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In my opinion, the original Unreal Tournament is a perfect example of a timeless game. It’s fun, customizable, and the gameplay still holds up today. Unreal Tournament is definitely multiplayer-focused but thanks to the excellent bot AI, it offers an extremely fun single player experience as well. The inevitable sequel was Unreal Tournament 2003 and I don’t know what the deal is with that game because Unreal Tournament 2004 released the following year and is basically the same game with more content and that’s the one I remember hearing about the most back when I was in high school. Developed by both Epic Games and Digital Extremes, Unreal Tournament 2004 was released in March, 2004 for PC. From what I understand, it’s an improved version of Unreal Tournament 2003 with new game types, weapons, and maps. For this review, I played the Editor’s Choice Edition which includes additional vehicles, maps, skins, and apparently community mods selected by Epic Games. Before playing I downloaded and installed Community Bonus Pack 1 which contains Unreal Tournament 2003 maps converted for 2004 by fans and were approved by the developers, Community Bonus Pack 2 (Part 1) and Community Bonus Pack 2 (Part 2) which contains new maps, skins, and a mutator, and the Ultimate Comunity Map Pack (Vol. 1-4). But that’s not all, I also installed the FOV Widescreen Support for UT2004 (foxWSFix v1.11) fix and the HUD Scaling Fix (RC3), which is applied as a mutator. Both of these work in tandem to provide a proper widescreen display. I’ll also be taking a look at the Ballistic Weapons v2.5 mod along with Sergeant Kelly’s Weapon Pack add-on.
Just like the original game, Unreal Tournament 2004 does include a campaign but it’s definitely not the focus. It’s just a way to introduce players to several different game types. There is a bit of an actual story going on but it’s not really important. It’s the twelfth year of the Unreal Tournament and various teams are captained by former champions, including Xan, the final boss in the original game. That’s basically it. All you should probably care about is that it’s a competition and that you need to win. Once again the only voice acting is heard from characters shouting shit during gameplay and the famous announcer which now comes in different forms. You can choose from five announcer voices. The classic standard male variant is here but my personal favorite is the sexy voice. The sexy voice is quite humorous actually. The higher the kill streak, the closer she gets to orgasm.
When you first start the campaign you get to choose your character, your character’s name, your team’s name, your team’s symbol, and the difficulty. Now instead of jumping right into the tournament ladders you must first qualify to even enter the tournament by winning several deathmatch matches. You work your way up the deathmatch ladder and after making it to the top you get to choose your team members which are basically your allies for any team-based modes. Afterwards, you then compete in the qualifying rounds and after winning each round, you can finally enter the tournament which consists of four ladders. Double Domination requires your team to control the two points on the map simultaneously for a limited amount of time to score a point. For some reason, the original Domination game type is absent in favor of this I guess. Bombing Run is what I’ll call a “sporty” game type where you must retrieve a ball from the center of the map and use the ball launcher to launch it through the enemy team’s goal or carry it through the goal to score points. You cannot attack or translocate when carrying the ball but you can pass it to team mates if you want. It’s not really my favorite game type but it has its moments. Capture the Flag is exactly the same as it was in the original game. The final game type the campaign offers is Assault. Assault is basically the same as in the original game but it’s a lot more fleshed out here with detailed objectives, vehicles, and one map lets you fly a ship in space and you have to infiltrate a mothership. After winning every match in each ladder you unlock the, what I guess is the championship ladder, where you compete in a team deathmatch and then battle the final boss ClanLord. One of the unique things about the campaign is that you earn credits for winning matches. The credits can then be spent on changing the map for a match, treating team member injuries, or even challenging enemies to a deathmatch. When challenging an enemy, or even if you’re challenged, you can bet a certain amount of credits. However, it seems that enemies would challenge me way too often which became really annoying and you’ll lose credits if you refuse a challenge.
