Review by Beldin

Reviewed: 03/31/04

Great but not quite perfect!

Unreal Tournament 2003 upgraded the award winning series graphics but lost the personality that made the original tournament great. 2004's edition is everthing 2003 could and should have been!

Story: Not the strong point of the series, nonetheless one is included anyways and adds a bit to the overall feel. Essentially you are a competitor in the ultimate game of life and death. You must prove your worth in the tournament and then lead a team of computer controlled bots against a ladder full of fairly intelligent opponents. Not much of a story compared to the deeper offerings of Halo and Jedi Academy but it'll do.

Gameplay: Drink coffee and Mountain Dew cause you're gonna need the caffeine to keep up with the lightning fast gameplay of the UT series. Fans of FPS games will feel perfectly at home with pinpoint accuracy and perfectly balanced weapon sets. Frag and be fragged! Deathmatch, Capture the Flag and several other standard game modes return and feel polished. Of course everything hinged on the inclusion of vehicles to the series and the new game mode Onslaught. Essentially Onslaught is and upgraded mix of CTF and Assault game modes. Two teams with opposing bases and power cores in those bases. Scattered accross the intervening space are power nodes which must be captured for your team(walk across the glowing base and then use the Link gun to power the node) and linked together until the enemy power core is vulnerable. A handy onscreen map in the upper left hand portion of the screen keeps you appraised of the status of all the nodes in the map. Once the power core is exposed and destroyed, the attacking team wins the point. This style of game creates great back and forth power struggles as nodes are gained and lost.

The vehicles deserve thier own paragraph as they are very well thought out but maybe not perfectly implemented. They range from fast attack hovercrafts to the slow moving powerful behemoth tanks to the quick flying planes. Driving is complicated at first but becomes second nature after an hour or so. The vehicle accelerates by pressing the forward key and turns by pressing the strafe left and right keys. You are free to look around without turning by using the mouse. In the case of the Raptor(the flying vehicle) you go up by pressing the jump button and go down by pressing the crouch button. It really does become second nature very quickly. The only problems seem to be how the vehicles accelerate, slow down and interact with the different maps. Getting the faster vehicles to stop isn't always a perfect science, creating some tense and aggravating moments. The vehicles can and will get stuck on different parts of the maps or react in a strange way to the ground you're on. For those use to the almost perfect physics engine in Halo, this can be frustrating. But overall the engine does a very admirable job espescially considering this was all done in a one year period. And the aggravations are totally outpaces by the sever addicitveness of the gameplay.

Assault game mode is back as well. This modes abscence from 2k3 disappointed many fans of the series and hurt the games life span overall. It's back with a vengence. You and your teamates start a mission on either offense or defense. Your objectives are laid out from the start by the nicely voiced english accented announcer. Your objectives are always easy to keep up with as a text list in the upper right hand portion of the screen and a very nice glowing arrow trail directing you where to go. You play through the scenario twice, once for offense and defense and try to beat the time of the other team.

Graphics: While not a total overhaul from 2k3 the graphics have changed substantially in terms of loading huge maps and the all new vehicles. They're all beautifully rendered in the warfare engine and you will catch yourself staring at shiny pools of moving water or passing clouds. Of course a second or two later your gibbed from a passer-by with a flak cannon, but hey it looked great right?! Turning the graphics options all the way up is definately only reccomended for hoss graphics systems. I'm running a 2.5 p4, 1gb ddr, and a Radeon 9700pro and I don't get the amazing framerates I got in 2k3, but my rig still handles it pretty well. I play with the graphics pumped and love every second of it! But don't worry if your specs aren't as good as mine, there are plenty of graphics options to play with and I'm sure it runs just fine on a moderate system.

Sound: Level music is a huge improvement from 2k3's weak soundtrack. There is more variety than your standard rock techno fare of the predecessor. One gigantic Onslaught map sports a very epic orchestra peice that really creates a majestic atmosphere for that level. Sound effects are pretty standard and classic as far as UT is concerned. The all new inclusion of built in voice/headset support is very impressive! After one training session in Windows, I was ordering around my bots ingame with no problems. It can be annoying at times when playing online and someone decides to sing or make the game his personal ranting arena. But it is fun to communicate vocally instead of typing my messages to teammates in the heat of battle.

Conclusion: I love this game. I purchased the special edition with included headset and I derive a special sadistic pleasure ordering my bots to dance on their victims corpse! I can see how the game may eventually become boring, but with the support of the massive online modding community and Epic's legendary patch updates, I'm not worried. So if you're interested at all then get out there and buy it. I guarantee you won't be disappointed at all!

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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