Hall Of Fame: Unreal Tournament 2004
Many of you may not even know of the existence of our Hall of Fame feature, and that’s basically because the last one was all the way back in May last year, and there have only been three of them so far. For those who don’t know, our Hall of Fame feature is all about taking a look back to remember what we, as well as many other gamers out there, consider to be incredible and unforgettable gaming experiences that will always stay with us year after year. For this entry, we’ll be focusing on none other than Unreal Tournament 2004, which released back on PC in, you guessed it, 2004.
That’s right. We’re bringing the nostalgia, along with history’s greatest gaming legends.
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Unreal Tournament 2004
If you’ve been around recently, then you may have noticed that in my 7 Of The Best FPS Games feature, I didn’t include Unreal Tournament 2004, much to the outrage of some humans. Well, UT2K4 is undoubtedly in my top 10, so I feel that it’s fitting to give it what it deserves right here in the Hall of Fame. Also take note of the fact that I’m not featuring the entire series here, but only UT2K4, because I feel it’s the best game in the franchise, and the most memorable. Now that we’ve gotten that random business out of the way, let’s take an in-depth look at what made UT2K4 the bees freaking knees.
Firstly, to be Captain Obvious, it’s one of history’s greatest ever arcade shooters, and was one of the best FPS multiplayer games for the PC back in the day. I can fondly remember the hours upon hours I spent playing it on weekends when I was still at school, and it was so damn good that I actually spent all my time playing it completely on my own, because back then my internet connection was much too crap to play online. So what exactly was it that set UT2K4 apart from all of the other games in the franchise? I mean, it was a sequel after all, and had a number of games before it. Well, fortunately back then sequels were subject to dramatic change, unlike today, and as honestly as I can put it, what made the game so amazing was absolutely everything. The game introduced significant changes to the gameplay mechanics and graphics, as well as added major new features to the game that made it feel almost entirely fresh. It was a groundbreaking turning point for the franchise, as well as the pinnacle of it.
The game was actually developed by multiple studios, which included the likes of leaders Epic Games and partners Digital Extremes, Psyonix and Streamline Studios. Each brought a number of significant elements to the table, but before taking a look at that in detail it’s important to realise that UT2K4 was built with Unreal Engine 2.5 and already included the content of its predecessor, Unreal Tournament 2003. Furthermore, the game addressed nearly all of its predecessor’s shortcomings and succeeded in almost doubling the amount of content available right out of the box. Epic Games handled a large bulk of the work, which included introducing enhancements to the game modes, the new UI, voice over IP and bot voice command support. They also upgraded the engine and introduced many optimizations, and worked on improving the single player and community features. Epic Games also made sure of the thirty-one new playable characters, a classic sniper rifle, an Onslaught map, AI support for the Onslaught game mode, 16 new Deathmatch maps, 5 new Capture the Flag maps, 2 new Double Domination maps and a new Bombing Run map. They also brought back the Assault game mode.
Epic Games’ Lead programmer Steve Polge detailed the work of the partners as well. Polge revealed that Digital Extremes were responsible for 3 new Deathmatch maps, 6 new Capture the Flag maps, 2 new Bombing Run maps and 3 new Double Domination maps. They also brought 2 new playable characters to the table, as well as the new HUD design and new weapon models for three weapons, including the Assault Rifle, Shock Rifle, and Link Gun. Psyonix took credit for the Onslaught game mode design and implementation, and the 6 new vehicles and 4 new weapons that it brought, namely the Grenade Launcher, Spider Mine Layer, AVRiL and the Phoenix target painter. The Energy Turret and a new model for the Translocator was also included in their credit, in addition to the seven Onslaught maps they created. Psyonix and Streamline Studios worked together on the popular map called ONS-Torlan. Finally, Streamline Studios worked on the the single player introduction movie and the Assault map AS-Confexia as a demo for ONS-Torlan, and it was released for free.
It’s easy to see from the above that for its time UT2K4 was a massive project. And now that you’re aware of what role each of the developers had in bringing this game to life, we can go into the actual gameplay and what made this game so incredible to play, and arguably so much better than what came both before and after it. Undoubtedly amongst the biggest new additions to the game was the inclusion of vehicles and the new Onslaught game mode. The latter is still for me one of the best multiplayer modes I’ve ever played. For the first time in Unreal Tournament, players were able to engage in vehicle combat, both on the ground and in the air, and the Onslaught mode provided the perfect launch pad for this, as it was specifically designed for large-scale battles. However, the talent behind this game designed the game and maps so brilliantly that vehicles fitted right into UT2K4 with ease, and instead of causing the game to lose its identity or change in a way that fans didn’t like, it completely evolved it. The gameplay was just pitch-perfect, and the introduction of vehicle combat and the Onslaught mode breathed so much more life into the game, making it feel completely fresh and exciting.
The game was just bursting with content, variety, value and appeal and for its time it was just a game you could seemingly never get bored of. It was fast, action-packed, dynamic, tactical and exhilarating, and was just amazing in every mode and style it attempted. Again, for its time it was the perfect example of a complete package, and it was a rare and extraordinary achievement in this regard. And the grand cherry on top was that, despite all of the new game-changing additions, the developers ensured that UT2K4 was expertly balanced and an absolute blast to play, staying true to everything that made Unreal Tournament what it was. It was just everything fans dream a sequel to be, and it was polished to a level that made it masterful. And the fact that it featured fantastic graphics and a lengthy single player mode only made things infinitely better. For its time it was a gorgeous game, packed with detail and rich with flare and personality. It’s pretty safe to say that it was a rare game that had it all, and served as a shining example as to why PC gaming will always be unbeatable for many gamers out there.
But what made this sheer behemoth of a multiplayer game so much better, or rather perfected it, was a feature that gets all PC gamers giddy with excitement. Yes, if you guessed mod support then you’d be completely right. UT2K4 included extensive mod support, which allowed users to easily create new maps, models and game modes as well as introduce various other additions. The modification system was highly flexible and open, seamlessly blending custom user content with the core game content, allowing users to both appreciate the Unreal experience as well as build their own. They were also able to easily tweak the game to their liking with the “mutator” system, and ultimately UT2K4 was just a pure game made for gamers. Mods support is definitely no small extra, as it provides the platform for users to significantly extend the lifespan of a game, tailor it to their liking and even craft their own experience out of it and share their ideas and creations with the rest of the community. For many it’s actually what defines the experience, and fans couldn’t have asked for more from UT2K4 at the end of the day.
In the end, Unreal Tournament 2004 was in many ways the very best of what the genre had to offer at the time. It showed excellence on all fronts, and was a dream to play and experience. It’s actually the only pure multiplayer game I can remember where I could only play the single player modes and still love it absolutely. Perhaps that’s because I was a much younger gamer back then, but the point still stands. It’s revolutionary games like this that makes PC gaming and multiplayer what it is today, and I don’t think it can really be challenged that this game deserves its spot on the Hall of Fame.
Keep an eye out for the next entry in the Hall of Fame.