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Platform

PlayStation 2

 

Genre

Action

 

Publisher

Namco

 

Developer

Namco

 

ESRB

T (Teen)

 

Released

September 2005

 

 

- Decent fighting engine

- Detailed graphics

 

 

- Unbelievably cheap AI

- If you turn down the difficulty, everyone turns into bumbling idiots

- Repetitive character design and environments

- Story is contrived

 

 

Review: Soul Calibur II (PlayStation 2)

Review: Tekken 5 (PlayStation 2)

 

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Urban Reign

Score: 4.5 / 10

 

For all of the genres to seamlessly make their way from the 16-bit era to the current generation, itís hard to fathom just why the beat Ďem up has failed so badly in the attempt.  Unperturbed by the horrible track record that the genre has suffered in recent years, Namco has entered the fray with Urban Reign on the PS2.  Sadly, the game does nothing to help the lot of brawler games, as it suffers from repetitive art, an uninspired story, and rage-inducing AI that strips all semblance of fun from the game.

 

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Right from the opening movie, the writing is on the wall that Urban Reignís story will be contrived.  Players take on the role of some hired muscle named Mark Hawk who breaks legs, snaps arms, and generally inflicts pain on individuals for a price.  In this case, he has been hired by a young Asian lass named Shun Ying Lee, the boss of a local band of thugs in Chinatown.  Players will take Mark out on 100 missions in the gameís story mode, running various errands for the young, revealing-spandex-jumpsuit-loving crime boss.  Unfortunately, each of these missions feel like a haphazardly slapped together excuse to punch people in the face.  The story isnít at all gripping, and players will likely stop caring about the plot after a handful of missions.  Basically the cycle follows one group of enemy gangs causing trouble in town who need to be dealt with, followed by yet another group causing a slightly more annoying ruckus after the first has been defeated, lather, rinse repeat.  Even the ending is horribly predictable, as anyone with an ounce of common sense will have a good idea as to who the mastermind behind all of the criminal groups causing problems is.

 

While the game starts out looking very good with the high amounts of detail in its characters and environments, it doesnít take long for one to start wondering if Urban Reignís art team spent too much time making a limited number of enemies and levels look really pretty, and not enough time ensuring variety in these aspects.  Since this title has 100 missions in its story mode, it doesnít take long before players find themselves returning to the same areas, fighting similarly dressed thugs again, and again, and again.  Whatís particularly startling is that outside of Shun Ying there isnít another single woman to be seen over the course of the gameís story.  Equally surprising is that once players unlock Challenge mode in Urban Reign theyíll discover an extra half dozen areas in which they can fight.  Why were these levels not included in the gameís main mode?  It certainly could have used them.

 

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But as frustrating as some of the aesthetic design decisions and story are in Urban Reign may be, they are nowhere near as infuriating as the AI here.  Simply put, this game is hard.  Throw the controller across the room during each level hard.  Itís not even a sort of challenge that forces players to spend a lot of time honing their skills.  Instead, the gameís difficulty is based on a complete lack of fairness, as enemies often become god-like, perfectly 

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dodging playersí attacks, unloading unblockable combos that dizzy you, then repeat the attack before one can recover, thus dizzying you once again, and grappling players left and right just for a change of pace.

 

Even worse is that players are often pitted against three or four (sometimes even more) of these cheap bastards at a time. With this, players are forced to do a lot of crowd control if they want to stay alive because if one gets swarmed, expect to lose a lot of health, and fast.  What makes the swarmings even worse is that players donít have proper rear-attacks to knockdown bad guys trying to sneak up from behind.  One must either turn to face this attacker, consequently exposing oneís rear to another enemy, or use up one of Markís more spasmodic special attacks, reducing his energy meter so that he canít use a special move at a more opportune moment.

 

Boss fights are the worst of the bunch, though, as these guys hit hard, have vicious combos, and a fetish for grapple moves.  A number of the latter bosses can also charge themselves up, and while in this state cannot be knocked down.  These fights are incredibly hard, and due to the enemiesí inherent cheapness when players wins it feels like a fluke and nothing more.

 

About a third of the way through the game, players will start to be able to bring partners on a number of missions, which helps to minutely alleviate the difficulty in Urban Reign.  However, these partners often times need a fair amount of babysitting in order to survive a mission.  Ultimately, this leaves lowering the gameís difficulty in the Options menu as the only way to make things less frustrating.  The problem here is that while doing so prevents the gameís enemies from being unrelenting killing machines, it also has the unfortunate side effect of reducing the bad guys to incompetent punching bags.  As such the game goes from being unbelievably hard to unbelievably boring.

 

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Itís really a shame that Urban Reign misses the mark in terms of difficulty so badly, though, because the core fighting engine is actually quite good (despite the lack of adequate rear-attacks).  The controls are very intuitive, and allow players to pull off quite a few moves with subtle use of the controller.  There are also a ton of weapons available that range from pipes and bottles to axes and swords.  It isnít the weapons in and of themselves that make their inclusion interesting, but rather the tiny gameplay features included in how they can be used.  When a weapon is thrown at a player one can do more than just dodge it, instead also being able to catch the thing or kick it away.  On top of this, players can toss weapons back and forth between themselves and their partner.  These little extras are just plain neat.

 

There is also the matter of Paul Phoenix and Marshall Law being hidden characters in the game.  While this may be a nifty feature for the Tekken fans out there, there will be far too many hoops to jump through for most to be bothered to unlock the pair.  In order to play as Paul or Marshal, one has to first complete the gameís story mode in order to unlock Free Play and Challenge modes, and then complete some of the early missions in these modes.  So, to play as a couple of Tekkenís most popular characters, one must complete 100 extremely difficult levels in Urban Reign (or boring if you tone down the difficulty).  For most, this will be far more trouble than itís worth.

 

Urban Reign is a textbook case of a good idea gone horribly wrong.  At its center is a decent fighting engine that I hope Namco holds on to and refines for future efforts, and the overall detail in the gameís visuals is well above par.  Unfortunately the gameís difficulty completely supersedes this, either inducing searing rage or narcolepsy depending on where itís set to, ultimately ruining this title.  Sure you could grab a friend and play this game in multiplayer to make things a little bit more manageable, but what kind of monster would subject someone they care about to a title like this?

 

- Mr. Nash

(September 21, 2005)

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