One for the Ages
Maybe it's just me but almost every map I've seen so far is beautiful. But plenty of games look great, but UT2K4 is crisp and smooth on top of being easy on the eyes. And even with all the flashiness of vehicles, particle effects, and 32 people rampaging through the screen, the game runs without a hitch (assuming the server is halfway decent). If you get in close enough you'll even see that the character models are superbly done, which have dozens of options unlike Vietnam. I can't find anything to gripe about as far as the graphics are concerned. The draw-distance is quite far, the maps are stunning, and the game is scorchingly fast.
Almost no learning curve here as anyone can jump in and play. But that's not to say anyone will can dominate in this game because that's far from true. Luckily there's an excellent single player campaign that will take even the newest noob and turn them into a killing machine within a few hours thanks to some increasingly difficult missions. The vehicles are new to 2004, but you sure wouldn't be able to tell they were new from the physics involved. Epic has nailed each vehicle perfectly as far as control, each with their own strengths and weaknesses that balance each other out so that no one vehicle is too powerful. Everything seems to be right at your fingertips and you very rarely will have to take your eyes off the screen to find a command key.
The background music is decent and the sound effects are great, but the taunts are a bit on the repetitive side. You can tone them down or completely off if you wish though. The announcers are hit or miss for most people. I rather enjoy them. There's just something enticing about that rumbling voice broadcasting "Killing Spree!" or "Head Shot!" One of the best additions though is the built in voice commands and voice recognition. You can give commands to your bots verbally, and the game will even convert the chat window's text to voice so you can keep your eyes on the action. The voice-to-text and recognition isn't perfect, but it's something new that is much appreciated.
Onslaught alone is worth the price of admission. It may have taken a page from BF's Conquest, but Onslaught goes a few rungs higher on the ladder and completely eclipses Conquest. The connect-the-dots style aspect keeps the team moving together and once you connect a new node, the old ones become invulnerable to the enemy, so you can't have one guy sneak around the edge of the map and take a base way at the back. Onslaught is a riot and when you throw in the return of Assault, a highly underrated Bombing Run, and several Deathmatch variations, you've got your hands full. The game also features a solid single player experience that doubles as a training mode for newer players. When you take all of that and spread it over 100 maps, with more to come through mods and bonus packs, Unreal Tournament 2004 will easily hold you over up to and possibly beyond the next wave of FPS's due out in the summer.
The game is a blast from all angles. The game types are easy to understand for the most part, and teaming up online with friends or strangers is not only fun, but easy to do thanks to a great interface. Even when you get mowed down by a Manta that you had no idea was there, the game never seems to get frustrating. The bots are the best I've ever seen, and everything seems to be balanced fairly to make for some exciting matches, no matter what map you're on.
*** This review was written for Flamevault.com shortly after the release of the game. ***