Unreal Tournament Retrospective Part 3

UT2k4 was, and is everything a director’s cut should be. Featuring all of the content UT2k3 brought to the table, as well as a bunch of new maps, models, the return of Assault, and Onslaught mode.

Pros: Everything from UT2k3, and more!

Cons: Steep learning curve

WTF?: Bukkake announcement after scoring so many kills with a Bio Rifle.

Balancing the weapons, touching up some rough spots, and bringing back more of what people love. UT2k4 comes out swinging. Nearly everything from UT2k3 is present here. All of the maps, weapons, player models are back.

Death match, and Team Death match are once again back. Kill everyone. Except in the instance of TDM. Then kill everyone except those on your team. The first player or team to hit the kill count or have the highest when the timer expires wins. Last Man Standing is the long running variant of Death match. Everyone has one life. The last person alive wins.

Also returning is the Assault mode from the original Unreal Tournament, which even includes a stage in which you have to invade a space station in a small fighter ship. Once you’ve docked, it’s time to go on foot through the enemy team’s star ship to destroy the warp core.

Speaking of ships, UT2k4’s biggest addition to the series has to be Onslaught mode. At the time of release, DICE, and Electronic Arts had come out with Battlefield 1942. A game that was so good in fact, that it siphoned away some shooter fans from playing Epic’s series of Sci-Fi arena shooters. It focused heavily on tactics, capturing areas marked by flags to control territories. Teams would fight each other over these territory flags.

Similar to BF1942’s flag system. Onslaught mode puts teams of players against each other on really huge worlds. On these worlds there are several nodes peppered throughout the environment. When one team captures enough of these nodes, it brings down the defense system in the opposing team’s base, rendering it vulnerable. The object of course, is to bring down the enemy’s shields, then send a team of attackers to destroy the reactor core inside the base for victory.

This isn’t easy. The control points themselves have shields on them once a team captures one in a line. This pushes forces back to points closer to their own base of operations. All of this making capturing, and recapturing nodes result in epic skirmishes for control. Onslaught also takes a page from BF1942’s inclusion of vehicles.

The first up is the Scorpion. A small dune buggy, it features a laser bolo cannon, and the doors double as blades. It’s a satisfying vehicle to use because it can give fast passage to an enemy control node, or even the enemy base. At the same time in a full map, the blades can make quick work of infantry allowing for quick killing sprees. The trade-off is that it is also a weak vehicle so it’s imperative drivers have enough dexterity to avoid rockets, shock combos, spider mines, and all kinds of other firepower. A sniper can also headshot a driver while that driver is driving. (Say that five times fast) This can lead to a lot of fun action movie moments where the driver dies. Then the ensuing crash leaves the passenger to have to think on their feet.

The Raptor is part plane, part helicopter. It can hover over the entire play field shooting lasers or launching heat seeking missiles at targets. Crafty pilots can fly low, and sneak into control points or bases. It’s also a great way to cover ground troops as they try to advance. Like the Scorpion however, Raptors have low health so beware those snipers, and ground to air missiles.

The Hellbender is UT’s sci-fi Hummer. It has a shock cannon, which acts like an buffed up Shock Rifle, and a ton of health. To balance things out it is a slower vehicle. But it works as a great support vehicle, clearing out platoons with shock combos, and taking out Scorpions with ease.

The Goliath, is the Tank of the game, and behaves the way you’d likely expect. It drives slow, fires high damage mortars, and can take a ton of punishment. Perfect for turning the tide of a losing battle, or plowing through a crowd of enemies.

The Leviathan is similar to the Goliath, except that it has scoped lasers in lieu of explosives. It can also house 5 people. The laser cannon can be charged, and fire a blast with the fury of The Death Star.

The Manta is a hovercraft with giant fans on the sides. This allows you to grind up infantry while you run in guns blazing.

Advanced movement is still here but it has been tweaked. Dodge jumps don’t go quite as far, but are still very useful. Weapon changes come into play too. Many of the weapons have slight adjustments to firing rate, and the amount of damage they dole out. Only the most die-hard followers of the series will notice them. There are two changes everyone will notice though. The lightning gun arc has been altered, and the sniper rifle returns from UT. This time though, a small smoke sprite shows up after firing it. So the more astute players can get a rough idea of where you shot at them from if you miss with it.

The great thing about this is how well the movement system works with both the traditional arena shooter modes, as well as the new Onslaught mode. Players who learn the movement in all of its intricate detail will find themselves outmaneuvering vehicles as well as players. Everything one does in any of the other modes translates to Onslaught very well. This gives everyone incentive to at least try each of the game modes to see which they like best. This doesn’t even take into account the countless mods made by the community.

A decade later, and visually the game is still pretty good. A lot of awesome textures cover the landscape, and player models. Lighting, skyboxes, and a lot of little details can still bring a lot of “Oh wow!” moments when you revisit the game. The lower geometry standards of the older Unreal Engine version show their age these days. But it is still a nice game to look at. Especially all of those small details on weapon skins, or fringes on player models. Things that you might not have noticed upon release if your computer at the time couldn’t run the game at maximum settings.

As with Unreal Tournament, and Unreal Tournament 2003 players can adjust any setting imaginable. Resolution, V-sync, special effects, are the tip of the iceberg. Players can change the size or scope of the HUD, cross hair shapes, and color for each individual weapon. All of this before one even thinks about community made add-ons.

The game yet, again comes with the Unreal Editor tools. So budding developers, hobbyists, and Unreal Tournament enthusiasts can make their own content. It isn’t the easiest utility to use, but with a good guide book even a beginner can make their own levels. The tools also allow players to import models, sounds, art, and other home made content into it.  Many people were able to break into the industry by making mods that became popular, and it is still a great way to get a handle on the fundamentals.

Unreal Tournament 2004 came out in several releases.

The original release came out in a 6 CD long installation. It was also released on a DVD through preorder. The DVD edition also came with or without a headset depending on when you bought it. The DVD edition also had a tutorial disc for using the Unreal editing tools. Both the DVD, and CD came with a rebate offer for those who had UT2k3. Mailing in the manual cover to UT2k3 with a receipt for UT2k4 would net you a $10 check from Atari. An Editor’s Choice version followed which included some bonus content on the disc. The content was also downloadable at no charge for previous buyers. Around the time of Unreal Tournament 3‘s release Midway (Now part of WB) the new publisher put out Unreal Anthology. This was a compilation disc that gave buyers Unreal, Unreal II, Unreal Tournament, and Unreal Tournament 2004 on one disc with most of the community bonus content intact.

If you find any one of them it’s well worth your money. With all of the modes, an easy to pick up, challenging to master movement system, and countless free add-ons you’ll have thousands of hours of gameplay. It’s also available fairly inexpensively (As is the rest of the series) on digital storefronts like Steam,  and Good Old Games!

Some may prefer the original UT over UT2k4. But when one considers all of the strengths it brings to the table, UT2k4 is a worthy addition to the Unreal Tournament line of games, as well as a must play for anyone looking for a hyper competitive shooter. The advanced movement, expanded gameplay modes, add depth to an already great game.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

 

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