UT2004 Review

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Game Name: Unreal Tournament 2004
Developers: Epic Games, Digital Extremes
Publisher: Atari
Review system specs:
Windows 2000 sp4
Pentium 4 @ 2.66Ghz
Radeon 9700
768MB PC2700 DDR Ram
Creative Audigy 2 w/ Dayton D3 speakers
230GB Western Digital Hard Drive

The Unreal series has always been about fast and furious action. Where other games are sneaking around using shadows and stealth tatics to keep from fighting, Unreal says "bring it on". You could say that Epic Games' motto is "a game is only as good as its gibs". So after bringing us Unreal, Unreal Tournament, Unreal Tournament2003, Unreal Championship, and Unreal 2, Unreal Tournament 2004 (UT2004)- the latest incarnation- is upon us. Like the other games in the UT series this game puts you in the shoes of a futuristic gladiator battling on strange alien worlds with sci-fi weapons.

Does it offer enough change from UT2003 to warrant another full game with a full pricetag, or is it just an upgrade pack pushed out to make a buck?


Installation and Setup
UT2004 comes on either 5 cds or 1 dvd and takes ~5GB of hard disk space. Installation was quick and painless, and the configuration menus in game were also well laid out. I have seen some games that lack graphics control options or have very difficutly configuration options, but not UT2004. You can adjust your controls, all the graphics detail levels, hud colors, crosshairs, and a myriad of other things. However the game sets these to very acceptable default levels so you can jump right in and then customize things later, once you are more comfortable with the game.

Graphics
 


Fire-fight in an assault map.

The graphics of UT2004 are very much the same as ut2003. There are some minor upgrades and bugfixes but it looks very similar. That's not to say that it looks bad, but its no Far Cry. The textures are overall very clean and detailed. Explosions, and fire effects are nicely done as well.

The UT2004 engine is primarily directx 7 with some directx 8 effects thrown in. It is starting to show it age compared to some newer directx 9 titles. For instance there is no bumpmapping, a feature that has been standard on most cards for several years. Also for an older engine it still requires quite a bit of horsepower to run. My review matchine was barely able to keep a 40+ frame rate and even dipped below 30fps sometimes when there were large amounts of action.

However overall I am quite pleased with the quality of the graphics. The player models and terrain models are well done. Animations are smooth and seemless. In short while the qraphics arn't going to take your breath away, they do the job well.


Sounds and Music
 

Being a sound technician I am very picky about sounds in games. I must say that the overall quality of the sounds impressed me. Weapon fire was crisp and clear with just the right amount of bass. Some games try to make the weapons too "boomy" but ut2004 was just fine. Explosions are detailed and I really liked the crashes and bangs when vehicles roll over and explode. I really haven't been able to find fault with any of the sound effects.

I really enjoyed the music for this game as well. The tracks are quite rich and deep, at least most of them are. I found several of them to be annoying and distracting but this is more due to personal preference than any flaws in the track. One neat feature of the game is the ability to load your mp3 or ogg music files into a playlist and use them for background music instead. A truly great idea, however there are some flaws. One, the player will restart the current track from the beginning when the level changes, and this can be rather annoying. Also the repeat and shuffle functions did not work for me which was dissapointing. A potentially great addon but needs some work. (Update: 06/17/04 The latest patch fixes some of these player bugs)

There is also an option to use voice commands to control your AI teamates. I did not get a chance to try this personally. As well there is a built in voice chat feature for talking with teamates while playing on the internet. In theory this is good but in practice it leaves a lot to be desired. Not very many people have mics or headsets and even less have them set up properly, as well some people have trouble controling their language. In the end, I just turned it off.


UT2004 has a built in music player.

 
Physics
 
Starting with UT2003 Epic Games has licensed the karma physics engine for use in its games. This I think has been a good thing. There is considerable effort that must be put into a complex physics engine and outsoucing this can help a company develop a better game faster. The Karma engine does a great job making objects fly and bounce in UT2004. Bodies make very satisfying crunches when they hit the gound and bend quite naturally. Vehicles interact with the terrain very realisticly. There is also good recoil and shock effects from the weapons. Things like boxes and barrels aren't affected by weapons fire however. I think we will have to wait for the Half Life 2 eara of games for this to become commonplace.
 
Gameplay
 
In all of the other categories we have talked about this far, UT2003 is quite similar to UT2004. It is only when we reach the gameplay category that we begin to see some significant changes. There are 6 major gametypes in UT2004: Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Assault, Onslaught, Bombing Run, and Double Domination. There are also different mutators such as InstaGib, LowGrav and others that can be applied to each gametype to make it slightly different.

Deathmatch is the staple of every fps it seems. The concept is very simple, shoot the enemy until he dies. There are variations, teamplay and other mutators to make it more fun, but it always seems that the majority of players still prefer the plain, no frills mode. There are many more standard deathmatch maps in UT2004 than there were for UT2003, and many more can be downloaded from the internet.

