Unreal Championship 2: The Liandri Conflict is a 1st and 3rd person arena game that offers much for the multiplayer fan over Xbox Live, but those who aren't online might not find so much value.
Unreal Championship 2 was developed by Epic Games and published by Midway after being dropped from Microsoft's roster of games. The Unreal franchise is one of the most important franchises in gaming as it redefined the way game engines were written and increased the gameplay bar for everything that followed.
Unreal Championship 2: The Liandri Conflict is an arena game, much like Quake 3. This means that the story is really a filler to get you from one arena match to another. You play Anubis, a prodigal son returned to fight and retain the respect and power he lost 10 years ago. There's a conflict with Selket as we learn that they were once involved romantically. This story is gradually told through cinematic cutscenes and the only real purpose is to fill the gaps between arena matches. It's satisfactory, but not groundbreaking game story writing.
All of the Unreal games have been very strict 1st person shooters a la Doom, Quake and Halo. But Unreal Championship 2 changes the game and allows a combination of 1st person and 3rd person. This is an interesting twist on the game and makes sense on paper. However it adds a bit of a learning curve for those who are used to only one gameplay style. Add some special moves via the adrenaline menu and you can guarantee to get schooled by a 12-year old the first time you try to play on Live.
There are 3 different single player game modes in UC2 and they all seem rather similar. Ascension Rites is the story mode that details Anubis's adventures. This is a mix of arena play and pseudo-adventure gaming. In the very beginning, you actually go from one destination to another battling baddies as you make your way to the arena. It's an odd mix, but one that works well. The other modes are Tournament (basically a bunch of Multiplayer game types against computer controlled bots) and Challenge which is much like Tournament mode, but with odds stacked against you in terms of opponents and difficulty. I think the game would have worked well with only 2 modes, but there you have it.
The biggest part of the learning curve is the control scheme. While the triggers are mapped to firing as one would expect, there are only two types of melee attack, regular and strong. And both are mapped to buttons, not triggers. This can take some getting used to.
In addition, you can block and deflect shots, but only in 3rd person. And this is the heart of the learning curve: Some things may only be done in 3rd person and others in 1st person. While this may frustrating to many new players, I can't think of any other way the developers could have achieved the level of control need for this complex a game model. However, that may be little consolation when you're getting thrashed by a faceless 10-year old online.
To make matters more complex, you also have the ability to jump against walls and ricochet your way up to impossible-to-reach ledges. Your timing needs to be right, but those familiar with the working of Prince of Persia should do just fine. Luckily there's a beginning tutorial that allows players time to learn the skills.
One of the best things about UC2 is the adrenaline menu. Usability issues aside, the designers have added some fun new powers to use when your adrenaline is charged up. You can run fast, jump higher, deal a devastating energy blow, heal and a few more. This adds a certain dynamic to the game missing from many standard 1st person shooters.
The weapons selection is a little lacking, thougn each weapon also has a secondary fire. We have weapons for sniping, long range combat and explosive warfare. The weapons are fun, but not extremely varied. However, this is where the melee attacks add some versatility. If the long range rocket launcher isn't doing it, switch into 3rd person and start slicing and dicing up close. This adds significantly more strategy than your average run 'n gun 1st person shooter.
The original Unreal was a marvel of programming especially in terms of AI. The enemies would roll, dodge and strafe. While that might seem quaint by today's standards, it's important to note that it was one of the first to do it successfully. The tradition continues with UC2 as the AI offers ample challenge to even experienced players. And they do it without cheating. Not only do they dodge, strafe, and hide, they use adrenaline, special powers, different melee attacks etc. All the better to kick your butt with.
Unreal Championship 2 is an Xbox exclusive, so there's no danger of it being a port from an inferior console. The graphics are fantastic as we'd expect from a last generation wave of titles. There's ample bump-mapping, dynamic colors and even High Definition support. The textures are hi-res and the animations smooth and complex. The effects are varied and take advantage of the hardware with nary a hiccup in framerate.
The level design is good, but at times the arenas seem small. It won't take long to memorize the arena and shift the tide of battle if your opponents are as familiar. However, graphically speaking the environments are lush and detailed.
The voice work in UC2 is good, but not stellar. You won't notice any name actors and sometimes that's a good thing. The actors hired do an adequate job and bring a varied amount of characters to the plate. Given the lack of any real story, there's not much need for sophisticated VO work.
The music stands out as being very good. It's a dramatic, symphonic score mixed with modern beats and instruments. Most of the time it is background ambience, but sometimes it sticks out and calls attention to itself. I enjoy good music in a game and the music composed for UC2 works well.
Multiplayer is the meat and potatoes of Unreal Championship 2. Not only does it support split screen and system link, but the Xbox Live support is on par with Halo 2. There are many game types including the classic Deathmatch and capture the flag. In addition, there is Overdose (capture more objects than the other team) and Nali slaughter (mercilessly kill more skinny alien pacifists than your opponents do).
But lest you think this is just another online shooter, there are 40 maps with downloadable content promised in the future. The game supports only 8 players, but this is a plus especially considering the compact nature of the arenas. Plus the game comes with a huge amount of server configuration. Every single gameplay element can be turned off or changed. This is similar to PC gaming where the hosts were allowed an amazing amount of control over the type and style of game they wanted to host. And since UC2 also supports Live 3.0 features such as clans and leaderboards, online players will be more than satisfied.
One thing to note is the inherent lag in any online game. UC1 was notably laggy and this problem has been reduced in UC2, but not eliminated. Naturally some lag remains. This is not Epic's fault, but does add some difficulty when timing specific gameplay elements. Blocking or deflecting enemy shots are nearly impossible due to their precise timing controls when in even the least laggy of games.
Parents Should know...
Unreal Championship 2 is rated M for Mature by the ESRB and contains some bad language and over-the-top violence. Every time someone dies, they erupt in a splatter of gore. This is so ridiculous in its excess, that it's almost less violent than had it been presented in a more realistic way. Nevertheless, the game is deserving of its rating.
Unreal Championship 2 is a solid title that deserves to be in any online gamer's library. The single player is adequate to prepare the player for online play, but is not the sole reason to buy the game. Spend some time in single player and you'll be guaranteed to have blast when it's time to turn to the broadband.
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