It's been over a decade since the release of id Software's seminal Doom title, and over that time, multiplayer first-person action has pretty much become a sport itself, just like the FIFAs and NBAs of this world. It was surely only a matter of time then until an astute developer would eventually go and do an EA Sports in an attempt to corner the market for virtual reality combat, with a yearly update of the franchise. Step forward Epic.
Its latest Unreal Tournament game follows directly from last year's edition - and by this time next year, UT2005 will surely be beating on our bulkhead. Which leaves you with one key question to answer: if you bought last year's game, a bit like FIFA 2003, then should you buy this? The answer is a very definite and predictable: "Hell, yeah!"
Whereas UT2003 was justified by the obvious graphical and much-needed control improvements over its 1999 predecessor, this year's release adds much more meat to the bones. Mildly enhanced graphics, new player models, a far friendlier user interface and some new weapons are to be expected and are heartily welcomed. However, it's the new team-centred gameplay modes - the return of an old favourite particularly - and the introduction of driveable vehicles that make this such an exciting and important addition to the Unreal lineage.
With Deathmatch increasingly going out of fashion and CTF superseded in turn by the likes of Counter-Strike, Battlefield 1942 and PlanetSide, it was obvious Epic had to do something to bring down the young pretenders to the FPS throne. In little over a year, it's not only managed to provide a distinct and enjoyable alternative, but one that in many ways makes these games look at times amateurish by comparison. In the new Onslaught mode especially, Unreal Tournament offers a means to engage in vehicular combat that, though smallscale in comparison to the likes of even Tribes, certainly doesn't feel as such.
Rather than flag or frags, Onslaught's currency of import is power - or, to be precise, the flow of it across the map. Each side, red or blue, begins with a home base, the centrepiece of which is the electrical power core. Lose the core and you lose the match, simple as that.
To keep each side from rushing into the enemy base to secure a swift victory, each side's power core is shielded. The only way to bring it down is to gain control of a chain of power nodes until you have a link running from your power core to that of your enemy. Of course, the enemy is trying to run a similar link to you too, and with nodes regularly changing hands, life is certainly never dull.
The genius of Onslaught mode, though, lies not in its simplicity, but in the design of the maps. Although in some cases these are vast, they always manage to ensure that you're not left wandering around lost and alone.
Power nodes are never more than a minute's walk away either, and if it's under enemy control, simply destroy it and build your own (just walk on to the pad). However, if it's already under your control and not under attack, you can use it to teleport yourself closer to the action in the blink of an eye. Alternatively, you can climb aboard one of the vehicles that will be lying about and travel to the frontline in comfort and style.
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Though there are only six vehicles available to you in Onslaught (plus another three in Assault games), they're all multifunctional, easy to control and most important of all a helluvalotta fun to drive - even if you happen to be on the wrong side of the steering panel.