Unreal Tournament 2004
Unreal Tournament 2004 is the latest online first person multiplayer iteration based on Epic’s Unreal engine and is developed by Digital Extremes. It combines fast-paced action with… fast- paced action. Let’s see whether it’s worth the money you’ve worked so hard for.
A couple of years ago there were three games that roamed the internet: Quake 3: Arena, Unreal Tournament and Half-Life: Counter-Strike. In general, the Quakers found themselves to be the ultimate hardcore gamers, Unreal Tournament was for the lesser gods and Counter-Strike was for cheaters and poor bastards who couldn’t afford a decent computer (which probably was one of the reasons so many people played it). Beware, this is the opinion of the Quake-lovers at that time and I personally found Unreal Tournament to be a better game with more possibilities and features than Quake 3 although I did like the physics of Quake 3 more.
I didn’t play Unreal Tournament 2003 but now that version 2004 made it onto store shelves, I was interested in taking a look at what changed between the time I played Q3 and now.
The first thing I noticed was that the physics of Unreal Tournament are almost exactly the same as those of Quake 3: Arena. If I didn’t know better, I would think the game was using ID Software’s Quake 3 engine. The tutorial makes it even more confusing to know which game you are playing as almost every trick from Quake (except for strafe-jumping to go faster) is implemented and you’re even advised to use them ! Double-jumping is a tactic that isn’t just present but Digital Extremes even encourages you to use it and have made it easy to do so. You can’t only use the double-jump to get on higher ground but jumping twice will at any time help you get forward faster and everything in Unreal Tournament now seems to be pointed towards frantic multiplayer action at high speed, even more than it ever was.
Forget about carefully sniping, camping, crawling or dodging. UT2004 is about double-jumping, blasting, running and of course accurate aiming, all mixed together in a sauce of adrenaline-pumping battles.
The graphics are, as we’ve become to expect from the Unreal engine, very good. Bright and shiny colors with lots of effects. There’s wide area’s to wander around where you’ll have to look out for snipers while on the other hand there’s tight hallways where you’ll have to quickly get through to make sure you’re not ambushed or caught in a crossfire. All that at acceptable framerates and even my current system which is an Athlon 1.4Ghz with GeForce Ti4600 managed to easily show all details at 1024*768 without slowing down too much. This clearly shows how well the Unreal engine is programmed as even lower computers can enjoy the game to the (almost) fullest.
The music and sound effects are technically well implemented and if you have a surround system you’ll exactly know where the action is going on. Everything sounds futuristic but that’s also one of the main problems with the sound. It’s like Digital Extremes are living in the seventees and have just disovered the synthesizer. You’ll rather think you’re using some kind of toy weapon than an automatic machine gun. Also the idea of having bullets flying around your head like with f.i. Call of Duty can be forgotten as this isn’t implemented. The sound is nice but doesn’t really create extra tention.
The available game modes are pretty decent. In single player there’s Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Bombing Run and Assault (which apparantly wasn’t present in 2003). Before the actual tournament begins, you need to get a team together and work your way through the qualification rounds. This means you’ll first have to do some plain Deathmatch to proove yourself to your team after which you have to fight some minor teams to get into the real tournament.
Once you’ve done that, you start off in the Team Deathmatch competition and after you’ve won a couple of matches, Capture the Flag mode will be unlocked. Of course, to win the tournament, all four modes need to be completed.
In between tournament matches you can challenge other teams, either for money or for one of their teammates. “Money ?”, you may ask. Yes, money. You can use it to buy new, maybe better, team mates and you definitely need it to get your crew to fight along with you as they don’t battle for free.
Other modes included are Onslaught, Double Domination, Mutant, Invasion and of course in challenges you can fight in Instagib mode. We’ve seen them all before so there isn’t anything really new compared to previous versions (although not all previous versions contained all modes)
What is new are the vehicles. In UT2004 you’ll be able to drive around with vehicles or use strategically placed weapons. Tanks, jeeps, helicopters, space ships, … all are present and moulded in a futuristic look. Once you enter a vehicle you’ll also skip from first person view to third person and your handling will be much like in Halo. Digital Extremes gives the impression to have been looking around very well to take the good parts of different games and add those into Unreal Tournament.
The maps provided with the game include many updated versions of ones we’ve seen in previous Unreal games and bonus packs but also a couple of new ones. Overall they are very varied and extremely well-made for multiplayer action.
There’s four new weapons in UT2004: the AVRIL which is a rocket launcher that shoots homing missiles and handles a lot like Quake 2’s rocket launcher, the grenade launcher and the Mine Layer which shoots off mobile spider mines (really funny). Last up is the sniper rifle which is extremely useful in the large maps for capture the flag. It will earn you quite some headshot-awards
The AI of the bots is reasonable but not extraordinary. They can give you a nice game in single player when it comes to straight-up fights but in tactics they really suck. There’s a capture the flag map where you can close the entrances of the flag room and if you do so, they will have no idea what to do next and just keep running around like chicken without a head. Pushing or jumping on a button to open a door isn’t in their programming it seems.
Of course, that isn’t really a huge problem as this game is intended to be played online rather than offline. There’s quite a bunch of servers available so finding one with a decent ping for you shouldn’t be a problem and the in-game server browser is pretty decent aswell.
All in all, Unreal Tournament leaves me with mixed feelings. On one hand everything is technically very well implemented. Everything I liked in Quake 3 is implemented, the physics are great, there’s a huge choice in weaponry, vehicles are present to be used and there’s a whole shitload of maps to be played which is really great.
On the other hand, the sound doesn’t really convince and things are so targeted towards frantic action that it didn’t really grab and could keep me interested. Everything feels superficial and although I’m sure tactics are necessary for clan wars, the game doesn’t give you the “feel” they are. It’s extremely hard for me to explain this feeling but I think it has to do with the lack of realism. Of course, a game like Unreal Tournament which is placed in the distant future can hardly be called realistic but what I mean to say with “realism” is the feeling that real lasers are being shot at you, that real bullets are flying around your ears, that you’re really killing aliens, etc etc etc. And that’s what’s missing here. You get the feeling you’re playing a game with plastic characters and toy guns.
I’m sure lovers of Unreal Tournament will enjoy UT2004 as it’s got everything all previous versions had combined with some of the best elements of several other games but if you’re looking for something original that has a bit more to it you’d better start looking elsewhere and then I’m thinking in the direction of Call of Duty, Battlefield, or – if you can wait – Half-Life 2 or Doom 3