This month of March has been truly awesome for action gamers. We’ve had games like The Suffering, Battlefield: Vietnam, FarCry, Unreal Tournament 2004, and probably a bunch more that’s worth mentioning. We’ve had our more or less dry months after Christmas, but all that’s over now. Today we look at Unreal Tournament 2004, the third game in the Unreal Tournament series. While it may look and sound much like Unreal Tournament 2003 in terms of graphical effects and such, quite a few new and extremely well done features are added.
Unreal Tournament 2003 deviated a bit from the original Unreal Tournament formula by going more towards a “wrestling” feel, to quote the developers themselves. The game got varied responses from the fans because of this, but this time things are different. You could say that Unreal Tournament 2004 takes the best aspects of the first and the second game, and throws in a host of drivable and flyable crafts, and much more.
If you for some reason don’t feel like playing online you still have some pretty decent options. Single Player lets you enter a tournament where you begin by fighting against various other warriors. By winning you earn credits, which become very useful as you begin shaping your team. Provided you win enough matches you’ll become the team’s captain, meaning you hire and fire team members, and manage fairly basic team related things. The people you hire for your team have various statistics regarding things like accuracy, tactics and so on. The more they cost the better they tend to be, but when shaping your team you can also take into account things like preferred weapon and more. If you don’t feel like managing all that much then you should be glad to know that a lot can be automated. Of course, the goal behind all this is to basically reach the top of the ladder. On the way you’ll run into a number of surprises, one on one duels, and fight warriors of increasing skill. As the matches become more and more difficult the payout also improves, allowing you to constantly reshape your team.
The second thing you can do offline is starting an Instant Action game. The Assault mode, seen in the original Unreal Tournament has returned and is just as entertaining. Famous scenarios are recreated, where one team is the attacker, and one team is the defender. The attackers usually have to blow up or enable/disable various things to progress towards the main goal. The defenders obviously have to try their best to stop this. Next up is Onslaught, which is the definitive online favorite so far. Here two teams fight against each other, trying to control various power nodes. By getting control of certain connecting power nodes you can attack the opponent’s power core, and by blowing this up you win. However, once a power node is obtained the other team can blow it up, and make it their own again. This can go back and forth, but what makes it so much fun is that you can use a number of vehicles. Running around can be fun in a way, but much less so when you’ve tried racing around in some of the things you find in UT2004. You can for instance get the Manta, a quick hovering vehicle which can jump and turn enemies into a pulp very quickly. You also have the Raptor, which can fly, shoot homing missiles, and shoot gobs of laser. Next is the Goliath, a pretty powerful tank, which can annihilate most other things on the ground. The Goliath can for instance get harassed by Raptors, since it can’t hit them. However, many vehicles can hold several passengers, and if a second person hops into a Goliath tank then he can use a reasonably powerful machinegun, which can typically get rid of things in the air. Even though there are plenty more I’ll finish the examples by mentioning the biggest of them all; the Leviathan. This huge thing can hold a medium sized team, shoots homing gobs of laser, rips away Goliaths in seconds, and can withstand a LOT of fire. All these vehicles have excellent control, and even though the physics sometimes “help” you too much it’s still a ton of fun in multiplayer. There’s plenty of depth to this aspect of the game, which is especially cool if you’re growing a bit bored with the deathmatch modes you find in any other shooter.
The next mode is Deathmatch, which needs no introduction. The same goes for Team Deathmatch. Capture the Flag is also fairly self-explanatory. In Double Domination two teams fight to control two points at a time, for ten seconds. By doing this you earn points, and the team with the most wins the match. In Bombing Run two teams fight over a “ball” if you will. When a player picks it up he or she should try to get to the opposing team’s base, where you put the “ball” into a hole, scoring your team a goal. When you’re carrying this ball you can’t use your weapons, so instead you either use a shield, or pass the ball. If you run into, for instance a single enemy, then you can pass him the ball, and blast him away the next second.
Mutant is another weird mode where you play in a deathmatch of sorts. The first person who scores a frag becomes the mutant, someone with superhuman powers. The person who kills the mutant becomes him. However, only the mutant and the person with the lowest score can kill other non-mutant players, so I’m sure you can imagine the chaos.
Invasion may very well be even stranger. Here a team of players fight against an ever-growing invasion of insects and monsters. This can get quite challenging once you’ve played for a bit. The final mode is Last Man Standing. In this mode you can only die a small number of times, and the last person who ends up alive wins. It’s as simple as that.
There are no less than seventeen weapons in the game, if you include the translocator. The sniper rifle has returned, to the delight of a lot of people who love the sound of “Headshot!” You also have many of the same weapons you’ve used in the previous games, like the redeemer, the shock rifle, the shield gun, and much more. A new addition is the spider gun, which launches exploding homing spiders, which are very effective against both people and vehicles. In many of the game’s 100 maps you only get to use some of these, but for the most part they’re no less than great. Nothing compares to the railgun seen in Quake 3, but that’s okay.
Graphically the game looks very nice. Even though the engine hasn’t been massively enhanced this time around it still looks very good. What’s probably the most impressive thing in terms of graphics is the amount of content, which is nothing less than mind-numbing. The game does take up A LOT of space, but that’s because of the insane amount of maps, and the stupendous amount of textures. All the models are great, the level design is mostly awesome, the special effects are great as well, and it all runs incredibly well almost regardless of what hardware you use. There’s even a software rendering mode included, so laptop users in particular (often with a fast CPU, but very slow 3D accelerator) can play the game without much hassle. Even though Unreal Tournament 2004 isn’t technically superior to some other titles it still does extremely well in presentation.
The audio is also very much adequate. The sound effects are very good, but the music may not be as rich as the rest of the game. Most of it is electronica of various forms and shapes, all of which sound about as “Unreal Tournament-esque” as they always have. The taunts are, as expected, still present. Fortunately they’re not quite as annoying as they used to be, especially playing over the Internet. On the other hand, this time a lot of people use microphones for communication, so the smack talk can be as serious and personal as you want it to be. Various other more or less weird features, such as text-to-speech is also included, but I don’t expect them to be used all that much.
Beyond all of this there’s also an excellent editor, and a whole host of video tutorials regarding mod making, courtesy of 3dbuzz.com. I’m sure there are a huge number of mods already being worked on. Epic has been truly great at working with the community, helping it out, and working to raise the standard. If you’ve ever wanted to create game content then the extra stuff that’s on the DVD will teach you pretty much everything you need to know.
If you want “twitch action” then this really is it. Unreal Tournament 2004 has an insane amount of content, and should provide more solid entertainment than the majority of what you’ll find at the game store right now.