At a recent Atari press event, we were able to take a guided tour of Unreal Tournament 2004 with Epic's own Cliff "CliffyB" Bleszinski. As Epic and Digital Extremes have stated in the past, the developers are attempting to present Unreal Tournament as less of a series with specific sequels and more of a sports game for which the teams will produce updated editions when they feel the time is right. In any case, Unreal Tournament 2004 will remain completely backward-compatible with UT 2003 so mod makers and mapmakers can pick up the new game without having to deal with new file extensions or other incompatibility issues.
The new game itself will include the entire base game and all levels and modes included in UT2003, but it will have plenty of new features and additions, including more new maps than were featured in the previous game. The new game will also let you use the original Unreal Tournament sniper rifle (which still lacks any serious recoil, but now briefly kicks up a cloud of obscuring dust when it's fired from a zoomed view) and the addition of two gameplay types: the brand-new onslaught mode and the assault mode from the original UT.
Assault will feature six maps, each of which will "reenact" various key conflicts in the Unreal universe, including battles between human soldiers and the vicious Skaarj aliens, as well as against a new enemy, the Hellions, an intergalactic biker gang. Each of the assault maps will feature multiple objectives, just like in the original Unreal Tournament. However, in the new game, one of the most common objectives early on in the levels will be to advance partway through the level and secure a forward spawn point for your teammates so they don't need to start from the beginning of the level each time they die. Assault will actually have a spawn timer of around 10 seconds or so, so in many cases, teammates will respawn together at the same time, so that they're in a better position to coordinate a joint offense or defense, rather than spawning separately and getting picked off one by one.
We watched four different assault maps in action: AS-Convoy, AS-FallenCity, AS-RobotFactory, and AS-Mothership. Convoy is actually the "sequel" to the classic Train Assault map in the original Unreal Tournament, and just like in that map, you need to advance along the length of a moving train to complete each of your objectives, though you can cross between your train and your enemies' train either across a bridge that spans the two, or by taking the riskier route of leaping onto one of the jeeps that routinely keep pace with the trains. In this map, as in several assault and onslaught maps, the sniper rifle replaces the lightning gun introduced in UT2003. In fact, the new game also features redone weapon models for about a third of the weapons, including the link gun, shock rifle, and assault rifle, which players can now use in duplicate with a gun in either hand.
AS-FallenCity is a burned-out urban area in which attacking players are prisoners who must escape, while AS-RobotFactory is an industrial plant in a desert that produces the android minions of the warlord Xan Kriegor, the "boss" character from the original Unreal Tournament who returns in 2004. AS-Mothership, on the other hand, begins with a space battle in which attacking human players begin the map in a starship that fires lasers as a primary weapon and powerful missiles as a secondary weapon. As the humans, you must fly past the Skaarj mothership's defenses by destroying the turrets along the hull of the ship and then destroying the shield generators that bar entry to the interior of the ship. Once you've destroyed the shield generators as the humans, you'll be able to dock your ship and proceed on foot to the Skaarj gravity generators with the ultimate goal of disabling them--this causes the entire map to take on a low-gravity setting, much like the low-gravity maps in the previous games.
Onslaught is a new mode in which two opposing teams must knock out their opponents' main generator to win. However, an enemy generator can't be damaged unless it's linked to your own team's generator by way of power nodes that are scattered throughout the map. A minimap in the upper right corner indicates how many nodes your team controls and how your nodes link up. You can capture a node by touching it and staying with it, though it's much faster to charge up a node to your color using the alternate firing mode on the link gun (and three players linked up will convert a power node even faster). Link guns can also be used to repair the game's vehicles.
Unreal Tournament 2004 will introduce a great many new drivable vehicles, in addition to three new kinds of stationary turrets (which include a minigun turret and a souped-up version of the ion painter gun that's slow to fire but does devastating damage to anyone caught in the blast). We saw a total of four new vehicles in action, including the agile manta hovercraft (which has the ability to jump); the hellbender, a three-passenger vehicle with room for a drive and two passengers to use the mounted shock rifle turrets, which can be used together to create shock combo blasts (just like with the regular weapon); the raptor, a single-passenger flying vehicle with lasers and missiles with lock-on capability; and a heavy-duty battle tank that's slow to move, but packs a powerful punch.
Unreal Tournament 2004 is scheduled for release later this year. We'll have more updates on this upcoming PC shooter as soon as we can.