Unreal Championships 2
The Liandri Conflict

Format: Xbox
Midway Games

5 037930 081385
Age Restrictions: 15+
22 April 2005

Unreal Championship 2 is the sequel to the acclaimed and hugely popular Unreal Championship, which offers both an exciting multiplayer mode and a new single-player tournament experience...

Not so much picking up from the last iteration of Unreal, but more akin to dragging the franchise kicking and screaming back to a place among the hearts and minds of Unreal fans it had long since left vacant, Unreal Championship 2: The Liandri Conflict promises, and is indeed a game that delivers.

In September 2003, Microsoft and Epic signed a deal to bring the Unreal franchise to Xbox exclusively, and when you know it's Xbox exclusive, you know it's going to squeeze every last polygon, every single adrenaline fuelled motion blur out of Microsoft's machine. Everything from the opening menu tells you this game has high class written all over it.

Firstly, Epic chose to focus on delivering a solid single player experience. Now, most newcomers to the Unreal franchise won't have a clue that Unreal has already shown every first person shooter wannabe king of the hill how it's done when it came to multiplayer perfection. However, it's always neglected the single player element, but here is where, for once, it excels. With a different single player experience for each character, each having it's own cut scenes and side story. No stone is left unturned in an effort to make the solitary gamer feel as at home in the Unreal world as veteran multiplayer stalwarts.

Once entering the game you notice the strangest addition to the first person shooter genre. Strangest and yet, at the same time, the most ingenious and obvious addition without it ever being clear enough for any other developer to have tried. Third person first - first person shooter? Is there such a genre? Epic's main aim since late last year at a press event in Madrid was to "Bring a knife to a gunfight". Without praising Epic's devotion to the cause too much, they did just that.

Melee action in third person works so well in UC2 that it seems an almost natural progression to the franchise. While veterans of the series may insist that it's taken away from the original Unreal idea, it does two things. Firstly, it evens up gameplay between novices and experts. Secondly, it gives the player a more involved feel to the game. Immersing a player can often be achieved in numerous ways, but none so easily, and I've yet to find a game that does it so seamlessly. Well, maybe Halo 2's dual wielding comes close, but it didn't instantly strike me and make me shout "Woah!" at a plasma screen in the basement of a Madrid conference centre.

Still, six months later, after the game's completion, I'm still drawn into the Unreal universe. Even before going online I'm hooked. But let's take it to where it's always been. Online on Xbox Live, Unreal comes alive in a way you wouldn't expect it to. With a reduced number of players from the last Unreal game, 8 instead of 16, my first inclination was that maybe they couldn't handle the graphics being this good with 16 players. Just to prove me wrong, they showed me the 16 player version they tried while in Madrid, and sure enough not a problem was to be found. Once you actually get online in one of the 40 maps that come with the game, you'll realise the size of the maps are smaller, but the scale has just been turned up a few notches. Gameplay has kept at that fast pace that you expect from Unreal games. In essence, Epic has delivered one of the most compelling first person shooters ever.

If you've got an Xbox and you're a fan of the series, you'll play this to death. If you're not a fan, or haven't warmed to the Unreal universe of yet, you'll find yourself snuggling up by the fire that is the warm glow of UC2, and in time, you will indeed see the importance, and the fun of bringing a knife to a gunfight.

Gareth Williams

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