Matt Keller
22 Jan, 2006

Urban Reign Review

PS2 Review | It's reigning men.
2005 saw an attempted revival of the beat ‘em up genre, with titles such as Beat Down: Fists of Vengeance, Spikeout: Battle Street, Crime Life: Gang Wars and The Warriors being released. Unfortunately, the bizarre curse that has prevented the release of decent beat ‘em up games for the past 10 years was in full effect, with only The Warriors providing a compelling gameplay experience. Namco joined in on the fun late last year with the NTSC release of Urban Reign, a scrapper developed by many of the people responsible for the Tekken series. Thanks to the typical PAL effect, we’ve been unable to experience Namco’s street brawler until now, so with that said, can Namco start 2006 with a bang by assisting in the revival of a once great genre?

In Urban Reign, players assume the role of Brad Hawk, a rather gritty street brawler who simply likes busting skulls, for a fee of course. Brad has been recruited by a young Asian lady named Shun Ying Lee, the current boss of Chinatown. Shun Ying Lee needs to clear her name after a member of a rival gang, the Zaps, was kidnapped, triggering a gang war – many of the gangs believe Ying Lee is responsible for the kidnapping. As Brad, it’s your duty to beat up whoever Ying Lee tells you to. Contrary to initial belief, Urban Reign takes on the role of a mission-based street fighting game not unlike Def Jam: Fight for NY, rather than the traditional level-based beat ‘em up style we’ve seen in the past. Unlike Def Jam, Urban Reign’s missions will have you taking on many opponents at once (usually upward of seven, rather than Def Jam’s three). That said, Urban Reign still plays a lot like a scrolling brawler, whereas EA's game was still firmly entrenched in its wrestling game base.

Park doesn't take nicely to people reminding him that he wears a gimp suit

Park doesn't take nicely to people reminding him that he wears a gimp suit
The combat system featured in Urban Reign seems somewhat simplistic on the surface, but as you progress through the game’s story mode, you’ll earn new moves that’ll significantly boost your repertoire. There’s only one attack button, which gives you access to two basic three move combos, a roundhouse kick and a sweeping move, depending on the direction you hold the D-Pad or Analogue Stick in while pressing Circle. These directions will actually affect the area to which you deal the damage to the opponent – Up hits the head, Left/Right affects the upper body, and Down hits the legs. The same applies for the grapple moves – many of which are paying homage to popular WWE moves, such as the Jacknife Powerbomb, Tombstone Piledriver and Stone Cold Stunner. After the first few missions, you’ll no doubt have a perfect grip over the offensive controls, and be able to pull off cooler moves, like air grapples (finish a launcher combo with a powerbomb), super moves and the rather awesome-looking double team and 1 on 2 moves. Brad can also perform a number of moves off the wall, such as a hurricanrana and springy jump kick combo. On top of that, the game is also packing a number of weapons.

Defence is far more important than offence in Urban Reign, due largely to the fact that the game becomes excruciatingly difficult very quickly. This sharp rise in difficulty is arguably one of the game’s biggest flaws – if players don’t have their dodging and parrying down by the 15th mission, they’re going to be in a lot of trouble. Once you’ve figured the system out, the counter moves that Brad can pull off look rather spectacular, and are very useful when it comes to saving your hide later in the game – particularly against the larger guys like Golem.

Alex tries out new moves from the Karma Sutra

Alex tries out new moves from the Karma Sutra
Urban Reign is broken up into a number of different, yet entirely similar play modes. The single player story mode contains 100 missions and, as good as that sounds, players will quickly realise that there are actually only five types of mission available, which leads to the game becoming stale quite quickly. Add this to the fact that the game’s difficulty is somewhat unfair, and you have a formula for a frustrating experience. The game does have some finer points in its story mode – each of the enemies in the game is unique in appearance (there’s 55 in all, making for a total of 59 characters), though their move sets fall into one of about eight different types. There’s also an RPG-style levelling up system, though you’ll quickly find that you have to allocate all of your stat points to the defensive attributes to proceed. The problem with the single player mode, other than the variety, is that it’s exactly that – a solo experience. Other parts of the game let a friend play as your partner, but the story mode lumps you in with an AI partner, with no option to let a friend play. It's a massive oversight.

Another major problem with the game is the length – the single player mode’s 100 missions each last an average of two minutes – that’s a mere three hours and 20 minutes to finish the game. Granted, you’re probably going to fail a few missions in there, but it’s still pretty short for a full priced game. The challenge mode offers up very little variety – it’s just the same 100 missions, but you get a letter ranking based on the performance and the difficulty level at which you attempt the mission. Multiplayer mode lets you take any of the game’s fighters into battle with or against a friend – it’s kind of fun, but feels like something of a consolation prize – the main game really should have been co-operative. Finally, there’s a number of unlockables in the game, most of which come from the story mode. However, two Tekken characters, Paul Phoenix and Marshall Law put in cameo appearances, and can be used in challenge and multiplayer modes (after you unlock them).

How many brawlers does it take to change a light bulb?

How many brawlers does it take to change a light bulb?
Urban Reign’s graphics are something of an anomaly; the game looks really good close up, but seems kind of plain when the action gets rough - there's a lot of aliasing problems, and the PS2's lesser image output does not help the game at all. Each of the game’s characters has a rather unique appearance, excellent modelling and brilliant animation, but the game’s environments are a bit disappointing, despite offering up a decent amount of destructive potential. There’s a couple of different locations for fights, but they are recycled many times throughout the game. The game manages to maintain a lightning fast framerate throughout the entire game (though the lack of a 60Hz mode is inexcusable). Music is composed almost entirely of generic rock riffs with the occasional offbeat piece of Asian music. Voice acting is actually quite good compared to the usual Namco standard, but that’s kind of like saying “This poop sandwich is the best one I’ve had.”

Ultimately, Urban Reign is another disappointing beat ‘em up. There is potential in the game, thanks largely to an interesting combat system and variety of unique characters, but the game's difficulty level is frustrating, and there’s a distinct lack of length and variety in the mission types offered in the single player mode. The fact that the main mode does not let a second player take over control of your partner is completely inexcusable, especially for an entry into a genre that was built around co-operative play. Even for the most die-hard of beat ‘em up fans, Urban Reign is just a rental at best.
The Score
Urban Reign is full of wasted potential. A disappointing effort from a developer that knows better.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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1 Comment
8 years ago
“This poop sandwich is the best one I’ve had.”
Classic, nice article.
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  16/02/2006 (Released)
Standard Retail Price:
  $99.95 AU
  Sony Computer Entertainment
Year Made:

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