When Epic games promised an Unreal game that was specially built for the Xbox, many gamers were not happy when the release of Unreal Championship was little more than a PC port of Unreal Tournament 2003, minus a few maps. Unreal Championship 2 however is an entirely new game built with Microsoft's console in mind. Fast and frantic 'First Person Shooter's' are always a hard thing to do successfully on a console due many reasons, the main being the use of a joypad instead of a mouse & keyboard. Unreal Championship 2 however, is not your standard FPS....
Upon first playing the game, Unreal Championship 2 appears to be your typical first-person shooter. You have a gun with a cross hair for your aim. You can run around, jump or double-jump, bounce off walls and fire your weapon. But with Unreal Championship 2, Epic has tried to do something a bit different. With a tap of the B button the camera switches to a third-person perspective and your character unleashes his or her melee weapon, completely changing how the game is played. You can still jump and move around as normal, but your combat options are entirely melee based. With different button presses you can execute quick, light attacks as well as slow, stronger blows. You also have access to a defensive abilities whilst in melee mode. By holding the L and R triggers you produce a shield, while by tapping the L trigger you can deflect incoming projectiles back to their owner.
Your melee weapon provides a great way of getting around the maps too. By jumping into the air and pressing the R trigger, your character will shoot across the level in whichever direction you are facing until they land on the ground. This is an efficient means of pursuing distant enemies or escaping quickly from danger. As well as melee combat, Unreal Championship 2 also features lock-on abilities. By locking on to an opponent with the R3 button you can use your melee attacks to dash directly to them or by holding the R-trigger in mid-air you can charge up a powerful attack. Lock-on is also available in first person mode, but it's not true lock-on as say, in Metroid Prime. Compared to mouse control, sticks are slower and with the speed and increased acrobatics in Unreal Championship 2 it's merely used as a way to follow your enemies easier rather than
Regardless of whether you've played first person shooters for the past decade or so, this isn't a game you can just jump into and expect to gel with immediately due to all the changes made to the core gameplay. Another change they've made is to the adrenaline system. Adrenaline is more plentiful this time around and can be picked up around the maps or earned by successfully killing opponents, reflecting shots or using melee attacks. Like in the original Unreal Championship, adrenaline allows players to perform a number of special moves. While some special moves are standard, like speed bursts and quadruple jumps, alot of the abilities differ between characters. Some offer invisibility, healing powers or temporary 'reflecting' powers while others deal out extra damage or 'drain' damage from a targeted enemy. All these moves are never more than 2 or 3 button presses away so performing them is easier than dpad combos of the past games.
Despite all the changes, the basic aim of the game remains the same, which is to kill everything in site. The weapons are a familiar set of Rocket Launchers, Chain Guns and Sniper Rifles, while Unreal's trademark Bio Rifle, Shredder, Shock Rifle and of course, the Flak Cannon also return. All of these have secondary functions such faster firing speeds, scopes that zoom and the legendary Shock Rifle combo. While the weapons are familiar, how they work within Unreal Championship 2 is different. Instead of picking them up around the map, you choose 2 weapons before you start a match and then the 2 types of ammo for these are laying around the arenas instead which has both positive and negative effects on the game. On the plus side, people can't hog the best weapons and you can always be sure that the weapon you pick up will be one you like. On the other side of the coin, it does limit the gameplay somewhat given that if you want to use a ranged weapon like the Sniper or the Shock Rifle you're going to have to dedicate half of your weapon selection to them. Every character spawns with some standard dual pistol-like weaponry, but they're pretty useless to kill anything. The secondary function however is a more worthwhile option as it can temporarily freeze anyone it hits. When someone is frozen you then have a chance to perform a Mortal Kombat style finishing move know as the 'coup de grace'. These involve having to enter quick button combinations in the correct order much like in Midway's fighting game. While it is certainly an original idea to include these in the game, I don't feel that it's a good one. The button combo's mean they're awkward to perform in the heat of the battle, while if you get one done on you it's usually means watching a long, drawn out animation when you'd much rather be respawning and killing again.
Unreal Championship 2 contains its fair share of modes and options for both the offline and online player. The single player mode is split into 3 main section. The first is the story mode known as 'Ascension Rites'. Here you play as Anubis as you fight your way through tournaments, mini-challenges, and a campaign known as Ascension Rites in a quest to become emperor. The story mode isn't extremely long, with cinematic cut scenes that are short and to the point, but it remains interesting what is really only a polished-up training mode anyway and with the challenging AI on hand, it does a good job at that. The next mode is the 'Tournament' which plays like the single player of past Unreal Championship/Tournament games. There are tournament ladders for each of the 15 characters, although some of the characters are unlocked through story mode or through beating other character's tournament ladders, each consisting of around 10 matches each. Here you battle through a variety of different match types and the aim of the game is simple as coming 1st is the only way to progress. The final section of the single player game is the 'Challenges' mode, which is all about overcoming the odds. Here you are given scenarios such as overhauling a ten point deficit in a team match to win or killing a set amount of opponents within a time limit. As you complete a scenario more are unlocked and some of them are quite tough to succeed in, even on the easier difficulty settings. Epic really have not forgotten about single player this time around and itâ€™s a credit to them considering it is based towards online play.
