Review by purXtaC

Reviewed: 05/28/04

Meet the New King

A New Champion Takes the Title

Let us get the introductions out of the way first, because no matter how good a game is, someone is always going to hate it—sometimes, for all the wrong reasons. And that’s alright, because any one certain game cannot appeal to everyone at the same time. But anyway, let’s begin by answering these four questions:

A)Which do you prefer: futuristic or realistic first-person shooters?
B)Do you enjoy fast-paced games where you’re always a part of the action, or do you prefer games where you sit back a whole lot more, with more time to unwind and relax?
C)Do you have a fairly high end computer? (Remember that the definition of high-end computers changes every time new hardware is released)
D)Do you have Broadband Internet?

These are the basic questions which you’ll have to ask yourself before you actually commit yourself to a purchase of Unreal Tournament 2004, commonly referred to as UT2K4. If you haven’t done any research of the game before hastily making a purchase, you might end up not enjoying the title—and that would be a damn shame.

One of the primary complaints of people who’ve bought this game and hate it is that the game runs horribly on their system. In today’s day and age, the recommended specs for PC games are way higher than what a surprising proportion of gamers can afford or would care to have. For example, I’m running the game on a Pentium 4 1.6 GHZ, a ti4200 64mb, 512mb system. I’m a high school student after all, not a paid video game reviewer—so if I had the cash, I would definitely upgrade my system. But anyway, In order for the game to run without any slowness or choppiness (on a decent 1024x768 resolution), I am forced to turn the game down to the lowest settings for everything, and I mean everything. It still doesn’t look too horrible and it’s at the very least playable. But I’ve got to say right now that a lot of people do not even have a computer system comparable to mine, let alone one that could run the game properly.

That being said, there’s no excuse to downgrade the game score just because it’s so demanding on the computer system. The logic works in the other way actually—the game is so great simply because it’s so demanding. Having it take up five and a half gigs of space on the hard drive and draining a lot of your video card, processor, and memory is definitely worth it once you’re in the middle of a match. You’ll notice that the game runs and plays as beautifully as it looks if you’ve got a high-end computer gaming system. But that’s my message to anyone considering a purchase, right here and now: make sure that you have at least the required specs on your computer. If you can, try to reach those elusive recommended specs. Please don’t end up like my friend who ended up selling his copy because his three year old laptop couldn’t handle the menu screen, and consequently froze and crashed his system. You won’t find UT2K4 on the Xbox or the PS2 or the Game-Cube; you need a good, perhaps costly, computer, and you definitely need Broadband internet to experience little to no lag, and that’s the truth.

Okay, so provided that your computer is pretty good and can run the game well, you might have some complaints about the game-play. You’ll notice that everyone is flying around, flipping, and shooting you at the same time, and all the while you’re trying to figure out how to pull out a weapon. I’ll admit that I played the demo before I purchased the game, which actually eased the purchasing process a lot; once I played the demo, I did not hesitate for a moment to order myself a copy. Newcomers to the game might find adjusting to the game initially difficult because the game is very, very, very fast. In order to survive, you’ll literally be tapping your left hand on the W,S,A,D keys constantly in order to dodge, strafe, double jump etc. to avoid getting shot. You’ll be complementing your movements using your right hand, with the same amount of effort of the left hand, for the mouse. Seems simple doesn’t it? Well, not for everyone. Just like trigonometry, some people find it easy, and some people want to wipe its very existence from the face of the earth. Some people just don’t like all the work required moving around trying to hit the opponent. And so, I say this once more: the game is very fast paced, and the game-play is not “realistic” because of all the maneuvers employed to avoid getting hit. So I stress this: play the demo if you haven’t already. If you enjoy the demo, then you’ll love the game. If you don’t—well, you just saved yourself some time and money right?

But even skeptic “noobs” who give the game a chance will learn the many ways to play the game. I was a noob once. New players, after time, will eventually become skilled players, and that’s where all of the fun really factors in; if you know what you’re doing and are playing people who are at your skill level, then you’ll definitely have a good time. And the better you become at the game, the more satisfying the experience will be.

The game offers a single player mode where the player can play matches against the computer, learn about the different stages and modes through experience, fiddle around with the difficulty, and get some well needed practice. Unfortunately, the game was pushed out onto the market just a tad too prematurely, and there a minor bugs and issues. Upon completion of the single player mode, secret characters are supposed to become unlocked. The developers are still supposedly working on a patch (as of 5/27/2004) that will fix this issue. Also, the skill level of the final boss in the single player mode seems to be the same on the easy difficulties as on the hard ones, and that difficulty is close to unbeatable. Nevertheless, the friendly people of the UT2K4 GameFaqs forums have devised loopholes to these two conspicuous problems, and they are simple to fix—perhaps someone will write FAQ on how to resolve these issues sooner or later. But the problems shouldn’t have been there in the first place anyway; they’re just plain annoying.

The single player mode is decent enough, but UT2K4 earns its rightful title as hands down “Best First Person Shooter to Date” from its multiplayer component. The world is your oyster; pick a game mode, find a server, and start blasting away. Playing against skilled real life opponents can exponentially increase your own skill level, requiring you to devote more energy, time, and strategy to your play than you would use playing against computer controlled bots. On the internet servers, you’ll meet new people, possibly make some friends, get invites to clans, and definitely get involved in the game. That may be a good thing or a bad thing, because I’m sure I’ve played this game at times when I should’ve been doing work. Oh well. =(

Just one minor note: statistics tracking for online games was originally enabled after the game’s initial release, but has been disabled for quite some time now. According to the developers (5/10/2004), they are working hard to fix the issue. When enabled, players would be able to compare themselves to each other and see how far up the ladder they are. They’ll be able to recognize just what kind of competition this game elicits. Me? I just play for fun. If I can become a great in the process, then all the better for me. But that’s probably never going to happen.

