All of the modes of play and maps from Unreal Tournament 2003, along with the downloadable mission packs from 2003, more than 20 original maps, and a number of other features can be found in Unreal Tournament 2004. One major addition to the Unreal Tournament series is the inclusion of vehicles. Both land and air-based vehicles are accessible, as are a number of new weapons, including land mines, rocket-propelled grenades, and stationary gun turrets.
Returning from the original Unreal Tournament is Assault mode, which has one team attacking an objective while another defends the objective. After one round, the teams switch sides with the former defenders attempting to complete the assault faster than the other team. New to the series is Onslaught mode, which is where users will utilize the aforementioned vehicles. Maps in Onslaught mode are much larger than those found in the other modes of play. Teams are required to capture Power Nodes as they progress across the map, eventually establishing a link to the enemy's Power Core and destroying it.
The developers have also added a number of enhancements to improve the online community. Demo recording allows users to record their games and later show them off to friends. Players can watch other players battle it out live as well by logging onto the UnrealTV broadcast system. Live chat is built-in too, but game players will have to supply their own microphone to take advantage of it.
Unreal Tournament 2004 is a stunning comeback for the franchise, a fantastic mix of the fresh and the familiar, and enough content to make this the only game you need for the next few months. If you're a fan of multiplayer shooters, odds are you'll find a LOT to like in Unreal Tournament 2004.
While there's a lot to talk about in Unreal Tournament 2004, the story has to begin with Onslaught. Arguably the centerpiece of UT 2004, Onslaught is a new teamplay mode that could be described as a hybrid between Tribes, Battlefield 1942 and PlanetSide. Each team has a power core, connected by a series of power nodes. Your job is to systematically take control of these power nodes and build a chain to the enemy power core so you can destroy it.
The beauty of Onslaught is that, because you can usually only attack two or three power nodes at any given moment, the action becomes very focused on a few locations. An in-screen map shows which nodes you control and which are under attack, and it's possible to teleport between any two nodes that you own, so it's usually pretty easy to locate the action and get there within seconds. This is a nice improvement over games like Battlefield 1942 and PlanetSide, where you could often spend a lot of time trying to reach the fight... instead of actually partaking in it.
To that end, Onslaught also introduces a new set of vehicles to the Unreal franchise: the Manta hovercraft, the Raptor fighter, the Hellbender jeep, the Goliath tank, the Scorpion buggy, and the Leviathan, errr, super-tank. The implementation of the vehicles is near-perfect -- they're easy to control, and loaded with options. You can switch between first- and third-person views or jump between different seats in each vehicle with the touch of a button, and the camera is fully controlled with the mouse, so you can swing around and zoom in and out for any view of the action you could possibly want.
Thankfully, the vehicles are balanced well against each other, and they're also vulnerable to some of your weapons, so you're not totally helpless while on foot. The lightning gun can take down a Raptor with a few shots, while a single homing missile from the new AVRIL can make instant shrapnel out of a Manta or Scorpion. Adding to the spectacle, the physics are fairly forgiving, allowing for some crazy stunts and spectacular explosions -- you can flatten players with any of the vehicles, and it's common to see demolished trucks flipping into the air, crushing anyone in their wake.
There are nine Onslaught maps in total, coming in varying sizes and themes, from the forest-based "Primeval" to the frozen "Arctic Stronghold" to the grassy plains of "Dawn." With the exception of "Frostbite" (a tiny map with only one power node connecting the cores), there are multiple routes connecting each base on every map, and it's hard to pick a weak one in the bunch. When all is said and done, we think a lot of people will pick up UT 2004 just for Onslaught, and could be their game of choice throughout the rest of the year. Personally, I feel like I'm just starting to scratch the surface of what Onslaught has to offer (I'm currently working on my Raptor skills) -- clearly, the community is already loving the lone Onslaught level from the UT 2004 demo, and I can't wait for servers to start filling up with the rest of the maps.
As if the new Onslaught mode wasn't enough, UT 2004 also marks the return of Assault -- an objective-based team game introduced in the original Unreal Tournament but absent in UT 2003. As before, one team takes offense and the other plays defense in a series of scripted scenarios. In "Glacier," for example, one team needs to steal an ion plasma tank and escort it through hostile territory, blowing up gates and destroying various power couplings until finally escaping the facility. At the end of the round, the teams switch sides and the previous defenders try to complete the level in less time.
Historically, objective-based games have been a little confusing to new players, but it's clear a lot of effort went into making sure players don't get lost in the new Assault maps. Each map has a short cinematic showing all the goals for the map, and your current objective is spelled out at the top of the screen, with an arrow pointing you in the right direction. On-screen indicators show the location of and distance to the next objective, and if all else fails, you can shoot out a small beam of light that will lead you onward (this works in other modes as well, such as locating the flag bases in CTF). These are just a few of the many, many, small things we constantly wish for in multiplayer games, and UT 2004 gets them right at every turn.
