|Unreal Tournament 2004|
|Developer: Epic Games/Digital Extremes
Release Date: Out Now
I don't like seeing the year after the name of any game. It just screams 'cash in' (and nobody likes that). It shouts from the rooftops that the suits that decide which proposed games get the green light thought that it was vastly more profitable to simply whack out the same old game as last year with new rosters/maps or some other basic updates that really should be available for a modest fee online in this day and age.
There are always exceptions though - and Unreal Tournament 2004 is one of them. UT2004 goes way beyond your basic update - it contains everything from UT2003, carefully tweaked and refined, then adds in a huge number of new maps, and two new game modes (Assault and Onslaught). Ok - this might not sound like much, but Onslaught is so good that it could stand as a game in it's own right…
But before I go into any more detail here are a few of the technical things you need to know about UT2004: It comes on either a DVD, or 6 CDs, and will take up around 5.5GB on your hard drive - that's a pretty big footprint, although with hard drives as cheap as they are now I guess it doesn't matter too much. You can run the game on a modest setup (1Ghz and a 64MB graphics card from the last three years), but for all the bells, whistles and a high resolution, you'll need a much more recent rig. If you do have a good PC, then the graphics are quite lovely. It's likely they'll be superseded before long as DirectX9.0 games appear more regularly, but at the moment they're up there with the best.
UT2004 isn't online-only, but the game doesn't go to great lengths to justify itself as a single player game either. Deathmatch against bots is ok (and the bots are pretty good, able to team up well against you), but single player is best kept for getting your eye in before a big match, without the hassle of finding a server online.
Online, the game is superb. There are a multitude of match types - Deathmatch, Last Man Standing, Mutant, Domination and Capture the Flag are all fairly standard fare for an online FPS, although the superbly refined engine, and excellent net code make matches all the nicer. "Invasion" pits the players against increasingly dangerous waves of aliens - a lot of friendly fun, but the aliens look poor. Bombing Run is the same as UT2003, where each team tries to get a ball through the opposing team's goal (when you have the ball yourself, you're unarmed, although you can pass the ball to teammate) and is excellent fun. The real haymakers though, are Assault and Onslaught.
Assault pits two teams up against each other, with one attempting to complete their objectives while the other team does their best to stop them. It's compelling stuff, made all the more so by the superb vehicles that you get to use to help complete your objectives - fighters, fast hovercraft, buggies, trucks, tanks - most allow you to have a driver and one or more gunners, which is as good fun as it sounds. Think about driving a tank while your buddy mans the machine gun to beat back ground troops. Think about the sarky remarks you can make when your mate crashes a truck into a tree... Yeah, good fun.
Vehicles also appear in Onslaught, which is a new game type. Each team has a power core at either end of the (huuuuge) map, and there is a network of 'nodes' linking the two. The idea is for your team to capture nodes to connect all the way to the enemy power core, which will allow you to assault the enemy's power core itself. The nature of having to link across the field means that there is a constantly moving battlefield, and a well coordinated vehicle assault can push your team from being on the back foot, to racing across the map towards the enemy power core. Trust me, it's where you'll spend most of your time online.
As needed by a deathmatch game, the handling of movement in UT2004 is pin sharp, no vagueness here, unlike some recent FPS. All the controls are simple enough, but the ability to dodge and wall-jump using double taps of the directional keys allow for some extremely complex movements.
The game only really falls down on its sound - the weapons are nothing special for the ear, the music is best described as 'generic', and the voice announcements/taunts are uninspired, typical UT stuff. Then again, the rest of the game sets very high standards, so something had to give.
In conclusion, the game easily does enough over and above UT2003 to justify its existence, helped by the fact that Atari are offering a rebate of £7.50 if you mail in your UT2003 disc. If you didn't play UT2003, then this could well be your online game of the year in 2004... and you'll be playing it well into 2005 anyway.
- A stunning online game.
- Excellent vehicles.
- Nice graphics.
- The sound isn't really up to the same quality as the rest of the game.
- Not really for offline players.