Besides the campaign, there’s obviously online multiplayer which I did not try, and then there’s Instant Action which is basically offline multiplayer with bots. And that’s where I spent a majority of my time. Besides the game types introduced in the campaign, there’s actually quite a few more found in Instant Action and I assume multiplayer. Returning game types include Team Deathmatch and Last Man Standing but new to the roster is Onslaught, Mutant, and Invasion. There’s also Vehicle Capture the Flag and InstaGib Capture the Flag, and I assume these two were added in the Editor’s Choice Edition or one of the Bonus Packs I installed. Onslaught is probably the biggest addition and allows for large scale battles on maps that include vehicles and even aircraft. The idea of this game type is for your team to take over all of the PowerNodes in a “connect the dots” fashion to establish a connection directly to the enemy PowerCore and then destroy the Core. It can be a lot of fun if you have enough players or bots but if you don’t it can be a real bore traversing huge maps with very little excitement. It’s a mode that’s meant for a lot of players. Mutant is an interesting game type where the first player to score a kill becomes the Mutant with enhanced abilities. All of the other players must attempt to kill the Mutant and the player that scores the kill becomes the next Mutant. The player with the lowest score is considered the bottom feeder and is the only one allowed to kill other players other than the Mutant. Invasion has you and other players, or bots, fending off waves of enemy attackers. It’s actually a pretty fun horde type of mode and thanks to the customizable aspects of the game, you can tailor each individual wave to your liking if you want. The Ballistic Weapons mod comes with its own separate game types but it also comes with mutators that can be applied to the standard game types. Besides a brand new arsenal, one of the biggest things included in the mod is the new Conflict game type. Conflict is team deathmatch but when you die, you don’t respawn until the next round. It basically forces you to play a bit more carefully.
No matter how you set up your character, it’s not going to affect the gameplay. You can run, jump, double jump, crouch, swim, strafe, and dodge, a mechanic which is improved a bit from the original game but can still be annoying and, thankfully, it can be turned off. One of the things I praised about the original game was the level of control it gives the player to customize their experience. You can customize your character, the HUD, the menu color, the gameplay itself, and, of course, the bots. Unreal Tournament 2004 still gives you plenty of options to tweak but, sadly, not to the same extent as the original game. But all of the important stuff is here. You can configure options for each game type including a time limit, goal score, number of bots, spawn protection time, friendly fire scale, and a bunch of other stuff. An important aspect for me is the ability to customize the bots which you can do. Yes, you can still configure their level of intelligence. You can adjust their aggressiveness, accuracy, combat style, strafing ability, tactics, reaction time, jumpiness, preferred weapon, voice, and their default orders. You can still command and order bots around during gameplay if you want. However, for some reason, you can’t re-name them in-game. It’s not a huge deal but why remove a small thing like that? But the developers can’t stop me. I said you can’t rename them in-game. You can actually re-name them by editing the UPL files in the “system” folder which is found in the game’s installation directory. The Ballistic Weapons mod comes with its own customization options. You can adjust the damage scales, aim and recoil scales, tweak new visual options, configure and save different weapon loadouts, and it even comes with its own set of crosshairs. Mutators also make a return and just like the original game, they let you change up the gameplay in different ways. Classic mutators like InstaGib and LowGrav make a return but there are some really cool and interesting new ones. For example, the Species Statistics mutator. With this applied, each race has unique combat statistics. Slow Motion Corpses is another favorite of mine. Some mutators have their own set of options and can actually be configured. Ballistic Weapons comes with its own set of mutators with Evolution Loadout being the most unique. If you choose the basic Loadout option before starting a match you have the option to choose your weapon from a list. Evolution Loadout gives you access to more weapons but you need to reach certain levels of achievement to unlock more. It’s like a mini progression system within a match. It’s pretty cool stuff.
The default arsenal actually includes quite a large number of weapons compared to the original game. Several classic weapons return including the minigun, shock rifle, sniper rifle, bio rifle, redeemer, rocket launcher, and the flak cannon. All of the new weapons do serve a purpose and some are exclusive to the Onslaught game type. These include the grenade launcher, mine layer, and the AVRiL which stands for “Anti-Vehicle Rocket Launcher”. The Enforcer pistol is absent in favor of an assault rifle which can be dual wielded. I actually like the assault rifle even though it’s a pretty weak weapon compared to the rest of the arsenal. The Lightning Gun and Shield Gun are two standout weapons. The Lightning Gun is like a sniper rifle that fires lightning bolts and the Shield Gun can block attacks as well as double as a melee weapon that can kill an enemy instantly when fully charged. The Ballistic Weapons mod includes a massive arsenal of weapons. You’ve got a shit-ton of melee weapons, pistols, submachine guns, heavy machine guns, assault rifles, rocket launchers, and even alien weapons. Now the default weapons don’t reload but the Ballistic Weapons do. However, you do have the option to disable reloading. Some weapons have special attacks, you can equip some with silencers, and the mod, itself, comes with its own set of controls. It includes iron sights which doesn’t seem to affect aiming as far as I can tell. But I like iron sights because immersion. The translocator also returns and serves the same purpose it did in the original game; to transport you to wherever the transport module lands, helpful for quickly navigating through maps or to access hard-to-reach places.