There are six Assault maps included with UT 2004, and while that may not seem like a lot, they're an extremely strong bunch. "Junkyard" is an insane race where the attackers attempt to escort a Hellbender to safety through a maze of wreckage, complete with jump pads that allow players to speed around the map and chase the truck on foot. "Robot Factory" starts outdoors with two teams trading titanic blows with tanks, turrets and ion cannons, but soon turns into a frantic indoor race to cut power cables and destroy an AI generator.
The most ambitious of the bunch is "Mothership," which recreates an attack on a Skaarj spaceship, and goes as far as to pump out some space-based dogfighting before the attackers board the ship and continue the assault on foot. It's arguably the weakest Assault map in the bunch, as the space combat isn't as polished as everything else, but still gets points for trying -- we wouldn't be surprised if modders used the level as a springboard to start building their own would-be Wing Commanders within the Unreal engine.
On their own, you could say that Onslaught and Assault -- and the 15 maps that go with them -- might already be worth the price of admission. But that's only half the story of Unreal Tournament 2004. There's plenty of returning modes from previous games -- Deathmatch and team DM, Capture the Flag, Bombing Run, Double Domination, Invasion -- and plenty of maps to go with them. There's a CTF remake of "Facing Worlds" (from the original Unreal Tournament), and "Colossus" is a great outdoor map for both CTF and Bombing Run. (Bombing Run, by the way, is a nifty little mode introduced in UT 2003 that's a cross between football and CTF; if you haven't tried it already, it's more than worth a look.)
Unreal Tournament 2004 isn't just for playing against your buddies, either. As in previous games, there's a full set of ladders to fight through, simulating a player's career in the futuristic tournament. After starting out with a simple 1v1 match and then a few free-for-all qualifiers, you get to draft your own players and become captain of your own team before moving on to team deathmatch. After the qualifiers, the full ladder opens up, which consists of mini-tourneys for Double Domination, Capture the Flag, Bombing Run and Assault.
The single-player ladder is interesting in that (a) there are usually several different matches to choose from at any time, and (b) there's a bit of team management involved with managing your squad. As you play, you earn credits, and you can use this cash to sign "free agents" to upgrade your team. As you progress through the tournament, your opponents get better and better, so you'll want to continually upgrade your team by dropping players and signing on better ones. If you want, you can also engage in special matches called "BloodRites," where you can steal a member of another team, and head-to-head matches where you can earn credits for free agents or the ability to switch arenas for certain matches.
While it's not necessary to stay on top of your team and keep bringing in new talent, it's highly recommended, because UT 2004's bots are capable of putting up an extremely stiff fight. No, they're not perfect, but they're light years ahead of what you'll find in most other games, and they understand the basics of combat as well as the finer points of the game -- they'll drive vehicles in Onslaught, use the turrets in Assault, pass the ball in Bombing Run and use the translocator in CTF. You can try to beat these guys single-handedly if you want, but you'll be a lot better off earning cash and swapping players in and out so your team can give you the support you need.
It's worth pointing out that Unreal Tournament 2004 includes a plethora of team communication options, from simple text chat to preset macros to full-on voice-over-IP communication. (There's even a goofy text-to-speech converter that turns chat into Stephen Hawking-like broadcasts.) I actually went as far as to buy a USB headset to use with the UT 2004 demo, and from the looks of things, I'll be getting a lot of use out of it. You can assign keys to open up public and team channels, and you can always disable it if you don't want to hear all the chatter. Like just about everything else in UT 2004, it's polished and has a purpose.
And then there's Unreal Tournament 2004's graphics. Once the main biggest selling point of the Unreal franchise, UT 2004's graphics no longer hold the same drool factor as in-development projects like DOOM 3 and Half-Life 2, but it's still an extremely sharp-looking game, and it runs extremely well, with tons of scaling options.
UT 2004's sounds are also top-notch front to back. The announcers are fun to listen to (there's something satisfying about hearing "PANCAKE!" when flattening someone with the Manta), the soundtrack is solid and yet unobtrusive, and the weapon sounds will get your speakers rumbling. I was pleased to notice that the sound of the Goliath cannon had received an upgrade since the demo -- it now lets out a thunderous BOOOOM! that's likely to scare the bejeezus out of your neighbors if you don't watch your subwoofer volume.
Imagine, if you can, a world where the original release of Quake had shipped with complete versions of Threewave Capture the Flag and Team Fortress. What if, in 1998, the boxed copy of Half-Life came with finished versions of Counter-Strike and Day of Defeat? What if Battlefield 1942 originally came packaged with Desert Combat and Eve of Destruction?
In a lot of ways, that's what Unreal Tournament 2004 feels like. Sure, there's tons of traditional deathmatch, CTF, and other modes to keep you busy, and it's all done extremely well. In fact, we can't emphasize enough how polished UT 2004 is -- most games have a few weak spots, whether it's a few technical glitches or weak AI, but it's hard to find any such chinks in UT 2004's armor. Add two outstanding modes like Onslaught and Assault to the mix, and now you've got two or three great games in one box -- and that's saying something.
With Unreal Tournament 2004, Epic, Atari, Digital Extremes and co. have done more than return the series to its former glory -- they've unleashed a monster that could dominate multiplayer gaming for the rest of 2004. Welcome back, UT -- it's great to see you again.
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