 

Now we come to the classic Capture the Flag (CTF) gametype. Again this is a very straightforward and well known type. 2 teams, 2 flags, one winner. You are trying to get the enemies flag back to your base at the same time as trying to make sure that the enemy doesn't make off with your flag. A well balanced game of CTF can make for a very good time. UT2004 has a wide range of CTF maps ranging from large maps for 16+ players right down to tiny 2vs2 maps. I have found most of these maps to be very well balanced and very enjoyable.


Face makes an awesome comback.

Bombing run was a new gametype introduced in UT2003. Overall it is quite fun and patterns itself after the modern game of football. You have one ball that both teams are trying to get throught the opposing team's goal. It was a good idea and well executed, but it never generated a very strong following in the unreal community. It remains the same in ut2004 as in ut2003 but there is only 1 new map for it that was not included in ut2003.


Football with weapons, what could be better?

Assault returns to the the UT2004 roster after being left out of UT2003. This is a good move for Epic since Assault had a small but vociferous following in the original UT. There are a good range of all new assault maps and having played through them all I must say that they are really well done and creative. Assault is an objective based gametype with one team attacking and the other team defending. There are series of points or actions that must be completed in sequence to complete the map. You must move through them as fast as possible at the same time as fighting off the defending team. When the map ends the 2 teams switch sides and the attackers become the defenders and visa-versa. Assault can be kind of confusing to newcomers and Epic has done their best to counter this by providing a very comprehensive heads up system to tell you what your next objective is, how to go to reach it, its health and other important things. This goes a long way to make the game enjoyable for newbies like me.


Assault has some cool space maps.

Now we come to the entirely new Onslaught type of gameplay that was introduced in UT2004. This gametype tries to bring a more strategic type of play to the Unreal community, and try to tap into the thousands of gamers who play BF1942 and Counterstrike. In Onslaught there are a serries of interconnected "nodes". You must capture one node to procede to the next. Once you have captured enough nodes to reach the enemy base, you can then destroy the enemies' power core which ends the round. There are a wide range of vehicles that you can use in Onslaught. From the mighty tank to the fast agile Manta skimmers, there is a vehicle for all tastes. Some of the vehicles can be manned by more than one player making for good teamplay opportunities. This is a blast to play online especially if you can get some friends to join in.


Vehicles make Onslaught uber-cool.

Double Domination makes a return from UT2004 as well, but there are some cool new maps. In DD your team must hold 2 capture points in the map for more than 10 seconds to score a point. This can be very difficult sometimes, especially if your team does not work together. Double Domination is probably the least played of all gametypes online even though it can be quite fun.


Blue doesn't want to give up the point

 

Single Player

The single player game consists of a series of challenges you must complete to guide your team through to the championship of the tournament. Allong the way you must pick and trade players to make your team better. You will need to play through 4 different ladders, assault, ctf, bombing run, and double dommination. Once you have beat the ladders, the final match will be open to you.


You must play though the ladder.

 
Overall impressions
 

Overall I would have to say that this is a game that is meant to be played online. Epic has done a lot of work to make the AI players as realistic as possible but there are still some major shortcomings with the "bots". Even on higher skill levels the computer controlled players leave a lot be desired. They don't guard effectively, they are predictable, they don't think ahead like a human player might. Now that's not to say that you can't have fun with them. I played through the single player campaign and enjoyed it a lot, however this game was primarily designed to be played online with human opponents.

Epic put a lot of work into making sure that online play was fun and not a hassle. Some games like Dungeon Siege, and Freelancer have online server browsing that makes you want to crawl into a little singleplayer hole and die. UT2004 is very different. The server browser is well laid out and easy to navigate. There is integrated support for IRC chat, a buddy finder and the browser shows all the necessary server stats such as ping, players, gametype and much more. You can add a server to a favorite list and automatic downloads means that you can download new mods and maps directly from the server you join.

Is this a game that is worth getting if you have never played UT before? If you are a fan of fast action, that would be a resounding YES. If you have UT2003 is it worth it to upgrade? Yes, I do think that the added maps, the new gametypes and the slightly improved engine do warrant a new game. It is also worthwhile to mention that UT2004 has a lot better support for mods than UT2003 did. I think we will see a lot more high quality mods for UT2004 than we did for 2003.

Bottom line, if you are looking for an adrenaline pumping, fast action game, this could be a great addition to your collection.

 
Score Sheet
 
Does the job well, nothing spectacular. Graphics 8/10
Almost perfect, music player doesn't work out of the box. Sound and Music 9.5/10
Karma engine works well, would like to see more object interaction. Physics 9/10
Lots of variety, but relies heavily on multiplayer. Gameplay 8.5/10
Overall Score Overall 8.75/10
 
Screenshots
 


Ion Blast.


Setting up your player account.


Anyone seen my leg?

 


The earth looks really cool.

 

Going over the edge.

 


Opening screen.

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