Review by Irenic Apollyon

"Assault's back! Need I say more?"

Unreal Tournament deserves a spot in the limelight and a place in history. Not only did it topple the Quake empire, it created a new standard for video games and, more specifically, First-Person Shooters.

If you were there when they first announced the news about Unreal Tournament 2004 (UT2k4) you were probably as confused as I was. Didn't they just release UT2k3 a year before? Closer inspection of preview screenshots and trailers didn't reveal too much about the title, it was basically an upgraded version of UT2k3 though it maintained the same graphical power as its predecessor. When the product demo was released my rather low expectations were raised after giving the new Onslaught mode a test drive. However, what they had really seemed to give us was more of the same.

Now that the game has finally gone gold, and is available on retail shelves, I can say with a sigh of relief that the new additions are hardly minor. It ships with two ''new'' game modes -- Onslaught and the return of Assault from the original Unreal Tournament -- and a few new weapons, including the camper's favorite: the Sniper Rifle. Epic, the game's developers also included a huge collection of maps, including those from UT2k3 and over a hundred brand new ones. The development team apparently put the period after UT2k3's release to good use as everything brand new in this collection is of the top quality and once again raises the bar for future FPS' of its twitch-and-click nature.

After installing the game, which comes in an astounding six discs and takes up nearly 4GB of hard drive space, I booted up the game. The first thing I noticed was that the UI was greatly improved. The menu was easy to navigate through and simple to understand, a fantastic move for Epic. The first thing I tested out was the Single Player mode. Essentially you control a character and work your way up the tournament, fighting one-on-one matches and free-for-all deathmatches until you earn the right to take command of a team, which are made up of mercenaries that you can hire. This is basically more of the same, and whether that's good or bad is up to you. However, I bought this game solely for the multiplayer aspect and the fact that the single player may be a drag to some player didn't really take away too many points from my final score. I actually found the Single Player to be a blast.

Having been fairly satisfied by my Campaign experience, I decided to give the new game modes a dry run. Let me say this right off the bat about the new game modes: the Onslaught and Assault modes are a much welcome change of pace from the sea of generic FPS titles, including the slower tactical FPS' like Rainbow Six and Counter-Strike. The brand new Onslaught mode introduces a gameplay mechanic much like that in Battlefield 1942. Each team controls a base on a map, called a ''Core'', and laid out across the level are several other unclaimed territories, or ''Power Nodes''. From the start, your team must take as many empty nodes as possible. Once there are no longer any free nodes, the struggle for power over each node begins and the action really picks up. All the nodes are linked in a certain scheme and the only way to take control of an enemy node is to control the node that is linked to it. The goal is to destroy the opponent's ''Core'', which you can only do after capturing the node that it's linked to. I'm not sure if my description is explicit enough for you to grasp but download a copy of the demo and you'll get it. At this point, I realized what a lifesaver and tactical necessity my headset became as I called out orders to allies to defend the central node or take control of the node in B3. The return of Assault mode, which was a fan favorite in the Unreal Tournament was greatly appreciated by this gamer. I missed it in UT2k3 and am relieved it found its way home. For those unfamiliar with Assault mode, each map consists of two areas and two teams: the Attackers and Defenders. There is a single objective in every level that the Attackers must get to and in order to gain access to that objective they must unlock different portions of the level. The Defenders must protect each and every section of the level, preventing it from being captured and thus opening the next section to attack and ultimately the final objective. Once the Attackers have gotten the final objective, the two teams switch places and the new Attackers (who were the Defenders in the last round) must beat the game within the time set by the last round's Attackers (who are now the Defenders). The brand new maps in each mode are vast and unique and, as is standard in an Unreal Tournament title and has been standard since it's beginning, each level consists of the same high quality and artistic creativity as the last. I can only say that Epic should be proud that they have one of the single best group of map designers in the industry today.

I can't say that I'm a big fan of the sound effects in FPS titles. It's not that they are particularily bad in games of this genre, I'm just usually too preoccupied with whatever is going on around me to really pay any attention. All I can say about the rifle shots and similar audio effects UT2k4 is that they've been as good as they ever were. However, a direct comparison with those in Quake 3 has me appreciating those in UT2k4 a little more at least.

Final Word/s (Last Paragraph)
Before I go, I'll leave you with this. Unreal Tournament 2004 is such a spectacular buy, with endless replayability and such incredible variety that it's head-and-shoulders above UT2k3, which was already head-and-shoulders above the rest in its own right. The only nuisance was having to switch discs so many times (five times!) during installation, but that is the extent of my gripe. The only thing keeping me from giving this title a perfect 10 is that I'm sure the next version in the series will probably topple this one.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 04/24/04

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