Epic, best known for their Unreal engines and tournament games for the past few years, has been working on a new title exclusively for the Xbox in UC2. With UT 2004 only just out the door a year ago, it may have been time to put UT to bed and come up with a new idea but instead Epic has changed the gameplay and added more to the series than ever before. For some reason Microsoft dumped this halfway through development and when you consider that it's Xbox exclusive it really makes you wonder what the mentality behind the decision was. Either way Midway were the big winners and despite a few flaws, Unreal Championship 2 is a quality game.
The most interesting aspect of Unreal Championship 2 is that it has a fairly deep storyline behind it. Just after the current emperor steps down, a tournament is held to determine who the next emperor will be. Just think reality TV far into the future where governments are not determined by votes but blood sport, and you're on the right track. The Liandri corporation wants to take the helm but Anubis, who is a descendant of the current emperor, wants to stop it and this is where you come in. You need to stop Selket and her boyfriend as well as the Liandri corporation taking the Emperor ship no matter what it takes. Perhaps the big surprise is that the storyline is presented in a series of cut scenes rather than just fight after fight.
Unreal Championship 2 really is a game of two halves; single player and multiplayer and for once single player is not just a repetition of multiplayer with bots. Other than the aforementioned story mode, the game also contains a challenge mode and the obligatory tournament mode to complete. Considering the story mode is actually quite short, this will be welcome to those without Live. The tournament mode is really what you've come to expect from the PC games with fight after fight taking place but each character has a different tournament this time and this as well as ascension rites is used to unlock more characters and mutators for single player. There is one level where the game becomes a first person shooter single player which is quite a change-up to say the least. It does work well and fits in with the storyline however.
The other mode "Challenges" is an interesting one and takes UC 2 down the path of a sports game even further with scenarios being given to you such as overhauling a seven point deficit in a team match to win. As you complete a scenario more are unlocked and some of them are quite tough to complete, even on the easiest difficulty level. Epic really have not forgotten about single player this time around and it's a credit to them considering it is a very Xbox Live oriented title.
The gameplay itself is fast and frenetic and there has been one major change for this game and that is melee weapons. This is almost enough to single handedly sell the game as handheld combat is extremely well implemented and quite fun. You can perform a finishing move on a character once you freeze them with a button combination and generally the handheld weapons are a match for more powerful weapons because of the quicker speed you have when using melee combat. Other than that it remains much the same as the previous UT games. It has a few new game modes such as Nali hunt where the aim is to kill as much Nali as possible, and a mode where you have to carry a ball to a goal which is probably the worst mode. The one thing that is a disappointment is that there is no assault game mode, dropped from UT 2004 and possibly because of the high graphics intensity that was featured in that game.
Another change is the weaponry side of things. You must choose your loadout before a match and you can only choose what your race of people can use. Also you can only carry two weapons as well as your melee. Due to the fact everyone has different weapons, the ammo pickups are neutral and give you ammo for your guns no matter what you've got. The characters also have specific weaponry and specific options when their adrenaline is full.
The game does have bots but of course the best experience comes from Xbox Live. Everything that is in the single player mode really is part of Live other than the story mode so in some ways single player still is a training mode for multiplayer. It's just so in depth that it can hold its own and you really don't need Live to enjoy this game. There are also mutators to mix the gameplay up but it seems that you can't combine mutators this time around which seems like a questionable decision.
The game features a multitude of levels to play in and each are customized for the game modes. The visuals of the levels are stunning to say the least, and it manages to keep a rock solid frame rate even when the action is intense. In comparison to UT 2004 however, the CTF maps seem a bit small. The characters all have individual traits as well such as size, weaponry and you can only carry weapons you take into the arena. The melee animations are like watching rhythmic gymnasts dancing around except with deadly weapons. Visually the game is stunning as you would expect from Epic with no pop up to be seen, even in outdoor levels, and the voice acting does the job if it's not spectacular.
Unreal Championship 2 is beginning to show Unreal Tournament's rusty side but innovates enough to warrant a purchase for Xbox owners. The melee action has changed the strategy of the game quite a bit making it much easier to play for a lengthy period of time. It probably won't win Game of the Year on Xbox, but it's a solid shooter nonetheless.