First Impressions: Unreal Tournament 2004

I just got a copy of the latest release in the Unreal Tournament tradition. I got it the day it became available and put in at least 4 hours playing it already.

This year’s version brings a ton of awesome new features! First, the return of Onslaught and Assault as game types is a much welcome change. Haven’t played Onslaught yet but Assault is excellent. It really takes at least 2 people, if not more, to play, though. It’d be really great if you had a team of 6 or so, each with fast computers and video cards - and VoIP also to talk to each other while playing. At my age, though, it’s hard to find others who have those things and have the time to get together some evening to play. I’m lucky if Peters has can get together once a week and play longer than 60 minutes. Unfortunately there are only 6 or so Assault levels so I am looking forward to expansion packs, etc. for more challenges. The addition of vehicles to the mix adds a lot of interesting complexity, especially those that have more than 1 seat. That’s right - one player can get it and drive and control the primary weapon and 1 or more additional players can get it and control other weapons if they are available. Randy and I were playing a level where he was driving a tank and firing the main cannon and I was on top of the tank on a secondary machine gun shooting in the opposite direction. Pretty awesome!

I was really disappointed, though, with the Mothership level. This seems to be the only level where you can fly space fighters. Maybe I am missing something - I hope I am - but neither Randy or I, after reading the manual and the PrimaSoft strategy guide, could figure out how to increase the speed of the fighter. There appear to be no key mappings for this. It’s an almost brainless level. Fly around and shoot stuff. I was expecting something on the order of X-Wing or Wing Commander. It’s nowhere NEAR that level of play. Pretty boring, really… Unless I find out something else about flying, I may never play that level again. I think the speed limiter has something to do with the Unreal engine. Just like when you are in a normal level and can either run or walk, flying the ship appears to be the same. Perhaps if I pushed the Walk key, it would slow down. But who wants to go slower? I was looking for complete thruster control and was hoping for afterburners. Oh well.

All of the Death Match levels from UT 2003 are there as well as a number of new and excellent levels. I have noticed that the gameplay is a lot “cleaner” than UT 2003. It’s hard to quantify it - it’s just smoother. For example, when the lightning gun fires, the bolt is tighter and seems to last a hair less time than in UT 2003. The graphics are cleaner as well, perhaps due to using DirectX 9 instead of the aging DirectX 8. I have a DirectX 9 card as well, so that might be part of it. The physics are a little different as well, probably more realistic. I have an ATI Radeon 9700 with 128 MB of RAM so I can max everything out. It’s unbelievably fast, smooth, and realistic. All of the custom maps that Peters and I have downloaded work fine as well and automatically inherit any of these tweaks I am mentioning. For some of the maps it’s like playing them again for the first time.

All in all, it’s an excellent upgrade. I forsee many hours of whuppin’ Peters ahead.