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Publisher: MacSoft    Genre: Action
Min OS X: 10.2.8    CPU: G4 @ 933 MHz    RAM: 256 MB    Hard Disk: 6000 MB    DVD-ROM    Graphics: 32 MB VRAM

Unreal Tournament 2004
April 9, 2004 | Joel Davies

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It's been quite a few years since the first Unreal engine hit the scene and brought a new level of beauty and detail to 3D gaming. Since then, we've seen the engine evolve into the Unreal Tournament concept, which has finally matured into something that truly feels like a sporting event with Unreal Tournament 2004 (UT2K4).

For those of you that have played the demo and been left wanting more, or wondered if what was rumored to be a minor upgrade upgrade is worth the cash - read on. I was fully prepared to be disappointed by this release, and was thrilled to find that UT2K4 is not only an excellent standalone game - but a great value both as a single and multiplayer experience.

To drop an overused cliche: it's a whole new ball game. Unreal Tournament 2004 finally realizes its place in the genre, and feels like a sports game. Admittedly, you are still running around gorgeous maps, stealing flags, shooting the enemy and generally blowing up everything in sight - but a new team management scheme adds a nice dimension to the experience.

In the single-player ladder, you must work your way up the food chain, draft and defeat teammates, pay salaries, manage a budget, and defend your team against Blood Fist challenges from other teams.

The team management system allows you to draft teammates to complement your gameplay style, but you have to pay to play. You start with a small budget, and it costs money to enter matches. You also have to pay your teammates, so the extra cash earned winning a match and piling on the awards and honors comes in handy.

To get extra cash at the end of the match you can challenge rival teams to one on one deathmatch games for cash. You can also invoke the dreaded Blood Fist challenge to attempt to steal one of their better players for your roster. Blood Fist challenges from rival teams can get dicey in a hurry - especially when they have selected "instagib" match rules.

Instagib matches against bots can go south in a hurry as teams with good agressiveness, agility and tactics scores can really tear through accurate teams effectively. You might be shooting that shock rifle straight, but your teammates will tend to make big fat targets if they have low agility and tactics scores. Having a decent amount of cash reserve will help to defend your best players against Blood Fist challenges - as they become quite difficult against tough teams, even at the easier settings.

There are several game types to choose from: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Bombing Run, Capture the Flag, Assault, Double Domination, Mutant, Last Man Standing, Invasion and Onslaught. Onslaught is the major new addition to UT2K4, and Assault returns from the original Unreal Tournament release.

Onslaught sets two teams against each other in a battle to build and defend linked power nodes in order to build a chain of nodes to the opposite team's power core. When a chain of nodes are built, the enemy's power core is vulnerable, and can be destroyed. Of course, there are a ton of players fighting for control of these nodes, and the action can get chaotic very quickly. To add a new element to the game, Epic threw some vehicles to navigate the Onslaught levels - most of which are HUGE. Running around without a vehicle can get old quickly, as most of these levels are built on a massive scale.

The downside to the furious gameplay and vehicular manslaughter is the vehicle control system. I found most of the controls to be a pain, often distracting from the game in order to keep the flier, tank or jeep headed in the right direction. Most use the A and D keys to turn, while using the mouse for aiming turrets or cannons. Others use the mouse for steering and the A and D keys for strafing. I had a horrible time controlling some of the vehicles, and frustration abounded with some fellow folks in multiplayer. This is the only area of gameplay I did not thoroughly enjoy, and I'll quietly point a finger at Halo as an example of good vehicle control.

Assault was my favorite gameplay mode in the original UT, and I'm thrilled with the latest implementation. Objectives are marked with "trails" that morph into floating arrows that can be called up with a button press, and some maps also have vehicles to combat the sheer scale of the map and objectives. Playing against each other in massive maps like Mothership while the clock counts down is an intense experience, and requires solid teamwork and competitive spirit to beat your opponent.

Depending on who your online opponents and teammates are - multiplayer and single-player games often feel similar. Generally, I prefer playing with the single-player bots unless I know the humans on the other end are going to play seriously and use some teamwork. Multiplayer has the potential to be outstanding, but that will rely completely on the other humans, like every other online gaming experience.


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