The vanilla game comes with an insane amount of maps. I think I read there’s over hundred. And with all the packs I downloaded, who knows how many more. Either way, there’s plenty of maps to choose from and each game type utilizes specific sets of maps. Deathmatch maps are available for several game types but modes like Assault, Capture the Flag, and Onslaught have their own sets and you still have the option to create map lists to play through. The maps are set in a wide variety of different locations including space stations, ships, facilities, beaches, a destroyed city, and other locations that have no relation to any other map because this is Unreal Tournament. Other than the Onslaught and Assault maps including weapon lockers instead of standard weapon pickups, the other maps are filled with weapon pickups, health and armor pickups, powerups like the damage amplifier and shield packs, and even adrenaline pills. Adrenaline can be acquired in two ways; picking up the pills or completing a variety of goals during gameplay. Once you acquire one hundred adrenaline points you can activate special abilities, performed by pressing a secret combination of buttons. Why they have to be a secret, I have no idea, but you can always just look them up online. The abilities only last for a limited time, draining adrenaline, and include turning invisible, moving at super speed, going berserk which increases your weapon damage, and booster which regenerates your health. There’s two extra combos that can be activated if you have the “Bonus Combos” mutator applied. You can shrink yourself down or enter camouflage which lets you blend in with the map.
When talking about the visual presentation, Unreal Tournament 2004 looks a bit dated but still holds up for the most part. The weapon models and animations look good, the texture work is pretty good, and enemies can still be turned into a pile of gibs. In fact, different species bleed different colors and character models will ragdoll when killed which can lead to some funny moments. The Ballistic Weapons mod includes all kinds of new visual effects, even gore effects, like turning a corpse into a bloody stump that will launch through the environment followed by a blood trail. This mod also includes some great reload animations although some can look a bit choppy. I also think some of the muzzle flashes look a bit “cartoon-y”, for lack of a better word, which really wouldn’t be a problem if matched the rest of the presentation. On the audio side, I think the audio is all kinds of fucked up. You can adjust the audio options in-game but the weapons just never sound powerful enough. You can adjust additional audio options within one of the INI files found in the “system” folder but I never got the audio mix quite right and the Ballistic Weapons mod includes all kinds of new sound effects for the weapons so I had to readjust everything again but was never satisfied. Other than that the music sounds pretty good, some songs are better than others but there’s a decent array of catchy songs. Now the technical aspects and performance is another story. For the most part, the vanilla game ran fine. It was fast, fluid, and smooth. I was running it using the OpenGL renderer and I like to “Alt+Tab” out of games often. With that said I don’t know how much this may affect others but whenever I would “Alt+Tab”, the game would decide to switch the display to windowed mode. But the annoying thing is that sometimes I would enter a match and it would auto switch to windowed. I don’t know if it’s because I was Alt+Tabbing often but it does become a nuisance. Now with the Ballistic Weapons mod, I noticed the frame rate would dip frequently so you may want to tone down some settings if it becomes a problem. The mod also seems to be the cause of several crashes and I noticed that some of the weapon crosshairs were distorted a bit even though I enable the universal crosshairs setting. But, overall, the mod is playable and runs fine most of the time.
I really enjoyed my time with Unreal Tournament 2004 and I do think it improves upon the original game’s most important aspects. There’s new game types, new maps, an improved campaign, new weapons, and the important customization elements make a return. Now I’m not a competitive person, I don’t like relying on other people for my enjoyment, and I’m fully aware this is a multiplayer-focused series. However, I’m also fully aware that Unreal Tournament 2004 doesn’t require you to jump online to have fun. I just like to shoot shit and get into exciting gun battles and Unreal Tournament 2004 offers exactly that. Just like the original, the bots make for competent allies and foes and you can once again tailor the experience to your liking and get hours upon hours of enjoyment out of it. Ballistic Weapons is the exact type of weapons mod I enjoy. It includes traditional, modern, and over-the-top weapons that look awesome and feel satisfying to shoot. The new gore effects and visual enhancements really heighten the carnage and with thirty two bots or players running around, it’s just mass chaos in every direction with bullets and tracers coming from everywhere. It’s a fucking warzone.
Unreal Tournament 2004 is a must-buy, even today. It’s a fast-paced shooter with a ton of replay value. The campaign may take you a while depending on the difficulty, I’m guessing dedicated fans still get online games going, and the Instant Action mode offers an offline experience like no other thanks to excellent bot AI. Even though it doesn’t give you the same amount of control over customization as the original game did, it gives you everything you need to tailor the gameplay to your liking. And if you know what you’re doing, you can customize your experience further by editing the game’s files. Unreal Tournament is a series known for it’s game engines and modding and Unreal Tournament 2004 is no exception. There’s tons of mods out there whether they be maps, gameplay overhauls, weapon mods, skins, or whatever, so there’s all kinds of ways to enjoy this game. The possibilities are essentially endless.