Summary: The UT2K4 demo came out last week and you're wondering if you should download yet another demo. Well, Digital Extremes said "Let there be Unreal Tournament 2004", and FiringSquad looked upon the demo and said "it is good". Care to find out just why Jakub has been spending most of his time taking out flyboys with an AVRIL launcher all weekend, despite his lag? Read on!
Now Iím not the only one, mind you, nor is the experience uncommon, but it seems that the majority of people are able to enjoy a bot-free, l33tg4m3r-full multiplayer experience with absolutely no worries about lag. Iíve managed a few decent sessions, nothing to brag home about, but they were likely comparable to what a 28.8K modem player sees. So please keep this in mind, as it may have tainted my experience.
The first thing youíll notice about the 209MB demo is that itís packed with content, quite literally bursting at the seams. Every game mode is playable, and they all have unique maps, except for deathmatch and team deathmatch, which share DM-Rankin. Now believe you me, UT2K4 does not lack for different game modes.
In addition to deathmatch and TDM, as well as carry-overs from UT2K3 like CTF and Bombing Run, this Unreal Tournament demo also features the return of Assault, and a completely new game mode, Onslaught. Missing from the demo are Double Domination, Last Man Standing, Invasion and Mutant modes. The demoís seemingly impressive five maps pale in comparison to the 105 that the full game will ship with.
An interesting and welcome twist is that not every mode has the same weapons. Spider mines, for example, appear only in Onslaught as far as we can tell. Sniper rifles (not the lightning gun) seem exclusive to assault. The translocator is permitted only for CTF and Bombing Run. These choices make sense for the most part, though we wonder why thereís a sniper rifle at all with the lightning gun around.
Deathmatch and TDM donít seem to be the focus of UT2K4 as they were in UT2K3. Almost the entire online crowd focuses on onslaught, with a few assault and CTF servers here and there. While weíre on the subject, Iíd like to take the opportunity to retract some of the disparaging statements Iíd made about UT2K3 deathmatch. Itís still not the definitive skill-defining experience, but itís much better than I gave it credit for.
SIDEBAR: I tried to play UT2K4 online most of the weekend. Tried being the key word.
Bombing Run sounded like the coolest party shtick, until it was put into practice in UT2K3. For some inexplicable reason, every Bombing Run map in the 2003 version of the franchise had a long, narrow corridor or some other kind of choke point near each goal. Consequently, scoring was an exercise in futility and Bombing Runís lack of popularity reflected that.
The new map in the demo shows a lot of promise. Itís in the open, it has terrain elevation changes (the ball sits on top of a ridge) and the few corridors in it are functional. Scoring isnít overly easy, but a determined team effort can consistently get it in the basket.
Onslaught, the most popular game mode, is a completely different beast. Try combining UT2K3 with BF1942, and you have the right idea. Like Battlefield, Onslaught has vehicles, and these vehicles are of course role-specific. Also like Battlefield, Onslaught has objectives to be captured. The difference is that these Ďpower nodesí have to be captured in sequence. There are different paths through the nodes. You can cut through the middle for the quick rush towards the enemy base, or you can capture the corners to get the tanks that will appear.
The ultimate purpose of Onslaught is to destroy the enemy power core, and in order to do that, you need to capture the power node neighboring to the core. Once this node belongs to your team, the enemy core is vulnerable to attack. Unlike the nodes, it cannot be healed so any damage to it is permanent. Once the core hits zero, the match is yours.
Onslaught has an incredible amount of teamwork involved. Itís much less forgiving than Battlefield 1942 or even Enemy Territory when it comes down to deciding which team wins. If people donít co-operate in Onslaught, their team loses Ė hard. Something as simple as deciding beforehand if youíll try to rush the middle node, or to go for both tanks, can mean all the difference in the world. Other, less subtle acts Ė like using an AVRIL missile to take a flyboy off a tank come naturally, since itís a quick, easy kill. What really makes the difference between a good and bad team is anticipation. If you see an enemy node coming down, you can put yourself in position to take the next.
I just played a match where 4 of the highest fraggers on the server were on my team Ė and they werenít sniping campers or vehicle hogs Ė but the other team slowly reversed our initial surge through great defensive work. It was impossible to approach the enemy node with anything but a tank, because they all worked together. My team, on the other hand, came not in hard waves, but with scattered, individual attacks. The blues constantly repaired their turrets and, later, tanks, while we went into headlong suicidal rushes.
SIDEBAR: It sucks losing friends. Here you are, rushing down a mountain side, when WHAM Ė his head explodes in an electrical surge.
Now Iím not exactly Gabe, but my attempts at an online experience have given me a new-found appreciation for bots. The UT bots have always been stellar, playing believably in deathmatch and team deathmatch, and managing good teamwork (if not quite believable) in CTF, Assault and Domination. While the bots are as good as ever in DM, TDM and CTF, theyíre not quite as capable in Onslaught. Donít get me wrong, theyíre not the idiotic Battlefield 1942 bots, but itís impossible to get a believable challenge in Onslaught with the bots as they are. They do somewhat better in Assault, but arenít as convincing as they were back during Unreal Tournament days.
The UT2K4 demo is easy to get excited about. Yes, the graphics arenít as revolutionary as they were back when 2K3 was new, and no, Onslaught isnít completely original. On the bright side, the game runs quite fast even on the large Onslaught and Assault maps, and Onslaught is tremendous fun. The quick action combined with Battlefield 1942-style vehicle and objective play makes for an intense rush. In fact, judging by developer comments, this is close to the original design vision for Tribes before skiing caught on.
There are a few problems, like incredibly small and difficult to read text. Their voice command system is a mess of sub-menus which can be difficult to navigate, as the R key, for some reason, is a team chat button by default. However, the game does make allowances for microphones, so those equipped as such should have an advantage.
So is it worth the download? I guarantee it. The demo will spawn an online following at least as large as UT2K3ís, or even as large as that of the BF1942 multiplayer demo. Thereís too much content and itís too damn good to not enjoy. If you wanted a little more speed in BF1942, this is the game to do it.
SIDEBAR: I like the Manta, the hover thingy.
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