reviews\ Apr 7, 2004 at 8:00 pm

Unreal Tournament 2004 - PC - Review

You know, I still remember the first time I really got to get online and play a Deathmatch version of Quake III. I absolutely loved it, and it just raised the bar for me with FPS gaming due to the fact that you fought swarms of other gamers versus AI creatures all the time. Well, shortly after I caught wind of a new arena title on the block called Unreal Tournament, and being the curious soul that I am, I of course had to check it out also and see what it was all about. Well, I’ve always been a huge fan of Id software, but I really latched on to Unreal a lot more. A year ago, Atari dazzled online UT fans by releasing Unreal Tournament 2003, which was fantastic, and now Atari is at it once more with the newest online / offline FPS combat title known as Unreal Tournament 2004. Same bad attitude, but with some new additions that will make it worth picking up for fans of the series.


As usual, I like to give a brief synopsis of the plot for any of you who may have strayed onto this review simply looking to see what the game is all about. Basically, Unreal Tournament takes place in a time way into the future, where the favorite sport of the general population is a brutal death sport … a post apocalyptic gladiator match between some of the baddest and meanest warriors in the galaxy. Players select a character ranging from armor wearing and hulking human badasses and assassins to aliens and even some twisted, humnanoid life forms that are happy dealing out pain and torture. From there, players have the opportunity to run through some really cool stages playing a variety of matches that are sure to get your adrenaline pumping and give your mouse buttons a workout.


Control in UT2K4 is the same as before, with W,A,S,and D being used as your movement, the spacebar giving you the ability to jump, and the left / right mouse buttons providing primary and secondary weapons fire. All of these will be used constantly, as a newbie player will quickly find out that sitting still and trying to camp members of an enemy team is a great way to get your head blown off in a hurry. Speaking of blowing heads off, the great UT arsenal is back and ready to rock yet again, and players will be happily grabbing everything from assault cannons and plasma guns to rocket launchers and lightning guns to help obliterate their competition … and Unreal Championship veterans will be running back through all of their favorite stages that were released in the original UT2K3 title from a year ago. Well, seeing as how everything seems the same … should you pick it up? Yep … and I’ll tell you why.


First off, there is a great new mode that has been introduced called Onslaught which introduces more of a futuristic BF1942 element into the game. Onslaught has opposing teams trying to capture different waypoints, known as Power Cores, and by linking these Power Cores to your home base, you can create a shield so that your home reactor cannot be destroyed. See, if the reactor gets blown up, your team loses the game … so you can imagine the unreal (no pun intended) amount of carnage that can go down if a team only has one waypoint opportunity left of both teams are fighting to capture a certain one. I always loved the whole BF1942 waypoint capture concept, and now getting to play it in Unreal just makes life a lot better. Oh wait … there’s more!


Now, as if Onslaught wasn’t enough reason to check the game out, the Onslaught mode also introduces vehicles into the game. Yep, no longer are you confined to running around, but now you can actually hop into a decent variety of vehicles like the Manta, a flying hoversled, the Scorpion … a dune buggy with a plasma like cannon attachment, or a Goliath … a big tank that not only has one big devastating turret, but a second machine gun post on the top that a second player can man for added firepower. Two of the vehicles allow for more than one player to occupy which is cool, but it can also get you out of a tight spot since you can hop into the cover of a tank if you are low on health.


Going along with the new vehicles, one thing I was really thankful for is the fact that the vehicles are not unstoppable, and a couple of good opponents can reduce even the toughest armor down to nothing in a short period of time. Tanks, dune buggys, trucks, flying machines, and stationary energy cannons can all be taken out with the weapons in your arsenal, and I can tell you from experience that a well coordinated attack from two battle hardened warriors with rocket launchers can quickly level even the best tank pilot into rubble quickly. The moral of the story? No matter how big and bad you may think you are behind the wheel, there’s always someone out there who can (and will) take you out. Going along with that whole thing though is the fact that the vehicles themselves can be used as weapons, since the Scorpion has retractable blades that can decapitate an opponent and the Manta can do a quick drop to crush someone. Also, the vehicles can be used to just flat out run over people, so as you can imagine it can get quite ugly in the heat of battle.


Another thing that UT fans will be thrilled about is the re-adding of the gameplay mode known as Assault. Assault was introduced back in the days of the original Unreal Tournament, and was more of a mission based mode that had team A trying to beat an objective in a certain amount of time while team B was trying to stop them, and then the team roles change when the timer runs out. Well, it is back once more in UT2K4, so be prepared to run escort missions, steal items, and complete a bunch of different things to get from point A to point B once more, but also know that Atari added in an arrow and information as you run around trying to complete the mission to help you not get lost along the way. There is even one mission that has some space dogfighting in it which is really, really cool.


