On May 5th, 2002 we previewed an early build of Unreal Tournament 2003, the successor to 1999's wildly popular Unreal Tournament. Unreal Tournament 2003 sold very well, but found much of its online population dwindle off for a number of reasons. Part of the departing players went to other games that featured new ideas such as mass vehicular combat, while another group staunchly refused to budge from Unreal Tournament, stating that the new game was too different.

If UT2003 was about bringing Unreal Tournament to the renovated Unreal Engine, adding a console/combo-heavy flair, Unreal Tournament 2004 is about returning to its roots while at the same time bringing Unreal to a newly created large-scale vehicle-oriented crowd. Psyonix Studios approached Epic Games with the Onslaught concept, which turned out to be a perfect fit for the new direction Unreal Tournament was taking. Together with Digital Extremes, they teamed up with Scion Studios, Streamline Studios, and a handful of contracted talent to turn Unreal Tournament 2004 into a full scale game, doubling the content.

Early previews brought in a great buzz from media and fans alike. Videos and screenshots looked promising. Could Epic Games and Digital Extremes, pull off a move to middle ground while drawing in a new demographic? My fellow editors and I have a look.

February 11, 2004, saw the Unreal Tournament 2004 demo released into our eagerly awaiting (though healthily skeptical) hands. Forums and IRC channels were ablaze with overwhelmingly positive feedback. The 210 MB demo was on our hard drives at last.

Audio & Video

There weren't a lot of drastic rendering changes from Unreal Tournament 2003 to Unreal Tournament 2004 so, as you'd expect, there aren't a lot of differences in this department. The engine code was optimized, however, so chances are the game will run a little better for everyone. Dozens of options are available to turn the level of detail way up or way down. Graphically speaking, Unreal Tournament 2004 is still one of the most cutting edge first person shooters around. Note that the demo version does not allow detail above the "Normal" setting.

One of the first things you will notice when firing up the UT2004.exe is the new menu music; a remix of the original Unreal Tournament music. Kind of nostalgic and definitely a nod and a wink at those players who never left Unreal Tournament behind. The music in the demo maps seems to be a more upbeat techno/military march mix compared to some of UT2003's more atmospheric selections.

One oddity, and I am uncertain whether or not it is my audio drivers, is that many of the weapon/pickup sounds are muted. This needs to be addressed before the game goes gold. The weapon firing sounds seem to be mostly the same, the notable exception being the ShockRifle which has more a gun-like "pop" and less laser-like "twing". All in all slight improvement on already generally good sounds.

Roger, Delta! The greatest leap in audio technology is the built in VOIP (voice over IP) capability. Players armed with a mic can issue voice commands and responses leaving your hands free and encouraging communication. When you join a server, you automatically join a team and public VOIP channel, making the whole process pretty much effortless. What's more is you can issue specific commands to bots simply by speaking to them! Dance, everyone, dance! No mic? No problem. You can still bind a large number of pre-recorded commands, affirmations, and insults to any key, or you can take advantage of the text to speech feature. Type in a word and listen as the word is spoken in creepy computer voice, reminiscent of South Park's Ned's electro-larynx. MmmmmGetOurFlagBackmmmmmmm. An unprecedented amount of communication features.

  • Raffi_B: Graphically, UT2004 is one of the most stunning games I’ve played. It seems that Epic has been working heavily on atmosphere and theme, the two most important things when it comes to making a level look good, in my opinion. DM-Rankin oozes with these two, but hey, what do you expect from Hourences.

    The music was great. Much better than UT2003. The new weapon sounds are mostly really good, in exception of the lightning gun switch/pickup sound and the sniper rifle firing sound. These two sounded really faint and weak, and I think they should be beefed up before release.

  • Zenny: I am using the same settings as UT2003 for my Video, and yet in UT2004 I get almost no stuttering while in UT2003 is stutters about every few minutes or so. This small improvement has made the game almost 100 times more enjoyable. The music in the maps puts you into the Unreal mood. In fact, the music to DM-Rankin is some of the best in-game music I have ever heard.

  • .altan: UT2004's sexy side hasn't improved very much since UT2003, but there is a certain improvement - notably, in what little music we have heard so far. The menu music brought with it a smile to every UT fan's face, and DM-Rankin's music sounded like a classic UT track melded with the modern sound of UT2003 music. While the in-game sounds are a slight improvement over UT2003's as well (disregarding the highly annoying Goliath minigun sample), I must agree that they are far too weak for such a fast-paced, action-packed game as UT2004.


Menu Screen Another hot topic among long-time Unreal fans was the classic Unreal Tournament interface that was so popular. UT featured a Windows-like interface with layers of options, while Unreal Tournament 2003 had a slicker, more console-like GUI. Proponents of both styles should be pleased with the latest menu system as it seems to be a happy mix of both. The Unreal Tournament 2004 menu is most definitely more customizable and fully featured than the previous edition. Settings are available for everything from bot lists and gametype HUDs to custom crosshairs for each weapon. Most things can be scaled and colored to your liking.

The main menu features a random character as well as a random shot in an inset window. The loading screens also alternate and feature random tips for new players. The whole menu is full of small niceties like this that make it a pleasant place to do your business before a match.

The Community menu helps point players toward select maps and mods, provides an in-game IRC chat client, and a demo manager (though much of this tab is not functioning in the demo). Very nice for getting people immersed in all that the Unreal community has to offer.

The player HUD has been simplified and is also highly customizable. You'll find the standard HUD, as well as slightly modified, individually customizable HUDs for Assault and Onslaught.

  • Raffi_B: The UT2004 interface has received a gigantic facelift, and I think it is an enormous improvement over UT2003’s interface. Although the general layout remains the same, the new font and color scheme is very visually appealing. Overall, the interface seems really slick and smooth, while still remaining efficient and accessible.

  • Zenny: The GUI is very bright and clashy, but at the same time has this "mindless" feeling to it. It really helps to get you into the mood for some fragging. The only complaint I have against the new GUI is that some of the settings are hard to find and a bit annoying to remember where they are. UT2003 had a better settings menu, but UT2004's GUI is lightyears ahead of the UT2003 version.

  • .altan: I've got to agree with Zenny. The new menu does feel really energetic and puts you in the fragging mood. However, I don't feel that it uses UWindows to the extent that it could have - multitasking, one of the prime merits of UWindows, is still nonexistent.

  • Sparky: The Graphical User Interface has been given some loving, and to a point I like it. Compared to Unreal Tournament 2003 it’s a godsend, but I can’t help but feel a little let down. It’s extremely cluttered, too colorful (Mainly in regards to the loading screens), dull in areas, inconsistent and not to mention just downright ugly in sections. I’m not going to sit here and preach, Epic knows how I feel and I doubt that’ll have any effect on the situation.

    The Heads Up Display (HUD) has also received an extreme makeover. Unreal Tournament 2004’s HUD is more simplistic, but at the same time it still manages to look a lot nicer than that of last years game. Highlights of this incarnation would have to be the colored weapon icons, hit chevrons, and ammo bars, which you can actually see this time around. Oh, and not to forget you can actually use an RGB pallet to customize the color, how cool’s that? On that topic though, I’d also like to see the return of being able to toggle whether or not your color preference is used in team games, Epic?

Next... Weapons and Gametypes.