One of our first stops this morning once the doors to E3 were officially opened was the Atari booth, where Mark Rein and other members of the development team at Epic were showing off a polished-looking version of Unreal Tournament 2004--which was announced only yesterday and is currently scheduled for release this fall. In addition to a lot of brand-new content, Unreal Tournament 2004 will include Unreal Tournament 2003 and just about every patch and piece of bonus content ever released for it.
The most significant additions to the game are two new gameplay modes--namely onslaught and assault, which is making a welcome return after a period of absence, although with plenty of enhancements. UT2004's assault mode will feature a minimum of six different scenarios when the game is released, and the one that we got to see at the beginning of our demonstration was quite unlike anything we've ever seen in an Unreal game before. Playing as a human, the mission was to infiltrate a scar space station by first making it past the defenses into the core in a small craft and then getting out on foot once safely inside. When you're in control of a vehicle in UT2004, you'll have the option of playing in either first- or third-person mode--for the purposes of the demo, the sequence was shown in third-person, which served to show off some of the subtle animations of the ship itself as its speed changed. When playing as the scar and defending the station on this level, you'll have the option of manning gun turrets on both the exterior and interior, patroling areas of the station on foot, or even heading down to hangar and grabbing yourself a scar attack craft to indulge in a bit of dogfighting.
The onslaught game mode is, according to Mark Rein, a lot like capture the flag in most respects--except that rather than capturing an object and returning it to your own base, you'll simply be attempting to destroy the object. There will be at least nine levels designed specifically for onslaught in UT2004, and if the level we were shown is an indication of what to expect, they'll be huge. The expansive exterior level we saw was more than a little reminiscent of one of Halo's multiplayer levels, only a lot bigger and with more-impressive base structures at either end. In addition to turret defenses, each base contained a number of parked vehicles that the guys from Epic couldn't wait to show off. First up was a skimmer that, like many of the things in onslaught, brought Halo multiplayer to mind. A one-man craft, the skimmer is a high-speed, lightly armored hovering vehicle that is complemented by a second, as-yet-unnamed flying attack craft that purportedly handles in much the same way as a helicopter. Other vehicles that we got to see in action included a tank, a three-man buggy with a fixed gun position in the back, and a one-man buggy in which you'll be able to shoot in any direction while driving.
Of course, with all these vehicles racing around, you're going to want some new weapons to defend yourself with if you find yourself on foot, and Epic isn't planning to disappoint. Sticky mines provide a fairly obvious way to target vehicles in the game, but the new spider mines are far more inventive and promise to be a lot more fun. Once fired, these eight-legged explosives land on the ground and will scamper toward any enemy in their range or, if no enemies are nearby, will sit tight and wait for one to get close enough. One potentially devastating tactic demonstrated to us this morning is to leave a whole bunch of them in areas of tall grass, in which they're practically invisible.
Although the game was demonstrated to us on a really powerful PC with hardware acceleration, Epic was eager to point out that the game will definitely support software rendering when it ships. UT2004 will also feature voice support so you can communicate effectively with your teammates or glean more satisfaction by mocking fallen opponents, although we didn't actually get to see this feature in action.
Unreal Tournament 2004 is currently scheduled for release sometime this fall. We'll bring you more information on the game as soon as it becomes available.