Unreal Tournament 2004

Epic’s UT gets a fresh lease on life.

If the graphics were the main attraction in Epic’s Unreal Tournament 2003 then the sheer amount of stuff and overall polish are the aspects that stand out in UT 2004. Although essentially a remake of the remake and using its predecessor’s engine on top of it, Unreal Tournament 2004 is nonetheless the better half, sporting more maps, more game modes, more mutators and ultimately more fun.

Possibly the most significant improvement is the inclusion of Assault maps, which were heavily decried for having been left out of the first game. These maps assign one team with assaulting an objective that the opposing team must defend it for a given time limit, after which roles get reversed and the attackers must defend. Assaults were some of the toughest maps to program and build in the original Unreal Tournament because of their complex, scripted nature, and the same holds true here as well (resulting in fewer overall maps).

Assaulting a Skaarj mothership. One has to wonder why these cool ideas were missing from Unreal II.

Assaulting the Skaarj ship. One has to wonder why these cool ideas were missing from Unreal II.

Unlike the first game, a spoken briefing sequence clearly states your objectives and an excellent interface highlights exactly what you’re supposed to be attacking or defending. Spawn points gradually shift and better weapons become available you push deeper into enemy territory. Although not equally well designed, most assault maps enjoy good layouts and creative settings – attacking a speeding convoy is superficially similar to UT’s high speed train chase, but it’s countless times more spectacular. Another notable mission involves an assault on a Skaarj mothership as it bombards the Earth, even including simple space combat with fighter ships.

As if all that wasn’t enough, we also get Onslaught, a game mode that has two teams control inter-connected nodes on a map, akin to a classic Battlefield match. Securing every one of these nodes eventually renders the enemy base vulnerable to attack, which you must then pummel into oblivion in order to win the round. Onslaught maps are predominantly giant – most are unplayable without at least ten players – and the inclusion of vehicles greatly adds to the fun.

Behind The Driving Wheel

The balance that these vehicles enjoy is near perfect – heavy tanks, jeeps, small rovers, hover crafts and jets all have a logical asymmetry between armor, mobility and firepower, each encompassing different play styles. Hop into a tank and sledgehammer an enemy strongpoint with the high velocity turret, or go at it from above with a Raptor, easily dodging incoming fire, or do a hit and run with the Hellbender, an obvious Humvee clone.

Both the spotless interface and game design keep everything in check – for instance, a top-right minimap keeps track of the match in progress, pointing to nodes that are connected, active or under attack, steering you right where the action is. Also, vehicles only pop up around controlled nodes, and the enemy can’t just pop in and carjack your carpool or blow them up – they have to control the area first.


The only major letdown is the AI  command system – it just doesn’t have the versatility needed to coordinate consistent attacks. Without human intelligence, botmatches always degenerate into chaotic free-for-alls with only loose fragments of applicable strategy.

We have a few other lesser game modes as well – Invasion is an interesting oddity that has you survive waves of monsters directly imported from the first Unreal, and which look surprisingly good within the engine. It would have made a terrific ‘Monster Hunt 2.0’ if they played more like Assault matches or had at least used custom maps. Every one of the old game modes from 2003 make a comeback – Double Domination, Bombing Run, Last Man Standing and the ubiquitous Deathmatch and Capture the Flag.

Bottom Barrel Botmatches

The least interesting bits are entombed in the singleplayer portion, which, similar to UT 2003, involves moving up a ladder by winning qualification rounds and unlocking new arenas for you and your team to battle in. Doing so will win you credits to pay your hired guns and recruit the best meat to fight by your side.

14_1_1Insofar as the simplistic team management system and command interface allow, you can hire or fire team mates, order them to attack, defend or call for their aid. A few issues present themselves here, like the intermittent one-on-one ‘challenges’ that pop up during matches (and which you can’t skip without paying a hefty fine) or how you must pay for treatment for wounded team-mates after each match (can’t they just eat a bullet and respawn?). Both of these will grind your profits and progress, but you can gleefully skip campaign mode for skirmish botmaches.

In any case, UT 2004 can easily be labeled as a five-star game if you care to look past its good but ultimately dull campaign and the somewhat lacking AI command system. It’s also worth pointing out the excellent range of extra maps and sheer content wash that you get with the GoG version or the Special Edition – new maps (including several great Assault and Onslaught maps), new vehicles and countless minor and major tweaks. It’s by far the best package you can get, and you will enjoy it!

System Requirements: 733 Mhz CPU, 128 MB RAM, 32 MB Video, Windows 98

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