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Unreal Tournament 2004

Score: 100%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Atari
Developer: Epic/Digital Extremes
Media: CD/6
Players: 1 - 32
Genre: First Person Shooter/ Action/ Online


Graphics & Sound:

To cut right to the chase, Unreal Tournament 2004 is out and is everything the demo showed it could be... and more. From graphics to gameplay to, well everything, Unreal Tournament 2004 just oozes with both quality and polish, making for a gameplay experience that should not be missed.

UT 2K4 once again sets the graphical bar. Counting up all of the graphical improvements in the game could take pages, and frankly, I’m about as stoked to type out that litany as you are to read it. Even when playing with some of the settings toned down (my PC has a few problems with running the game at max settings), the game is absolutely breathtaking. Each of the offered maps, which include both new ones as well as old favorites from UT 2K3, are big and epic in scope. Environments are highly detailed and show off their own unique aspects. Player models and vehicles are also magnificently detailed. A bevy of special effects, from particle effects to explosions, add another layer of icing to the presentation.

The biggest addition to the game’s presentation is the addition of voice chat. Now, instead of hearing the same (overused) taunts multiple times per match, you can make up your own. These remarks vary depending on the maturity level of your opponents, so parents should be aware that there is a chance little Billy or Susie might hear something you don’t want them to. The voice chat is hit or miss in more ways than one. The quality is usually spot-on, but I did run into a few muffled spots. Getting back to the people you’ll interact with over voice chat, be prepared to hear some phrases over-and-over again, which can get annoying. Sometimes you can figure out who the repeat offender is and grief him the entire game. Personally, I made it a crusade to relentlessly go after anyone who said, “My name is Rick James...”

Other in-game effects, which consist mostly of gun reports, are excellent. Music is a mixed bag, ranging from great orchestral scores to overdone techno. I don’t know about the rest of the gaming community, but I’d love to see a custom soundtrack option included in these types of games.


Gameplay:

Unreal Tournament 2004, like its predecessors, is more about individual play modes than actual play experience. There’s neither a deep, involving story, nor are there many of the accoutrements that have found their way into the FPS genre. With UT 2K4, it’s all about guns, mayhem, and multi-play. The core of Unreal’s gameplay lies within its ten play modes, which include the standby favorites like Capture the Flag and Deathmatch, favorites from UT 2K3 like Bombing Run, and new additions like Onslaught and Assault. The latter two modes have garnered the most attention from players early on, and will likely hold their interests for awhile.

Onslaught is the biggest change to the traditional formula, with its more noticeable feature being the inclusion of vehicles into the mix. The mode allows up to 32 players to split into teams and battle for control of power nodes on a map. The ultimate goal in this mode is to destroy the opposing team’s power core which is located in their base. After capturing an opposing team’s node, players can destroy it, forcing the other team to defend their remaining nodes or risk losing. Onslaught calls for more than fast-clicking mouse skills and plays, in many ways, like a giant game of chess. Assault mode pits teams against one another in a “beat-the-clock” type arena. One team must complete a number of tasks while another is charged with stopping them. The goals must be completed within a given time limit. After the goal is completed, or time runs out, teams switch roles. The group with the fastest completion time is the victor. Both of these modes place teamwork over the individual, which is a welcome addition in the online arena. Cohesive strategies are key components and will usually make up for a team’s lack of skilled players any day of the week. Even though the concept of team hasn’t quite hit a number of players, or team players who are willing to take orders, the added strategic elements are a breath of fresh air.

On top of the game’s multiple play modes, a huge number of maps are included in the game. These include new maps, as well as some touched up maps from UT 2K3. The size of the maps varies depending on the play modes they are used in, ranging from relatively small Deathmatch arenas to massive maps that take several minutes to traverse.

Also included with the entire package are the UnrealEd tools, which allow you to make your own maps, game styles, and character skins. Going through the options could be an entire review in itself, so I won’t go into too much detail other than to say it’s here if you want to try it out. The degree to which you can use these tools will, of course, vary with your own personal skills. Making maps and skins rank on the easier side, while more advanced users will be able to make their own play modes, weapons, and even their own games. Aspiring game designers should definitely check the tool-set out, and can find a number of helpful tutorials online.


Difficulty:

Unreal Tournament 2004 offers two different play experiences: an online one and an offline one. With this come two different difficulty ratings. When playing online, the game ranges from easy to hard depending on the skill of the guys you’re playing with. The level of team interaction during team-based modes also adds a layer of ease or difficulty to the game. It’s advisable to join an online clan if you really want to get into these modes since it will make you that much better. Not to knock “solo” or “teamless” players, but clans offer a little more stability in the game since you know who you’re playing with. Unfortunately, a big problem I ran across when not playing with people I didn’t know was the case of too many chiefs and not enough Indians. These types of situations, where everyone proves themselves as being a bona fide bad ass in-game, can lead to difficult times.

Offline, the game offers a nice challenge. The A.I. is smart enough that it won’t fall for stupid tricks, but it will still make mistakes that you can use to your advantage. Computer-controlled opponents will use their environments to their advantage and play smart, instead of charging into battle. Seven difficulty levels are offered, ranging from Novice to Godlike, with the challenge-level of each corresponding to its name.


Game Mechanics:

Vehicles are nothing new to games. In fact, it’s becoming sort of blasé to not include them in most multiplayer 3rd Person and FPS games. Among others, there’s the Battlefield series, Halo, Unreal II’s XMP pack, and more are on the way. Unreal Tournament 2004 doesn’t do much to expand or innovate in the way of vehicle-based aspects, but the addition works within the game and never feels like it was added on just to jump on the bandwagon. Each of the available vehicles comes with its strengths and weaknesses. For example, the Manta is nimble, but lacks armor. Meanwhile, the Leviathan tank packs more firepower than an Army battalion, but moves with all of the speed of a DMV line. This makes it a prime target for anti-vehicle weapons. Those who would rather remain on foot can, just get ready for long walks across the game’s larger Onslaught and Assault maps. Vehicles are both ground and air based, and one Assault mission will even allow you to jump into the cockpit of a star fighter and attack a Skarrj mothership. Of course, when the fighting kicks up, you can always jump out of your vehicle and get up close and personal with opponents. A wide-variety of weapons are available in game, including “paint marker” guns that blot opponents with a mark which causes a blast from a satellite to nail them from above.

All of the game’s interfaces can be customized to your liking. Navigating menus is easy and makes for quick customization of everything from buttons to graphic and sound presentation. Regardless of how you set the buttons up, the response is great. Piloting vehicles does take a little getting used to, but you should get the hang of it after a few matches. Anyone who’s played Halo, or other FPSs with vehicle components, should have a good idea of what’s going on already.

If the score doesn’t say it, then the review should -- Unreal Tournament 2004 is a must buy for any FPS fan, or really anyone looking for fast-paced action. The number of available play modes is sure to offer something for every taste, both online and off. Highly Recommended.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

Minimum System Requirements:



Windows 98/Me/2000/XP, PIII 1.0 Ghz (1.2 Ghz recommended, 128 MB (256 recommended), 32 Mb video card (Radeon class recommended), DirectX 9, 33 kps modem (Broadband recommended)
 

Test System:



Windows XP, Pentium 4 1.7 GHz, Radeon 9100 128 MB, 40 Gig HD, 640 MB RAM, Broadband Internet

Windows Tarzan Print Activity Center Windows Zeus: Master of Olympus

 
Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated