off foot soldiers. However, its traditionally slow moving pace makes it inept when dealing with various vehicles such as the Raptor, which is the fast moving airborne vehicle in the game, and can be used, in dogfights. This is most probably the most impressive aspect on Onslaught, and the developers have ensured that each vehicle has its weakness. Other vehicles in the game include the Manta, the Scorpion, and the Hellbender; all swift-ground vehicles that are benefited by the top-notch physics system.

Although vehicles are an essential part of onslaught, they don’t overwhelm the battlefield to the extent in which it spoils your gameplay, since a new weapon has infact been added; the ‘AVRIL.’ This is a homing missile projector best used on vehicles, and gives a foot soldier a lot more grasp over defence, and offence. The rest of Unreal 2k4’s weapon line-up is equally impressive, each being useful in different situations. The Link gun for example is an excellent repair gun when used with the secondary function, and when linked with more than one player, it’s possible to have nodes, vehicles, and even players healed in seconds. It’s a very multipurpose gun, and is constantly in need of supply, hence the various weapon pickup points dotted around the maps.

The new weapon additions include the sniper rifle, the mine layer, grenade launcher, laser painter, and already mentioned AVRIL. The mine layer is very useful when incorporated with skilful placement, and is one of the most effective ways of defending nodes as they’re like miniature spiders that will leap at any opponent close-by and explode. A grenade launcher shoots out timed charges; the sniper is effectively the equivalent of the lightning gun, and the laser painter can be used in concession with a devastating air strike performed by the phoenix bomber.

As well as containing mind blowing game modes in multiplayer, the game also features fantastic AI when you opt for playing offline modes. These aren’t to be underestimated, or overlooked by any stretch of the imagination, and while the game is heavily associated with online play, working your way up through the Unreal Tournament in single player can be just as fun.

Instant action is similar to practice, since it’s a brilliant way of learning the new maps and new modes which have been added. The AI is nigh-unmatched, and it’s just as enjoyable playing against the bots if you’re unable to access the internet because of the impressive teamwork they exhibit. And while the additions to single player aren’t exactly overwhelming, the new credits system is a nice addition in which you can buy and sell players once gaining the access to team play. However, there is a lack of incentive to play through single as there are no major rewards, and the prolonging play it takes before you reach the best team play modes such as Assault, and Onslaught, can be tedious; but as the stages further, more skill is required so reflexes and your ‘game’ are improved some what, so it’s not such a bad thing.

Graphics

Although once it’s biggest selling point, its graphics aren’t as impressive as they used to be, with Half-Life 2 and Doom 3 now dominating in this aspect. However, the Unreal engine is still a superb engine, almost an institution in gaming – and its various adaptations have justified this, which is shown in Unreal Tournament 2004. The graphics are outstanding when the settings are increased, and at lowest, still brilliant due to the physics implemented into the game. Various vehicles when blown up don’t just blow up; they do it in spectacular fashion, often being thrown a huge distance only to come close to landing on someone.

The textures and lighting are very impressive, and you have a variety of options in settings to improve them. This is often not needed however, but should you wish to do so if you indeed have a beast-like PC it’s nice the have the option. One thing I did notice however was once increasing the detail in settings the loading time shot up dramatically, and sometimes for Assault the game actually started before I even arrived. This will differ from PC to PC, and whether or not you have enough power to hold down the extra detail will be shown in your frame rates.

Sound

The visual aspects of this game really set the bar for the audio, and although the audio isn’t as spectacular, or as distinctive as games such as Call of Duty, the sound effects at times can be very crisp, and will engross you in the atmosphere even more so that the visual aspect already has. If you own a surround sound setup, you’ll definitely appreciate the heavy and quick sound effects. Techno plays a big part in the soundtrack when playing, but can get a bit tiring if you’ve already heard a lot of it in the previous titles; still, nevertheless it’s still a reasonable soundtrack that is well balanced with the new tracks which come with onslaught, which are refreshing.

You’ve also got the original UT announcer’s voice (who is just one of five announcers now included) which is a nice touch to the game; it’s always pleasurable to hear the words ‘Pancake’ and such while you run down opponents in onslaught. It also brings back some fond memories of Unreal Tournament, the original; however some will disagree stating the taunts are a bit burnt out. I think while they could do with some new work, overall they’re still a nice addition.

The most impressive new sound feature is the easy access, voice-over IP support. This combines well with team communication and team support, as well being able to create a few creative taunts of your own. All it requires you to have is a microphone or headset, which are easily acquirable at most electrical stores, and are well worth investing in if you attend to play first person shooters like Unreal Tournament 2004 effectively. Moreover, if you’re not happy with someone – for instance they are abusive towards you – you can always ban them from speaking to you.

Another decent sound feature is the text to voice commands, which are easily accessed and are useful when issuing team orders. It helps because you don’t have to divert your attentions when in the heat of battle, and can easily hear the commands issued by someone who’s requested you to perform a certain action, or be in a certain destination.

Lifespan

The lifespan of Unreal Tournament 2004 is incredible; not only do you have the option of playing through the entire Single player career, but you have essentially three games rolled into one.

Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Bombing Run, Capture the Flag, Double Domination, Invasion, Mutant, and Last Man Standing all provide you hours and hours of regular Unreal Tournament. Onslaught is like a game in itself, projecting more of a Halo-based game more than anything, while you have Assault acting out scenarios with two teams doing different objectives, which is similar to Battlefield 1942.

I don’t think they could have packed more hours of gameplay and lifespan into this game is they had tried. And to be honest, would I prefer them to? I’m not exactly sure. The original CD set was already 6 CD’s, a massive amount for any game, which requires you to have 5.5GB’s of free hard disk space. Obviously there is the optional DVD version available, which makes for a much easier install process, but overall, it’s more than enough.

This is also not including the Mod community. Each Unreal Tournament has a massive Mod following, which have provided even more hours and hours of gameplay with their adaptations of maps and game play modes. If you include them into the equation, you are looking at — *thinks* — A well worth purchase. The lifespan is almost limitless, and most definitely one of this games biggest attractions.

Overall

After the somewhat disappointing Unreal Tournament 2003, the series was in need of some fresh ideas, and it was difficult to see how they would improve on an already good game. But Unreal Tournament 2004 delivered, and is an absolute must have and for any First person shooter fan, with awesome in-depth gameplay, stunning graphics, and a bunch of brand new gorgeous maps. The innovation contained in Onslaught alone is enough to make this a winning title, but with all the extra features, new weapons, and improved tactical variety — It makes Unreal Tournament 2004 one the best multiplayer games on the market, and well worth any time invested as you’ll reap hours of fun gameplay back. And if you buy any game this month for the PC, make sure it’s this one.

9 out of 10
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