Unreal Tournament 2004
Developer: Epic Games
Publisher: Atari QAPeteThe Onslaught game mode is, no doubt, the biggest improvement over UT2003, but I appreciate good maps too, and UT2004 has a lot of great new map content!Rather than make this a 10 page review of each and every map, here are some comments you can pretty much spread liberally around for the whole bunch of 'em:* Beautiful, well-conceived layouts.
* Terrain work and item placement are excellent throughout.
* Plenty of bigger maps this time around, much needed and appreciated.
* 11 1v1 maps! All of them have excellent flow, and none feel 'cramped'.
* They finally fixed CTF-Face the right way. Bravo!
* Bots finally know how to play BR well enough to make things interesting.
* All of the AS maps are ridiculously detailed, simply gorgeous.
* Assault (not my favorite game mode) is much less intimidating now, with the variety of game improvements made.My particular favorites of the new crop would be, by game type:ONS-Dawn - this can be a very fast-paced level with the right players. This is not to say it's easy to win - I don't know how many times I've ended up locked down in a tight, overtime online battle in Dawn. The map is very balanced, even with the relative plethora of Goliaths. It's difficult to establish air or land superiority in Dawn, and the bases are simply packed with defensive firepower. AS-Mothership - ridiculously hard level to play online with skilled players. 'I got blisters on my fingers!' There are portions of Mothership that are fairly easy to defend with Shock Rifles, but since that applies equally both ways, it just adds to the challenge of winning a match. Playing with the Skaarj and Human Spacefighters, it made me wonder when we're going to see a 100% 'X-Wing/Tie Fighter'-type mod.BR-Serenity - the terrain work alone, right down to the tree roots, is enough to wow just about anyone. It's just too damned pretty. The layout strongly necessitates good teamwork to win online, and provides a variety of options to move that ball along. The title is as misleading as the beauty of this map, as you'll be turning Serenity into a bloodbath very quickly.CTF-FaceClassic - what other map can compare? With fixed portals, a nice bump in the middle and the new sniper rifle discouraging spawn-camping just a bit, FaceClassic is the flag bearer for all UT CTF maps. Everyone's played Face, everyone loves it (even if they don't admit it), and FaceClassic provides just enough subtle change to make it even better. Kudos! DM-1on1Albatross - cycle, cycle, cycle. Great flow here, nice terrain work and the level is gorgeous. I love maps where you can just effortlessly move through them in several different cycles, and Albatross is a great example of how to effectively use item placement, terrain and layout to make a map that is a superb test of deathmatch skill. Honestly, you just float right through this puppy.I could go on and on about all of the maps, but it all boils down to this. I enjoyed *every* new map added to UT2004. They are all '0wnage' quality, and no doubt the result of many, many hours of hard work, tweaking, testing, re-tweaking, etc. Not one 'clunker' in the bunch. Not a one. Completely, utterly satisfying!I didn't like everything about UT2004, though:First off, I'm still not a fan of the model/map scale. Models are too small. All that detail in the models, and you don't really get to enjoy them. Plus, in bigger maps (you know, the ones we all like to play), you're too often aiming at a 20x20 pixel postage stamp of a player. Let's forget realism already, ok? If I want realism, I'll play a realistic combat game. Second, it's time to replace the 2D tree limbs and leaves with full 3D models. Hasn't the game progressed to the point where realistic flora could be a reality? The 2D look of these components just appears silly anymore when you put them in the context of the overall 3D world of UT2004. Hopefully, the annoucement of SpeedTree for Unreal is the final death of 2D trees, at least. Now, onward toward fixing the other 2D terrain components!Third, I ran into some texture corruption using 'High' or more textures in D3D. It was a psycodelic look, easily repeated in the base and center sections of ONS-Dawn, and it even reared its ugly head in the HUD map in Onslaught. Setting the textures to 'Normal' or lower prevented the problem completely. I also tested a Linux installation under OpenGL, which didn't have the texture problems at all.Fourth, even with the massive amount of new content, I would have liked to see some of the original UT classics reworked into UT2004. Particularly missed, IMHO, are CTF-LavaGiant and CTF-Coret. I'd bail on the reworked and apparently BSD-ridden LavaGiant and opt for a clean port of the original, which was just about as much fun as anyone should have playing CTF. Oh, a word on Linux, before I forget. The installation was much better than in UT2003, where installing the game was almost as challenging as beating Xan or Malcolm 1v1. Frame rates were comparable (about 10% lower than Windows/D3D), but performance was not as smooth as in D3D, with more 'dropouts' than I got on the same machine in Windows. There are a couple of very nasty, drop you to your desktop critical bugs in the Linux version, which hopefully will be addressed in the first patch. Ryan Gordon is 'the man' when it comes to getting things ironed out. In general, the game is quite playable in Linux, and looks great. A big 'thank you' has to go out to Epic and Ryan for providing what is easily the best Linux game available.Overall, UT2004 is what UT2003 should have been all along. ONS is worth the price of admission alone, although I would have liked to have seen about 4-6 additional ONS maps included with the game. The vehicles handle beautifully, and great work by everyone involved in getting the bots to deal with the vehicles as well as they do. The Manta gun is a bit underpowered for my taste, as is the Raptor gun (both seem like pea shooters compared to the ground vehicles), but then again, you get the advantage of flight, so you do have some balance in a bigger sense. The music and sounds, especially the ground vehicle weapon and death sounds, add a lot to the game. Gameplay seems to be smoother, both online and offline. You feel a real sense of 'polish' in UT2004 that was lacking in the previous version. It's everywhere, hard to put your finger on sometimes, and totally effective.Weapon tweaks since UT2003 are subtle and effective as well. The shock rifle is spot-on now, the little puff of smoke given off by the sniper rifle is about perfect.... little things that mean better weapon balance overall. Good job here.Hey, don't forget the mutators, ok? UT2004 has more than 25 of them, including:

  • Big Wheels - wheels on vehicles you're using get bigger the better you're doing
  • Species Statistics - the different species in the game have different combat statistics
  • Onslaught Weapons - use some of the Onslaught Weapons in other gametypes
  • Lightweight Vehicles - vehicles move farther when you hit them
  • Bonus Combos - Adds the Pint-Sized and Camoflage adrenaline combos
  • Vehicle Arena - turn all of the vehicles in the level to the one you specify. Unfortunately, you don't get to pick the Leviathan, or the Human/Skaarj spacefighters.

I went over a year without playing a single game of UT2003 online. There's no way I'll do the same in UT2004. They've finally hit the sweet spot here with ONS, better maps and more polished gameplay, and while I don't think AS or BR will make the cut to being 'classic' gametypes, they have been significantly improved as well for this version of the game.