Review: Unreal Tournament 2004
Developer: Epic Games
Requirements: 933 MHz G4 or G5, 256 MB RAM, 32 MB AGP video card, DVD drive, 6 GB hard disk space, Mac OS X 10.2.8.
Recommended: Internet or LAN connection for online play.
Trial: Feature-limited (demo)
Anyone who has been around the computer-game scene for any amount of time knows the lineage of the first-person shooter (FPS). From its humble beginnings with Wolfenstein 3D, to the next evolution, Doom, and on to the wildly successful Quake series, the FPS has come along way. Somewhere around the time of the first Quake game, a development house called Epic Games started working on what would become the competitor to Id’s FPS juggernaut. The Unreal engine was born and with it a fresh take on what was quickly becoming a saturated market. As impressive as the single-player game was in Unreal, online-multi-player games were quickly becoming “all the rage.”
From the multi-player game in Unreal came the next evolution of the Unreal series, Unreal Tournament. Employing unique and varied maps, a variety of weapons, an impressive graphics engine, and an online experience not seen before, the original Unreal Tournament became an instant success. In fact, Unreal Tournament can still be played extensively online and is now being developed further by a volunteer group of coders to keep it up-to-date with modern hardware and operating systems. Modders, that is, people who develop modifications for games, still develop for the original Unreal Tournament on a regular basis.
It would be a number of years before the next game in the series would be released. Unreal Tournament 2003 was a quantum leap ahead of the original, both in terms of graphics and depth. The maps were much more detailed and complex, the weapons were bigger and badder, and the graphics engine was phenomenal, requiring the latest gaming rigs to get the best performance. As good as UT2003 was, it wasn’t everything the original development team had envisioned. Thus was born Unreal Tournament 2004.
Using a modified version of the UT2003 engine, Unreal Tournament 2004 is an impressive-looking game. Maps vary anywhere from the bright, oppressive wastes of a desert arena to the dark, dingy surroundings of a bombed-out city, with some forest and lush vegetation thrown in for good measure. Any landscape you can imagine, the Unreal engine seems to be capable of it. The weapon effects are impressive, with bright beams and realistic smoke trails coming from the missile weapons. The ultimate weapon, the Redeemer, returns, just as devastating as before. Another new weapon found in some of the game modes is the Target Painter. This gun allows you to “laze” a target and call in a bomber, which in turn carpet bombs the area. Make sure you are far enough away from your target, as the bombs will do just as much damage to you as your enemy.
In line with the graphics, the sound is also just as excellent. The explosions and weapon sounds are fantastic when played through a good sound system. Stereo effects come in handy when trying to figure out where you are getting shot from in a fire fight. New to UT2004 is voice-chat. Much like the communicator option with Microsoft’s Xbox Live service, voice-chat allows you to talk to teammates and trash-talk opponents without touching the keyboard. Although I don’t have an ideal set-up for such communication, I can say that the speech is recognizable and seems to be heard with little latency.
But what are excellent graphics and superior sound without game play to match? Game play is the real focus of these games, and it is obvious when playing UT2004. Controlling your warrior is quick and responsive, with default controls set up in a natural fashion and very easy to learn. The single-player game involves climbing the gaming ladder, managing your team, trading players, and making money to upgrade your team and equipment. The management section alone is quite involved and will keep fans busy for hours.
But let’s face it, if you are playing UT2004, more than likely you want to kick the ever-living stuffing out of something. The instant- action modes are enough to keep you playing for hours and hours. There are a number of different modes available this time around: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Bombing Run, Capture the Flag, Assault, Double Domination, Mutant, Last Man Standing, Invasion, and Onslaught.
The Deathmatch modes are pretty much standard fare, although the one- on-one deathmatches, carried over from UT2003, are unique, mano-a-mano matches. Not necessarily a lot of fun against the computer, but a unique experience against another human being.
Capture the Flag “captures” the spirit of team play. But if you want true team play, check out the brand new Onslaught mode.
Onslaught takes advantage of the newest, coolest feature of UT2004: vehicles. Playing on expanded maps, you become part of a team trying to dominate the map before the other team. To do so, you must activate power nodes placed around the map. The nodes are connected by node lines, which control the order in which they can be activated. Your goal is to activate the nodes leading to your opponent’s base and take out their power core. To help you to dominate the map, you have access to a number of vehicles.
They range from single-person buggies and hovercraft to multi-person tanks and the ultimate weapon, the Behemoth. This monster vehicle, included on a number of the Onslaught maps, is a sinful pleasure to take around the map. The driver controls the vehicle and a massive gun while four of your friends can load up with you and take control of the four corner guns, making the Behemoth an unstoppable game winner. Unfortunately, there are a couple of shortfalls to this mode. The massive size of the maps, while great for zooming around in vehicles, are slow to traverse if you find yourself vehicle-less and quite often make you wait at a spawn point for a vehicle to re-spawn just to get somewhere. Once you jump into a vehicle, you will quickly realize the other shortcoming of the Onslaught mode: the vehicle control. While not insurmountable, it definitely takes some getting used to. For a quick lesson in correct vehicle control, take a look at a little game I like to call Halo.
All of these modes are excellent when playing against the computer AI bots, but to get the actual experience of a game like this, especially in Onslaught mode, you need to jump online and play against actual humans. An extensive server browser built into the game gives you access to hundreds of possible matches. It’s enough to keep you playing until the wee hours of the morning.
With the recent announcement of the next Unreal Tournament, it’s nice to take a look at where we’ve been to see how far we’ve come. And, if the title is any indication (Unreal Tournament 2007), you’ll have plenty of time to fill. I can’t think of any better way to fill it than with many, many Onslaught matches with Unreal Tournament 2004.