But anyhow, video games are designed to leech the time and life out of players, and UT2K4 does a great job at that. You’ll never get bored of it. There’s a great multitude of modes for players to try out, and once you find which ones you prefer, you’ll stick with them and master the elusive art of “owning.” Some examples of game modes include your standard Death-match, which involves a timed round of killing everyone else or killing the other team if it’s team Death-match—it’s a great mode to practice with different weapons, as they are scattered throughout the stages, which forces you to utilize whatever weapons you have at the moment, be it shield gun or rocket launcher. Other game modes include: Bombing Run, a futuristic football like game, with weapons of course, Capture the Flag, a team classic, Onslaught, the favorite of most UT2K4 players, which involves massive levels traversed by a variety of air and ground vehicles, and Assault, my personal favorite, which is an objective driven fast paced slaughter-fest.

Now, going into greater detail about the weapons could take paragraphs and paragraphs, but I’ll try to be brief. If you’ve played Unreal Tournament 2003 (UT2K3) before, you’ll recognize a lot of the weapons. If not, you’ll have to get adjusted to the way they work. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, and even though I’ve been playing for over a month, I’ve yet to master all of them. There’s a gun to appease everyone though: the rapid fire but weak mini-gun, the slow but powerful flak-gun, the strategy driven link gun, the scoped sniper rifle and its distant cousin lightning gun (more powerful sniper rifle), and for the people who just love explosions, a triple barrel rocket launcher capable of firing up to three homing rockets for creating ultimate damage. Those are just some of the guns readily available, and they each have primary and secondary fires. You’ll have to decide, depending on your situation, which gun and which mode you’re going to use. Can someone say pain?

It’s not just the weapons in the game that make everything fun either. Depending on the stages that you’re playing in, there might be various turrets, cannons, super weapons or vehicles that you can use to aid in your fight against—whoever you’re fighting. The super weapons include the redeemer, a remote controlled miniature nuclear missile and the target painter, a remote single that sends an air bomber to drop missiles on the specified target. The ion cannon is a weapon utilized in Robot Factory, an assault stage, which allows the player manning it to fire a huge beam of obliterating beam of purple pulse that sends anyone within its blast radius to kingdom come. There are two types of turrets: mini-gun and link. Like their regular weapon brothers, the turrets share similar functions, except that the turrets are much more powerful and boast exceeded range. You’ll almost always see players fighting to get into the turrets because of those reasons. Finally, vehicles are utilized in so many first person shooters, such as Halo. But UT2K4 offers an excellent variety of vehicles suitable for all players’ tastes: if you’re one of those speed freaks, you’ll enjoy running people over in the super fast manta, if you’re a scout, you’ll enjoy the aerial raptor, and if you’re a power person, you can grab a goliath tank and send people flying with your shells. The sky’s the limit; you’ll find that your tastes will be satisfied no matter who you are.

You’re going to die plenty of times during a round—but the trick is to complete your objectives and kill lots of people, in addition to dying. That’s right, death is inevitable, but you have to make sure that you’re actually doing something useful, whether it’s helping your team complete the objectives or keeping your kill ratio well above your own death ratio. No one likes a useless player, especially not in a crowded server. Everything is clearly viewable in your user display, which is customizable to your preferences. You’ll be able to find your weapons, health, armor etc. clearly shown on the screen along with any player chat messages to the bottom left side. Your in-game performance, e.g. score and objectives completed, is easily found by both you and your teammates. You can always fiddle around with the settings to maximize your performance. It might seem a little tedious at first, but you won’t regret it. The menu is your friend. Use it, and enjoy the game.

Regarding the audio and visual qualities of the game, I once again must note that it really depends on your computer system. But even though I’ve got everything set on low, the game looks and sounds great. Not to mention that the music is customizable, and with a little tweaking here and there on a piece of crap system, you can really boost your comp’s performance to play on higher graphical settings. Really, it’s indescribable; the game is something that you definitely must see and hear for yourself.

Already, the packaged game itself is well worth the price that you pay for it, but included is the Unreal Editor which allows players or game designers with lots of free time to create levels or modify character models. Already flooding the internet are UT2K4 fan based sites that have mod packs which offer a unique gaming experience not found anywhere else. That’s right, there’s never any getting tired of the game, simply because dedicated people out there are always creating new ways to play. Even Blood Gulch, a favorite multiplayer stage from Halo, has been created by an Unreal fan to be utilized as an Onslaught stage. There are seemingly no bounds or limits. UT2K4 really knows how to satisfy its players, and the developers really did a great job.

I did mention a few problems earlier, like the stats tracking and the somewhat faulty single player, but they are superficial at most, and shouldn’t influence your purchase decision at all. If you play the demo and enjoy the game, then run out and pick up a copy. If you haven’t played the demo, I suggest that you do so immediately. There are just so many things to do with this game; you’ll never get bored—at least, until the next title in the series emerges. This is something that I tell all my friends: at this point in time, if you haven’t played UT2K4 yet, you really, really don’t know what you’re missing. So off I go now, for my team needs me.

This is clearly the best game that I’ve played in a long time. Worthy of a perfect 10.

Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

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