Perhaps the greatest innovation Unreal Championship 2: The Liandri Conflict brings to the first person shooter genre is, ironically, the third person perspective.
While not the first shoot 'em up to take the camera behind the back of the character, Unreal Championship utilises it to great effect. Better peripheral vision is an obvious advantage, but the increased spatial awareness allows for far more exciting character manoeuvreability. Other shooters offer a realistic sense of traversing a horizontal plane, but Unreal Championship 2 will literally have players bouncing off walls.
Like a heavily armed, slightly psychotic Prince of Persia, players are able to wall jump (bouncing steadily higher between nearby walls), double jump and barrel roll through the sky. The ease of unleashing these acrobatics, combined with the third person camera mode, add enough to the game play to make it feel less like a shooter with platforms, than a platformer with very heavy shooting.
The other great innovation of Unreal Championship is how well melee combat has been integrated. No longer the last resort of players who've run out of ranged ammunition, melee attacks are now a legitimate and very satisfying way to reap destruction. Melee attacks come in two flavours -- a quick attack that can be strung into a three hit combo, and a heavy blow.
Like a Jedi knight, players can also use melee weapons to deflect projectile attacks. A poorly timed hit will merely redirect ranged attacks, while a well timed button press sends the projectile careening right back towards your enemy. When correctly executed (both the returned volley and the enemy), the game commentator's shout of "Rejected!" combined with your opponent's dejected look are reason enough to put away your guns.
The final use of melee weapons is to complete a "coup de grace". Stunning or freezing your opponent gives you the opportunity to quickly input a randomly generated button sequence. Do this successfully and your player obliterates their opponent in a bloody (but strangely boring) mess. If this sounds suspiciously like the infamous "Fatality" moves from the Mortal Kombat series, you're right. Demonstrating of the power of synergy and cross promotion, both games have been published by Midway.
Also borrowed from the one on one fighting genre is the concept of unique combatants. Only slightly more endearing than this season's Big Brother contestants, the 14 warriors available to choose from do add variety and an element of strategy to the proceedings.
Further strategy is encouraged through the limited arsenal. In addition to the melee weapon, players are only able to select one energy and one explosive based gun. This simplified weapon system tremendously enhances gameplay, allowing the player to focus on hunting and eliminating opponents rather than trawling the beautifully designed maps for the most powerful gun.
Graphically, Unreal Championship is stunning. A pseudo-mythical motif based on ancient Egypt colours both level and character designs. For example, the single player campaign revolves around Anubis, the Egyptian God of Death, whom the game designers have reimagined as a metal faced mouseketeer with ex-girlfriend issues. In game audio is of a similarly high quality. Each of the main characters is uniquely voiced, and explosions and gun fire sound suitably crunchy.
While Halo 2, with its deeply nuanced gameplay, requires tactical know-how and strategy to win battles, twitch shooters like Unreal Championship 2 ask for only perfect hand eye coordination. This style of shoot 'em up has long been perfected on the PC, and Unreal Championship 2 successfully brings the essence of fast paced deathmatches and frags to the Xbox, while adding enough innovation with melee combat and player acrobatics to push the genre into a new and exciting direction.
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