The Unreal games have always been about pushing the limits when it comes to graphics and game play in the first-person shooter genre. Now Epic Games brings their mastery of FPS games to an all new level with the release of Unreal Championship 2: the Liandri Conflict - to debut on the Xbox console. However, UC2 offers more than a basic first-person shooting game, throwing in a third person mode as well as also a frantic, melee weapon fighting game. It’s the way that UC2 blends all these elements together makes for an outstanding game that’s not just the first in its genre, but also one that will be hard to surpass in the future, should anyone else try and make a game like it.
The beauty in UC2 is that while mixing all these genres seems like something that would be overly complicated, the truth is that the entire game works in such a simple manner that the beauty is in its simplicity. Switching from first to third person is smooth, and as easy as pressing the black button and it’s the same for switching weapons and entering melee combat. In order for this to work, there are no weapons to pick up like in the Unreal Tournament series. Instead, each character has a race weapon (normally a pair of pistols), a melee weapon, and then each character chooses an explosive weapon and an energy weapon. Each weapon uses universal ammo for its type, which are liberally scattered throughout the levels, and respawn quickly. So a rocket launcher uses the same ammo as a grenade launcher, and the shock rifle uses the same ammo as the sniper rifle - but this simplicity all help increase the pace and flow of the game. The melee weapons range from swords for the smaller, quicker characters, staves for the medium class, and fists for the heavy characters. The only exception are the Skaarj warriors, who use the blades attached to their wrists, no matter what their character “class” is. The addition of melee and third person views for every weapon (and melee weapons can only be used in the third person) opens up a whole new realm of game play for UC2. The extra situational awareness afforded to being in third person gives you a much better ability to wall jump and other acrobatic feats that are harder to do in first person view mode.
In the past, the Unreal Tournament series has been touted as a multiplayer title - however the single player game in UC2 is still fun and varied. The story mode sets you as Anubis, and his quest to stop his former betrothed, Selket, from claiming the throne of the Nakhti Empire, and pits you to play through over a dozen matches that span all the game types offered in UC2. In addition to the story mode, there are tournament ladders for each of the 15 characters, although some of the characters can be unlocked through story mode (including Raiden of Mortal Kombat fame). “Mutators” as UT/UC fans will know, that allow for changing the rules for games, in instant action (single player against bots) and in multiplayer. These Mutators can range from Instagib (one hit kills), to Melee only, to Speed Matches, or to Low Gravity, and much more - any mix of the 29 mutators are available. When going with the match types, there are many choices to be made. UC2 only supports 8 players at a time (bots or human players), which doesn’t seem like a lot, but when you get into games, you’ll see that this is actually more than enough. But there are all the different game types to consider, as well. There are the old staples of DeathMatch, Team DeathMatch, Survival, and Capture the Flag; plus a bunch of new ones!
Graphically, UC2 is simply superb. Sure, it’s not extremely bump mapped, so almost everything looks slick and polished (although some levels looks old and worn, like they should for those levels), but that’s the style that Epic went for. Character models are detailed and varied, with incredibly good animations and self shadowing effects. Jump animations, in particular, are very nice, especially for the light characters. The heavies... well, they’re more like walking tanks, so their jump animations are pretty simple. Level designs are intense and well thought out - varying from futuristic undersea levels to old looking Egyptian-inspired ruins. All the levels are geometrically advanced, offering lots of places to wall jump up to higher areas - as well as hidden goodies scattered in ingenious and hard to reach places throughout them.
The sound design is also spectacular. Death rattles, taunts, weapon fire, melee attacks, and everything else happen in gorgeous clarity and commentary (like an announcer yelling out “Flack Monkey” for killing 10 people with the flack cannon, for example), can be very humourous mid-battle. Also, this announcer can be switched to a Mortal Kombat announcer as a nice touch of class by Midway. All Unreal Tournament fans should pick up Unreal Championship 2: The Liandri Conflict - especially if you have Xbox Live.