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Unreal Tournament 2004 (PC) artwork

Unreal Tournament 2004 (PC) review

"As much as I love multiplayer first person shooters, the general idea of the genre is getting quite redundant. You pick up a gun, hunt down enemies until you’re dead, respawn, and repeat the process. Maybe you’ll even grab a flag or diffuse a bomb in the middle of it all. There are some other variations, but you are always performing the same actions over and over again. It’s sort of like running a route in American Football, except you’re usually running the same one with only slight variations..."

As much as I love multiplayer first person shooters, the general idea of the genre is getting quite redundant. You pick up a gun, hunt down enemies until you’re dead, respawn, and repeat the process. Maybe you’ll even grab a flag or diffuse a bomb in the middle of it all. There are some other variations, but you are always performing the same actions over and over again. It’s sort of like running a route in American Football, except you’re usually running the same one with only slight variations per map.

The one exception to this rule has always been Epic’s Unreal Tournament series. It is back with the third installment, Unreal Tournament 2004, and is even more explosive and unpredictable than ever. It completely ignores this unfortunate “redundant” stereotype and has some of the most strategic and exciting gameplay in the genre. Not only that, but there’s something for everyone here. Over a dozen modes are available for play, including deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, bombing run (basically soccer with guns), the objective-based assault, and many more as well as several mods and mutators, such as the popular team arena master and invasion. There’s even single player available including a decent tournament-style arena, which puts you and a team of bots against other teams in various gameplay types to compete to become the best team. For those who don’t want to bother with anything and just jump right into a game offline can do that for any gametype, with several difficulty levels, and with as many number of bots and mutators as one desires. With that being said, online is where the game truly shines; playing against other humans is what really allows the game to unleash all of its potential.

The game’s intensity and depth make these modes of play the best in any game. The arenas are brilliant, and the weapon balance and movement elevates it to a whole new level. Everyone knows the typical strategy of a multiplayer first person shooter; acquire the best weapon and take over. You know, the Golden Gun in Goldeneye, the rocket launcher in Halo, the AWP in Counterstrike, etc. Here’s what happened after I (easily) got a few kills in Halo with the overpowering rocket launcher:


Shortly after I was kicked off the server for “cheating”.

Besides the fact that UT04’s community is much more mature than your average online first person shooter’s is, there is no reason to whine since the rocket launcher, or any other weapon is not even close to dominant. Go ahead, pick up rockets only and check the scoreboard at the end of the round. Unless your rocket skills are way above the skill level of the server do not count on a victory. This balance – combined with the game’s movement – is what makes the combat so enjoyable. Rockets might be one of the preferred weapons for close range combat (especially when charging up three at a time), but are absolutely useless at long range. On the other hand, the sniper-like lightning gun and shock rifle are great at picking foes off from a distance but not something you would want to be using only a few feet away. Each weapon also has multiple firing modes which can be used strategically. Is it easier to fire a shotgun-ish blast from the flak cannon or lob the entire shell at the enemy? Is it more convenient to use the rather plain primary fire from the shock rifle or attempt a famous shock combo, which will severely damage any enemy in its radius? There are so many different ways to take out your foes to the point where there is no best strategy here.

Just like the original classic, UT04 is fast. One can argue that there are many fast games on the market, but none even come close to matching the level of depth and intensity of UT04! Combining these balanced weapons with the amazing movement challenges the gamer mentally as well as physically. There are now more dodges and jumps than in the previous games, which open up so many more options in battle. Instead of having a lame snipe-off or brief close range battle, fights can be anywhere at any time. You can start with long range weapons, run/dodge your way to point blank range and bust out the rockets, then back to long range, then to God knows where. Everything is entirely unpredictable and requires fast dodging reflexes, switching weapons on the whim, and is quite challenging to initially get the hang of. One cannot win most battles on aim alone, and will need anticipation and movement as well. But don’t let this challenge dissuade you! The game is infinitely rewarding in the end. Thanks to this fast-paced system fights will NEVER seem monotonous. Instead of holding a button in and hopping up and down or strafing, you will constantly be anticipating your opponents’ next move while dodging and switching weapons on the whim. The battle could rage on for over a minute and the combatants will still be in gaming bliss.

UT04 provides this exciting gameplay not only in smaller environments but larger ones as well. Thanks to the all new Onslaught mode – in which a team is required to destroy their opponents power cores by linking a chain of power nodes – Epic is able to create a game as large as any war game with the same intensity level that made the original game and the other gameplay modes so awesome. The maps are freakin’ huge and would take minutes to cross on foot, but there’s never a moment where the game seems to lose its intensity. The game is designed so opposing teams will fight over control of the power nodes, and this only helps keep the excitement level high. This keeps all of the battles around the same area so you’re still constantly on your toes and always acting, either offensively or defensively. Epic also rolled the dice by including vehicles in this mode (and a few others), and it surely paid off. Normally vehicles could kill the balance of a game, but here they are implanted perfectly. Every vehicle has its own strength and weaknesses, and a single player is capable of taking out the most powerful tank. Of course vehicles are capable of much more destruction than a single person (a Leviathan gunned by eight players is capable of tearing down anything), but they never seem unfair or cheap.

The player is also granted a lot more freedom than a person is in a typical online first person shooter. Instead of being restricted to a certain routine assignment, it is up to you to do what you want. You can run around healing power nodes, hide in the mountains and shoot down vehicles with the AVRiL, fly around and cause tons of destruction, fight off people getting in your team’s way, and much more. There are so many exciting ways one can help the team, and the options to engage in any type of warfare only adds to the already diverse engine. No more running around performing the same task over and over or lying prone in the bushes and waiting for someone to walk in front of your crosshairs. Down with traditional warfare!

Unfortunately I have to give the edge to the original Unreal Tournament, which features even better weapons (where did the Ripper go?!) and smoother movement. With that being said, UT2004 is currently the king of online first person shooters. It has something for everyone: deathmatches and other classic gameplay types, large warfare modes, even RPG stat-building servers and much more. The best part is it succeeds in everything it does from one on one deathmatch to 32-player onslaught by providing one of the smoothest gameplay engine one can come across. It isn’t your ordinary war-based game that you’ve come to expect from the genre, but that uniqueness is what makes Unreal Tournament 2004 so special.

Even though Unreal Tournament 3 is out, it is never too late to jump into one of the best multiplayer games today.

grassroots's avatar
Community review by grassroots (November 28, 2007)

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