Unreal Tournament 2004 review

Yearly updates can be stingy affairs but Epic triumph in their generosity

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While UT2003 was well received, Epic's true success can't be judged on that alone. In an infinite chain, it isn't the first link you judge, but the movement onwards.

While still very much in the same vein, the improvements in UT2004 are so varied, polished and deep that they make any devotee of the genre consider upgrading. In fact, its range is extensive enough to make those who turned their nose up at the business-as-usual nature of UT2003 come storming back.

While there are large changes, it's the overflowing bounty UT2004 offers that impresses. All the old maps and game modes for UT2003 are present, but the total number of maps has more than doubled, and that isn't even counting the two new major game modes introduced.

First, Assault makes a welcome return. Sadly missing from UT2003, this sees a mixture of new maps and reworked ones from the original UT. Traditional problems with this map type - namely first-time players having no clue what to do next - are diverted in impressive style, with objectives marked clearly in the player's view to allow easy orientation.

Entirely new are the Onslaught mode maps, which play across generally expansive levels and essentially work like Halo. Its stroke of genius is that rather than having any node a possible takeover target at any time, a team requires an adjacent node on the grid from which to launch their assault. This creates a structure that lets conflicts ebb and flow in an organic and tactically exciting manner.

While the UT series has always had more of a single-player experience than its peers, it's this release that does the most in that area. This is directly analogous to beat 'em ups which, while fully aware that human competition is the central experience anyone buys them for, still manage to structure a series of challenges to entertain solo players.

This is added by a team-management section that echoes Speedball 2, with you gaining finances through victories that can be spent on hiring better team-mates for the all-important team games.

This sort of structure is a much welcomed addition and, with the quality of bots still the best in their field, makes this relatively desirable even for those without a net connection.

So, a triumph, then. This isn't to say that Epic faces no challenges with Unreal Tournament. So much has been added to the UT experience for this edition that it appears almost inevitable that the next will seem a small step in comparison. You have to wish Epic the very best of luck in confounding that particular prediction, though.

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