Unreal Tournament 2004
Developer: Epic Games
Publisher: Atari RaptoRThe first thing that surprised me about Unreal Tournament 2004 was the sheer size of it - you could probably play Unreal II from start to finish in the time that it takes to install alone. There’s a good reason for this - UT2004 is overflowing with gaming goodness, so much so that it would take you almost a whole day of solid gaming to spend just ten minutes in each of the title’s excessively-detailed maps.While it’s great to see new official maps for the existing UT game modes, the new Assault and Onslaught modes are what everyone’s been talking about. Put simply, they’re a breath of fresh air for the UT series. UT2003 suffered from reduced longevity as a result of a lack of any ground-breaking gameplay changes over the original UT. While its predecessor concentrated on developing the existing game modes and adding variations such as Bombing Run and (eventually) Mutant and Invasion, UT2004 gives the UT series a kick in the pants, straps it into a space fighter, sets it on fire and sends it soaring off in a whole new and exciting direction. Epic have caught onto the fact that the gamers of today don’t just want the same old Deathmatch and CTF maps, they want vehicular combat in huge outdoor arenas with turrets blazing and spider mines chasing you across the landscape. This is exactly what UT2004 delivers. Onslaught successfully brings large-scale vehicular combat to the series, while the returning Assault mode is an evolution of the forgotten classic that debuted in the original Unreal Tournament. Another notable aspect of UT2004 is the way Deathmatch and CTF have returned to their UT roots. Partially thanks to the inclusion of re-makes of classic UT maps such as DM-Deck17 (successor to The Best Deathmatch Map In The World Ever™), and CTF-FaceClassic, gameplay in this area feels like a successful blend of UT and UT2003 action.UT2004 also includes a wealth of neat little features such as voice over IP, text-to-speech which works for both in-game chat and the game’s built-in IRC chat client, as well as speech-recognition bot commands and the new ‘Community’ menu, which allows players to switch between mods, download ‘0wnage’ maps and manage demos. It’s easy to overlook these features, but its these that will help the UT2004 community to grow over the coming months and years.And so we move onto the topic of eye candy. Being an Unreal title, it almost goes without saying that the graphics will be absolutely top-notch. It’s been over 18 months since the release of its predecessor, and the developers have taken full advantage of the upgrading that we’ve been doing within this period. However, this extra detail does come at a price. The new Assault and Onslaught modes put considerable strain on your hardware, and you’ll often find that a heavy vehicular scrap will cut your frame rate down to a fraction of its normal DM or CTF value. Don’t expect that box that runs UT2003 at 120 frames per second to do the same in an Onslaught fire-fight. Ideally, you’ll need at least some sort of GeForce3 or Radeon 8500 series card if you’re serious about the game. GeForce2 or lower? Forget it. Of course, UT2004 isn’t entirely without its faults. The game enables loading of all player models when loading a level by default, an option which results in achingly long load times on most machines. Also, several players have noticed that UT2004’s speech recognition feature results in stuttery mouse movement and music interruptions on many on-board sound chips. While both of these features can be disabled, this sort of thing could deter casual, less technically-minded gamers.Far from ending on a negative note, I’m going to say this: UT2004 is quite simply the best game in the Unreal Tournament series to date. If you liked the original UT, then buy it. If you liked UT2003, then buy it. If you’ve ever enjoyed any first-person shooter, buy it. You won’t regret it.