Impressions: Battlefield Vietnam vs. Unreal Tournament 2004
Many would probably suggest that comparing Unreal Tournament 2004 and Battlefield Vietnam is a bit like comparing apples and oranges, and honestly thatÃ‚'s a fair conclusion. However, comparing apples and oranges is valid within certain constraints, certainly more so than comparing, say, apples and flagpoles. In fact, there are probably more similarities between the two games than is at first apparent, and their simultaneous release puts them, for better or worse, in direct competition with one another.
LetÃ‚'s talk for a moment about the similarities these games share that make a comparison valid. At the basic level both games are first person PC shooters, both games expand upon an existing franchise, and both focus more on evolving the games that sired them as opposed to creating an entirely new experience. Beyond that, both games focus heavily on online play, neither having a plot driven single player experience. Both feature ground, vehicular, and air based combat. Both games use modified versions of their previous game engine, neither building in any appreciable technical way on its predecessor, though each actually end up requiring some notable increase in system requirements. Finally the gameplay of both are exciting and immersive experiences which place a premium on teamwork.
And, as should be no surprise, the experience of playing one is virtually nothing like the experience of the other. Where Unreal Tournament 2004 is a fast and frenetic cavalcade of exaggerated explosions set in a sports like atmosphere, Battlefield Vietnam has moments where the pace and ambiance of the game makes you feel like getting a skull tattoo and buying a CCR album. Unreal Tournament is a very structured environment with carefully designed levels, while Battlefield Vietnam is an almost dauntingly open landscape where one can easily get lost or wander into the sites of a distant sniper.
Visually speaking both games are gorgeous in their own distinctive way. UT2K4 is full of bright colors and distinctive levels set against such venues as arctic vistas, rusted martian landscapes, angular gothic structures, or a hard lined industrial factory. The character models are widely varied from the semi-human, to the alien, to the tormented damned, and every single one of them is toting one of several thick meaty weapon. On the other hand, Battlefield Vietnam remains determined to stick to earth in both setting and visual restraint. Avoiding graphical hyperbole, Vietnam may or may not look like that actual area of the world upon which the game is based Ã‚– I could no more say for certain than I could speak on the texture moon dust Ã‚– but it certainly looks like some movies IÃ‚'ve seen, and as a child of the technological age, thatÃ‚'s good enough for me. Grounded in reality, Battlefield Vietnam manages to convey a real sense of place, where UT2K4, though visually compelling, never really manages to feel like anything short of a constructed play arena.
Battlefield Vietnam also gets notable points for a vastly improved audio experience over its predecessor. Not only does the game feature licensed music from the era, but it implements that music, radio commentary, and some occasionally disconcerting propaganda into the game in a very immersive way. Adding a neat Doppler effect Ã‚– the music emanating from passing vehicles goes through a Doppler shift as the vehicles cruises by Ã‚– and a much more imposing Saving Private Ryan sound effect as bullets whiz near your head, and youÃ‚'ve got something genuinely compelling to listen to. Meanwhile UT2k4Ã‚'s sounds are generally passable, but unremarkable.
That said, Battlefield Vietnam retains some inauspicious and occasionally show-stopping sound bugs from 1942. The fact that these issues which seriously impeded the 1942 experience from the beginning have not been dealt with by now is utterly ridiculous. As is the miserable single-player experience of Battlefield Vietnam. My original thoughts for 1942 were that if you were going to do that piss-poor a job with bot support, then you shouldnÃ‚'t have bothered at all. As it turns out, those are my exact thoughts again on this second pass. It would be an exercise of unnecessary finger calisthenics to itemize the failings of Battlefield VietnamÃ‚'s miserable bots, so weÃ‚'ll just leave it sufficed to say that the single player element is nothing more than an arena to practice crashing helicopters in.
Unreal Tournament on the other hand has a fully fleshed single player mode with some well considered enhancements. Instead of just being a crash course in the contained maps and gametypes, the new system rewards victories and notable achievements with cash which you can use to challenge opponents, win new players for your team, and spend on your teamÃ‚'s health and payroll. ItÃ‚'s a surface enhancement that adds a little depth Ã‚– and it is very little compared to a fully designed single player campaign. Additionally, and in sharp contrast to Battlefield Vietnam, UTÃ‚'s bot AI remains outstanding and competitive. Unlike Vietnam there is genuine fun to be had in a quick round with the bots.
Where Unreal Tournament 2004 really shines, however is in its new gametypes and its implementation of vehicles. The revamped assault mode and new onslaught mode are, simply, fantastic. The only real complaint one could probably levy against Epic is that they didnÃ‚'t include enough new maps for these gametypes, and really isnÃ‚'t that just a compliment in disguise? With this not being a full fledged review, IÃ‚'ll spare you the game-manual specifics and point you toward the demo if youÃ‚'re curious, and just leave it stated that the full version implementation of these already popular modes is every bit as fun as the demo implies.
The success of UT2K4Ã‚'s new modes shouldnÃ‚'t be seen as a strike against Battlefield Vietnam for not doing anything new. After all, UT 2003 left me and a number of others, fairly cold, so UT2004 showed up with something to prove. The Battlefield series, however, already had the gameplay in spades from its earlier incarnation, and it seems likely that complicated or clever new modes would have been widely ignored. DICE wisely decided to focus on taking their success and moving it to a new era. Some will say this doesnÃ‚'t validate a genuine sequel, but itÃ‚'s a point of complete subjectivity. For me, I have no issue with Battlefield Vietnam playing in a very similar fashion to 1942, and would almost have been disappointed had they strayed too far.
All told, it looks like weÃ‚'ve got two engrossing and entertaining games on our hands; similar in several important respects, but different enough that playing one doesnÃ‚'t satisfy the longing to get some time in on the other. I hesitate to pass any serious judgment at this point, but I did put that pesky little Ã‚"˜vs.Ã‚' in the article title so I guess IÃ‚'m committed to some opinion. So, while I have no doubt that Battlefield Vietnam is going to devour a serious number of gaming hours, in these first few IÃ‚'m left a little concerned about some lingering bugs and poor bot support Ã‚– itÃ‚'s not much, I know. With UT2K4Ã‚'s well designed new play modes it just canÃ‚'t help but step up as a flashier title on first glance. In the end the real issue, one which I canÃ‚'t begin to comment on, is longevity which will ultimately define which game succeeds to the greater degree. At this point, IÃ‚'m just enthusiastic about having two stellar and long awaited games on my hard drive, and if youÃ‚'ll excuse me IÃ‚'m going to go play them now.