Of course, it's in multiplayer where Unreal Championship 2 is strongest. There are plenty of options available, including offline matches with bots, System Link play and the chance to host, OptiMatch, or Quick Match games through Xbox Live. All the usual game types are here including Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag, plus a 2 new additions. There's a melee-based mode known as 'Nali Slaughter' and something called 'Overdose' which is like an Unreal version of Basketball where you have to carry randomly spawning balls to a goal. An Unreal game wouldn't be the same without its Mutators, and Epic doesn't disappoint here with nearly 30 available (most of which must be unlocked in the Story mode). Everything from super-speedy players, ultra-low gravity, one hit kill rifles is here so you can tweak any map to your liking.
There aren't a shortage of maps here either with 40 arenas on offer. While only eight players are allowed in any online or System Link match, the maps on offer do a good job at keeping things exciting. Most are small, tightly woven maps with multiple routes and paths so you're always bumping into someone, plus the ability to traverse maps quickly via your melee abilities mean the larger maps remain hectic too. Unreal Championship 2 runs well enough online, but given the speed of the game, it's pretty much essential that you stick to playing with people in your own country as any lags makes melee combat almost entirely random.
Graphically, Unreal Championship 2 is one of the better looking games on the Xbox. From the moment you start the game you can see the menus are slick and polished and easily navigated. The maps look superb with excellent texture work and a pleasingly varied use of different themes and settings used ranging from Aztec temples to futuristic complexes. Character models are detailed and varied, with fluid animation that relate well to the size and weight of the character. The 3rd person camera works well and only really becomes erratic when you're locked-on to a fast moving opponent which can't really be helped. The weapons are all well designed too, each looking and feeling powerful with their own specific animations and special effects. The soundtrack is the usual dramatic theme that accompany the Unreal series and it fits as well here as it always has. Sound effects and explosions are all satisfyingly meaty, amplified further by the excellent quality of the 5.1 surround sound. Admittedly, the announcer is as over-the-top as always, but it wouldn't be Unreal without him. Interestingly, you can change the announcer to the one from Mortal Kombat which is always worth a laugh if you're a fan of the games.
From what I have written, anyone who has read this far must be somewhat puzzled by the score at the bottom of the page, so let me explain. As someone who is a big FPS fan, infact they are my favourite genre, I can't praise Epic enough for trying something different with Unreal Championship 2. Like most other developers, they could have just taken the easy route and simply port over Unreal Tournament 2004 like they did with Unreal Championship and Unreal Tournament 2003. The fact they've acknowledged that the Xbox is a console and moved the series away from its PC roots is highly commendable. It controls brilliantly on the pad with the inclusion of the lock-on feature and Epic realized that a single player is more important on a console than on a PC, and is fairly solid as a result.
But for some reason, it just doesn't quite 'work'. Firstly I think that the characters are just a little too nimble and too fast now, which as a result leaves alot of the weapons pretty much useless. Things like the sniper rifle just aren't that useful against decent players as they'll always been flipping and leaping all over the map. The fact it takes multiple hits to kill with it means that you'll more often that not be dead before you've landed more than a shot or two. The bio-rifle isn't that much use either as it's now so easy to get yourself out of the way of its fire so it's pretty much all rockets and flak cannons online. I'm not convinced by the melee combat either. Firstly it tends to feel rather random at times. Sometimes you'll kill someone with a well placed blow, with other times you can be slashing at them for eternity only for them to turn around and kill you with a single blow. I'm not saying Melee is overpowered, but it certainly seems it when you're up against the stronger, larger characters in the game that can kill people with single blows. The fact that ranged weapons are weak means you're forced into close combat alot of the time.
Its final problem I have is with its steep learning curve. Because Unreal Championship 2 does things rather differently, it takes alot of time and practice to learn. But it's a steep learning curve for what I think, at the end of the day, isn't better than ordinary FPS's. I've no problems with a steep learning curve, Pro Evolution Soccer is a perfect example of a recent game that took me a long time to fully understand and get good at. But with PES, I could feel that it was a better football game than anything before it, with Unreal Championship 2 I don't get that 'feeling'. It's a different kind of experience, but not necessarily different in a way that equals a better game. It may have dozens of maps and mutators, it may feature a wide selection of characters with different abilities. Sure it looks great and the online options are satisfyingly extensive, but all that counts for little if the gameplay isn't quite up to the same standard. It is overly weighted towards melee combat and, to be honest, feels random quite alot as a result. Weapons aren't balanced enough and you're restricted on how you play the game. For example, there's little benefit in picking a smaller, quicker character and relying on your gunplay to succeed as the game is heavily focused on close combat in which you stand little chance against bigger, melee attacking opposition. Despite my complaints, Unreal Championship 2 is a good game. It's fast and frantic and certainly one of the stronger games on Xbox Live, just be prepared to invest alot of time and practice into it before you start reaping the rewards.