In Depth Review: Unreal Tournament 2004 [PC]
I'll start with the additions to the franchise. First off is an all-new mode, with the tempting name of Onslaught. Onslaught is perhaps the most team-based game in 2004's impressive bevy of modes, and in theory it's the most complicated too. The basic objective is to link up all the powernodes on your team in a tactical line, while preventing the other team from destroying them and grasping their own. Once you have control of a line of powernodes that link up to the enemy's base, then feel free to invade the opponent's base and blast up their unprotected PowerCore. Kudos to you, my friend.
The maps in Onslaught are absolutely huge, and they wouldn't be any fun without a vital inclusion - vehicles. The vehicles in Unreal Tournament 2004 are all very well designed, easy to control, and most importantly, fun to drive. They all feel very individual and all have signature handling traits that you should be aware of. It's also important to get in a vehicle that adapts to the situation, i.e. don't get in a Manta hovercraft if the enemy has hold of Goliath tanks. The vehicles are all dangerous on the offensive front; peculiarly, the Scorpion jeep has two scythes sticking out of the sides to cut down any stray enemies! One thing I must say, though, Onslaught is a little too vehicle-based for my liking - yeah, the vehicles are great to drive and fun to kill people in, but Unreal Tournament has always been focused on murdering on foot with a fearful arsenal of weapons. Onslaught is an exceptional addition to the game and makes great use of team-based mechanics and strategic play.
The single-player campaign has also been given an overhaul after the pitiful effort seen in Unreal Tournament 2003. The matches are now much longer-lasting, and a lot more challenging, and there's also a new Team Management feature where you can treat injuries and other options like the good captain that you no doubt are. You also have to pay your teammates for each match you pay; each player has a minimum fee you will have to pay them in your hard-earned "Credits", which are awarded by winning matches and challenges. Indeed, competing teams in the tournament will offer you challenges, usually after matches - most of the time they'll be trying to grab a teammate they find particularly strong, or one that would prove invaluable on their team. Refusal to these challenges will cost "Credits" and failure in them will cost you the designated teammate.
There has also been some minor additions to the gameplay interface, HUD, and weapons. The HUD is now more refined than ever, and that annoying commentator has been replaced by a syrupy-voiced female. The weapons arsenal sees the return of the classic sniper rifle, as opposed to the still-present lightning gun. There is also an invaluable weapon called the Avril, which is basically an anti-vehicle missile launcher with a nice lock-on feature.
The gameplay engine itself has largely borrowed from the underwhelming 2003, but overall, it feels like a much tighter game than its predecessor. Aiming has been honed and is a lot more professional this time, the overall speed of the game has been souped-up too. 2003 felt slightly limp in places; 2004 is way more acrobatic and flexible, allowing for several new combat procedures and tactics such as walljumping, dodging, and other cool gymnastic performances that can save your neck at the tightest of moments.
Because of this added speed and acrobatics, the game is a lot more frenetic. It's more intense than ever before, especially when competing in the excellent online modes. Unreal Tournament 2004 gives a real shot of adrenaline to the player; some sort of unexplainable satisfaction that makes you want to keep fighting to the death, no matter the consequences. Because of the tighter aiming and rebuilt weaponry, gunplay is a little less one-minded and more methodical than before, but still retains the same golden Unreal formula.
All your favourite modes have been given an overhaul and re-appear in this fantastic package. Deathmatch, strangely, is still being neglected in favour of teamplay. Double Domination has not been altered, and still remains as nail-biting as ever, with the agonizing 10-second wait before points are scored. Assault is back, although it's a little bit of an underwhelming return - the missions are nowhere near as fun or memorable as they were in the original Unreal Tournament, and are only worth a warrant in the single-player modes. Bombing Run is also present and is one of the most intense, air-punching modes. Although the mode I particularly like the most is Capture the Flag. Online especially these can make for some truly memorable matches and moments of uncontrollable adrenaline; when played properly there's a nice team spirit that spurs you on. Two modes of the game are weaker than the rest, and these are the Mutant and Invasion modes. Both are pretty self-explanatory and both are equally time-wasting. The stalwarts are where it's at.
Of course, Unreal Tournament 2004 is a real graphical masterpiece. The only letdown is that there's not much advancement over 2003 - but hell, wasn't that a gorgeous game to begin with? The more claustrophobic environments of 2004 are packed with painstaking detail and intricacies, from bewildering rugged styles to science-fiction grandeur. Wider environments are even nicer, but the true free-roaming ones are where 2004 truly shines. Onslaught modes can feature some truly stunning environments, not to mention the intense team-play going on and heated vehicular manslaughter going on everywhere. Lighting in the game is absolutely superb and the same can be said about the character models - all in all, an excellent visual showing.
The audio isn't quite as good, but yet still manages to deliver. Unreal Tournament has always had a great musical score, and 2004 is no different. Weird ambient sounds to techno to rock music to metal, it does it all flawlessly and all the sounds tie in well with the environmental style. This is one game unquestionably better through a good old surround sound system, if only for this great and varied soundtrack.
In conclusion... there isn't much more to be said. Unreal Tournament 2004 is a hugely recommendable game. You'd be hard pressed to find any dominating flaws in any area of the game. Online players will get the most out of the game, admittedly, but single-player is still quite expansive with a nice Instant Action mode to round things up. This game builds on the foundation of the franchise, polishes the formula, and adds some truly great new modes and features that I hope will be implemented in future instalments. This is definitely a must-play.