Unreal Tournament 2004, the next expansion in the growing Unreal Tournament franchise, brings back what you have come to expect from the Unreal franchise and adds in it's own twist, vehicles. Vehicles have been introduced into the unreal world in this release, along with some new game types to use them in. The Unreal Tournament franchise is primarily meant to be played online. The single player portion of the game solely consists of playing what would be the multiplayer modes but with bots, computer players, instead of real people. That being said this isn't a game to buy unless you can play online, otherwise you will not get the full experience. This is a large game though, for reasons we will get to later on in this review, so look for the single disc DVD version if you have a DVD drive. The gameplay of UT2004 is, simply put, fantastic. The only big problem with the gameplay are the vehicle controls, they aren't as tight as they should be. The UT2000's introduced double jumps and dodge jumping into the franchise, which adds a whole new layer of gameplay to it, because if a player is skilled enough they will know where you will dodge and shoot there or where you will be ahead of time and it will be too late before you realize it since you have little control while in the air. You have access to nine different vehicles, more if you download the free Editor's Choice Edition patch. These range from flying vehicles like the Raptor and Cicada, car type vehicles like the Scorpion and Hellbender, tanks such as the Goliath, and even a hover craft called the Manta. The manta is shockingly similar to the ghost vehicle from Halo, in both design and function. Most of the vehicles have a method of attack, whether it be a weapon attached to it or some type of melee attack. The scorpion, which is a dune buggy type vehicle, has blades that come out on the sides that you can run people down with, and the goliath tank has a huge cannon and machine gun that you can fire. There is also a literal arsenal at your disposal. There are at least twenty completely unique guns in the game, all with their own strong and weak points. Some are specific to certain game types, like the Mine Layer and Anti-Vehicle Rocket Launcher, which are specific to the vehicle game type Onslaught. While some guns have alternate uses, like the Link gun which is used to heal vehicles and capture nodes in onslaught, or the shield gun when can be used as, well, a shield. But then you have your regular weapons with the soul purpose of killing, like the rocket launcher, flak cannon, lightning gun, shock rifle, minigun, bio rifle, and many others. All the weapons are well balanced and there is no calling any gun a "n00b" weapon because if you master a specific weapon and dodging then it doesn't matter what you go up against. If you have good accuracy and timing you will find a hit scan weapon like the shock rifle or lightning gun to work the best for you, if you're not up to that level yet then a weapon with high splash damage like the rocket launcher or flak cannon will serve you best. You have free choice of over one hundred maps, yes, I said one hundred. Most are fairly large and good for any number of players. Once you get above 32 players the game will suffer from lag, plus it's more fun with around 16. Having a lot of people isn't a good thing, a smaller amount means they will usually work better as a team where as in large games every goes off and does their own thing. You also have endless user made maps that can be downloaded. You will play for weeks and still find maps that you've never played before. These maps span over many different environments and architectural designs. You may be playing in a castle in the snow, or a castle in a volcano, or perhaps a high-tech ship in space, or maybe just a cave, steel plant, forest, junkyard, war torn city, roof top, ice cavern, Egyptian temple, high-tech facility, or anything else you could think up. If the maps aren't enough to keep you busy then the ten retail game types should be. They include the classic Deathmatch and Capture the flag, plus the return of Assault. You also have some more unique ones like Onslaught, which has you capturing different nodes across a map to take the shield down off of a power core allowing it to be destroyed. If those aren't even enough then you can try some user made ones like Jailbreak, which has you trying to kill and therefore trap the entire other team in their jail and prevent them from hitting the switch to release their team. With over one hundred maps you would think that corners would have been cut and that they would have sacrificed some graphical detail to be able to make more maps quicker, you would be wrong. Every map in the game is highly detailed and many are fairly large maps that span all different types of environments. Every vehicle and weapon also has a high level of effort and thought put into it and they all look marvelous. UT2004 also has quite a large collection of player models to choose from and every one of them is highly detailed and well designed. Basically, the game looks fantastic. The audio is, like in many games, the lowest point. It is still great but it is not up to the same quality level as the graphics or gameplay. Each level doesn't have it's own music but instead there is a lot of music that is spread out between all the levels. Personally I found the music to be annoying and it really took me out of the game. Luckily you have the option to import your own MP3s, so I quickly turned to that. But the more you play the more you rely on player sounds, especially in 1v1s. So I ended up turning off the music permanently. That's the bad, the good is the rest of the audio effects. All the weapon sounds sound exactly how you would imagine they would if they were real, and the ambient sounds in the levels are very well done. The audio's not bad, it's actually quite good. It's just not as good as the rest of the game. If you have access to a high speed internet connection then this game is a simply amazing value and there is no sane reason for you not to own it. This game has been out for close to a year now and you can pick it up cheap. Even if you don't like the game there are also some mods out there like Alien Swarm, an over the head multiplayer alien game like the classic movie, and Red Orchestra, a WW2 conversion which some people consider to be better than UT2004. There are not a ton of people playing UT2004 online compared to other games out there and there is no reason for that. Apparently a lot of people never bought this, if you're one of those people then go and get it right now. This is the best multiplayer game out on the PC, period. A well deserved 9.6.
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