[[Unreal Tournament 2004]]
The Unreal series has set the standards by which online games are judged. Their popularity cannot be denied and even those who would criticize the games for their instinctive, almost reflex based gameplay, accept the fact that Unreal games are graphically stunning, highly addictive and basically well-crafted specimens of pure gaming fun.
Noting the above facts it becomes easy to understand why the latest installment, Unreal Tournament 2004, has created so much noise around its name.
The debate regarding the necessity of a UT 2K4 title only a year after the release of the successful UT 2K3 rages on but one thing UT developers have managed to do is evolve along with their community and they believe they had enough reasons to introduce a new installment. According to developers the game offers improvements which have been clearly requested by the thousands of dedicated players across the globe.
Megagames staff had their first real contact with the game at this year's ECTS show in London the game had been set up on the Atari pavilion in such a way as to offer a semi-cocoon in which players could better immerse themselves in the action. Within 5 minutes of joining play strange facial twitches and muscular contraction surfaced while a cry of KILL KILL KILL still haunts the Earl's Court venue.
It is therefore, obvious that Unreal Tournament 2004 continues in the tradition of its predecessors by tapping directly into the players Hypothalamus, bringing out the most basic and instinctive responses.
So what has changed then? If the core of the game remains the same why would a UT 2K3 owner buy the new game when it's released, latest E.T.A. being November 18, 2003? According to Cliff Bleszinski, Lead Designer of Epic Games there is one simple reason Vehicular Manslaughter.
This time around the design team working on UT 2K4 had to maintain a simple but very important balance. Keep the, much-loved UT gameplay core intact while adding enough to it to justify the release. According to EBGames they have succeeded since the popular games retailer claims that Unreal Tournament 2004 has double the content of Unreal Tournament 2003.
Many compare their progress within the UT gameplay with their progress to sexual maturity. The first experience certainly has similarities. It's messy, uncomfortable and doesn't last long leaving you a nervous, twitching wreck but with an unexplainable desire for more. Once the inner animal is awakened though things begin to pick-up, experiences become longer and more thoroughly satisfying and eventually you try to select your partners more carefully. Note : there is no need for gloves when playing, it is unlikely you will pick up a nasty virus that way.
Once you have drawn blood in UT however, the elation felt is tremendous even though probably not proportional to your success. This is the base of all things Unreal.
The developers have managed to coax those emotions out of the gamer by using a recipe of stunning visuals and cutting edge graphics with extremely simple but addictive gameplay.
Unreal Tournament 2004 does offer quite a few and significant additions to the original gameplay. According to Cliff Bleszinski Unreal Tournament 2004 introduces a plethora of new features - from software rendering (to improve compatibility) to dual Assault Rifles, to no less than 24 new characters and a host of new levels for existing game modes of Deathmatch, CTF, Domination, and Bombing Run.
The biggest one-two punches for 2004 come in the form of the two main flagship game modes - Onslaught and Assault. Onslaught is a large-scale vehicle-based mode in which two teams attack and defend key nodes throughout the terrain.
Assault is the rebirth of the original game mode that many fell in love with in the first Unreal Tournament. In no less than six unique scenarios we'll see gamers fly Skaarj spacecraft, attack a convoy as it speeds across the desert, man an enormous tank-killing Ion Cannon, and much, much more.
The key addition and possibly the most controversial one, is that of land, air and space vehicles. Although accused of buying into the vehicle fad introduced by Halo and of copying games such as Tribes 2 or PlanetSide, developers are determined that they have made the right choice. Mr. Bleszinski again While some may view vehicles as a fad, I think they're a great feature that really adds an extra layer to any shooter. Any time you allow your gamers another choice about what to do in your game dynamic, it is almost certainly a good thing. Done well, you can add many layers of depth to your gaming experience.
In order to offer some balance to the gameplay, developers have introduced a specific anti-vehicle weapon for almost every existing one. Anti-aircraft missiles, the shock rifle and the highly modified, link gun will all offer the pedestrian the chance to do some serious vehicular damage. In Onslaught, for example, the link gun will heal vehicles (not players), also healing and charging nodes. The more players linked together, the faster the healing/charging.
When referring to the gameplay and vehicles Bleszinski does not hide the fact that UT 2K4 does carry the influence of other games Vehicles are a lot of fun, but they can change a game dynamic significantly and it requires a bit of finessing to keep things fun and balanced.
We don't want the gamer to feel useless if he doesn't have a tank, so balancing each vehicle's strengths and weakness is an ongoing challenge (especially when you insert vehicles into a game dynamic that already has 12 or so established and well balanced weapons).
Onslaught's current design allows for a free-flowing combination of some of the elements seen in BF1942 and PlanetSide. On any given map there are two sides for each of the teams. Each team has a Power Core that they must defend; if the core is destroyed then, naturally, one side wins.
Since these maps are so large, making a run across the map in an attempt to make an early rush is very difficult, and that's where Power Nodes come into play. Power Nodes are the points that you'll want to control along the way in order to progress your team's spawning (as well as controlling the vehicles at that particular Node...).
It is important to note that you can only take over a Node if you have the one adjacent to it. This creates a great tug-of-war style of play that results in some highly enjoyable craziness.
Vehicles create their own set of issues that map designers must deal with. First and foremost, you need elbow room for a tank or buggy. Next, you need to worry about level borders. What's to stop players from riding off into the sunset or trying to fly into space? Do you kill players that go outside of the play area or just block them in or figure out a wholly unique solution?
Finally there's the issue of vehicle ownership. Who gets this vehicle and why? A sort of cascading effect occurs when you just drop one buggy into any given level. Solving these problems is challenging but quite fun!
A game based on a primitive seek and destroy strategy cannot survive without the relevant weapons and this time UT 2K4 promises to scorch the earth on which it treads.
We mentioned the anti-aircraft missiles and the modified link gun but the mayhem doesn't stop there.
Although developers are fairly secretive about the new weapons introduced in UT 2K4, Megagames managed to get details on some of those:
Parasite Mine Launcher
This is the most talked about weapon, probably because Cliff Bleszinski will not stop declaring to everyone his undying love for it. The principle is simple. You fire the weapon into foliage and you wait. Once your poor, unsuspecting enemy goes by the parasites spring into action and chase him down and latch on to him. Once on-board they reach his head and a few ticks later, they set themselves off. Apparently the alternative fire to that weapon is another interesting weapon, the Sticky Grenade Launcher, a weapon with which you fire out a grenade and giggle as it latches itself onto your foe with an all-knowing beep. A second and a half later your enemy will, in fact, explode.
UT 2004 also includes controllable turrets. These will be under AI control for most of the game but most can also be commandeered by players. The importance of these turrets will be more obvious in some levels where extreme damage will be a necessity.
Unreal Tournament 2004 has focused on community-generated improvements and in true Epic fashion has introduced many such features to the game.
Jay Wilbur from Epic said We took everything the community said was good and we made it better and everything they said was bad, we worked to make that better too or eliminated it completely.
One such example is the introduction of Voice Over IP (VoIP). This lets players talk to each other online using headsets and increases the tactical ability of the team.
As more players take up broadband, Epic believes VoIP will give them enormous benefits and make the games even more fun.
Another, even more obvious, example of user-innovation being introduced into the game is Unreal TV.
It was originally a mod developed for the Unreal Tournament by two Swedish players.
UTV is a software process called a spectator proxy that allows many people to connect to games in play and watch the battles. Thousands can be watching, live, with only a few seconds delay.
Unreal Tournament 2004 will truly attempt to be created by the people, for the people.
Have you pre-ordered your copy yet? The link is available by following the download tab above.