Now all of these things add up to a great multiplayer experience, which is where I have spent most of my time, but the single player mode is back again and is a lot of fun for the single player enthusiast. In standard UT fashion, players will get to compete in a variety of ladder based tournaments trying to win and move up the ladder to the ultimate trophy. One new thing about UT2K4 though is more of a management mode that has been added in that actually allows you to draft and add your own players to your team to go in and compete in matches. In addition, there are more ladders available after doing the one on one matches in the beginning (that any UT player will be familiar with), so players have a little more to choose from to begin their journey through the single player game mode.


Graphically, UT2K4 looks and plays superbly, as fans of the series have grown to expect. The colors, animation, and effects are sharp and detailed, and explosions and really violent battles will no doubt get a muttered “Wow” here and there from the player. There were also some neat “little things” added in to make it more interesting too, like HUD’s when manning a cannon station or even the license plate of vehicles that have them displaying the name of the player that is driving at the time.


The sound to UT2K4 also is back and in full blast once more, and while there are some redone tracks from past titles that have been released, UT2K4 adds in a new slew of rock and techno style tracks to play in the background while you are on your “Killing Sprees” and “Rampages”. Yes the dark voice is back to announce what level you have reached while killing, and yes the players have their taunts and insults that they can spew after killing you or getting ticked off that you had killed them. One of the coolest features sound wise for UT2K4 though is the addition of the voiceover chat feature, so players that have a USB headset can communicate and chat with their teams or just make the pain even more difficult to tolerate while insulting and taunting their opponents online verbally while blasting them away.


Overall, I was absolutely blown away by UT2K4. While up front I was kind of confused as to why I had to buy seemingly the same game as UT2K3 with a new mode, a remade mode, a few new characters, and a new name versus an expansion pack, playing it showed me that the expense of $50 was definitely well worth it, and I’ll be playing this one for a long time to come. If you are an FPS fan, get it. If you are an Unreal fan, GET IT! The Unreal series has long shown why it has reigned supreme in the world of FPS arena combat, and it definitely does it once again in UT2K4. Definitely a nominee for game of the year for me personally.   


Gameplay: 9.4
The standard controls make it easy for the UT fan to jump in and get rolling, and the movement, firing, driving, piloting, and switching weapons all were fluid, smooth, and were done with no problems. The older levels that were always a lot of fun are back from UT2K3, and the new levels from Assault and Onslaught were an absolute blast.


Graphics: 9.5
Once again, spectacular. The animation and lighting effects are definitely top notch, and you’d be hard pressed to find a game out that can stand up to what Atari and Epic have done with the series. The levels also are very well designed, detailed, and many are big enough to have a little fun with but still small enough as to not get confused or lost.


Sound: 9.5
Great music, and great voiceovers / sound effects. Also, the addition of the online chat using a USB headset was a great idea, since it runs through the game versus Ventrillo or something like that, and to make it even better players who aren’t even using a headset can still hear the chatter from teammates over the speakers so they won’t be left out in the cold.


Difficulty: Medium
This all depends. If you’re new, I strongly suggest playing single player for a bit so that you can get polished up and ready to go since the game is high speed killing at it’s finest. Also any Unreal veteran can tell you that due to the fact that everyone has their own personal abilities and play style, no matter how good you are at playing or how fast you are on the trigger, there will always be someone else waiting to turn you into a crater.


Concept: 9.4
While I was a little worried about spending money on another Unreal game that didn’t look like it had enough to warrant the purchase, I can already tell you that I have gotten way more than my money’s worth playing Onslaught alone, so getting to play Bomber Run, CTF, DM, TDM, and Assault in addition definitely make this one a must get.


Multiplayer: 9.7

Honestly, it just doesn’t get any better than playing UT2K4 online. Constant team chatter, the typical flame wars and insult contests, and all of the glorious violence that goes along with the game while playing with X amount of other players online just makes my night after a hard day of work.


Overall: 9.5

Well, if the score doesn’t sum it all up for all of you readers out there, then please go get a copy and try it out for yourself. Even people who aren’t really big into FPS games seem to enjoy UT, and now even BF junkies can head on back to the dark side of FPS arena gaming and get a fix from playing in a little bit of a different way. Overall, Atari really did a great job with UT2K4 in all aspects, period. This game sums up what you buy an FPS for and once again raises the bar on what we gamers should expect when we go to buy a game. 



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