PS2 REVIEW: URBAN REIGN
Dan
Fenix
OVERALL
2.5
GRAPHICS
4.0
CONTROL
3.0
MUSIC/FX
4.0
VALUE
2.5
OVERALL
4.0
GRAPHICS
4.5
CONTROL
4.0
MUSIC/FX
4.5
VALUE
3.5

What the hell is going on? In a bizarre moment of synchronicity, Sega, Namco and Capcom decided that the beat-em-up genre was ready to be reinstated into pop culture, 15 years after its original heyday. Sega's Spike Out: Battle Street was the first to appear and critics beat it over the head with a large chicken leg which magically manifested itself on the street, Capcom stepped up with Beat Down: Fists of Vengeance which conveniently could be used to destroy the DVD the game shipped on and now Namco throws tough guy protagonist Brad Hawk into line of fire in Urban Reign. Not to be outdone, Capcom is actually working on another beat-em-up title which is a follow up to their once popular Final Fight series.

The puzzling aspect to this series of missteps from the aforementioned game publishers is that they are responsible for the best of the best in the fighting game genre (please note that Fighting and Beat-Em-Up are different genres). Sega brought us Virtua Fighter, one of the deepest, most comprehensive fighting games ever created. Capcom created the genre with their insanely popular Street Fighter series which is still going strong and Namco's Tekken and Soul Calibur franchises have been exciting fighting fans for years now. So how is it that each of them could push out these lackluster beat-em-up titles which are at the very least, semi-related to the blockbusters they've built their empires with? That's a rhetorical question by the way. No need to answer.

Brad Hawk, another caucasian hero with a Hollywood power name so as to not reveal any sort of ethnicity - why aren't videogame heroes ever named "Myron Octroworch" or "Saul Lowenstein"? - is Urban Reign's tough guy de jour who is working for Shun Ying Lee, a black woman who needs her rivals taken out of business. Kidding. She's not black. Can you guess what nationality she is? I'll give you 6 billion guesses. So your job is to punch, kick and combo everyone that moves. Unlike the semi-roaming of Beat Down: FoV, Urban Reign ignores the useless busy work of exploring the mean streets and tosses you directly into battle after battle in pre-set locations. Each area has its own objective, but they all end usually with the same result - kicking someone's ass. Or at least trying to.

Asskicking is an art form in the videogame world. There are so many ways to asskick effectively in games ranging from Data East's Karate Champ to Namco's Soul Calibur III, that it's annoying when you come face to face with a game that is supposed to be about you asskicking, but in turn it's your ass getting kicked. Constantly. Urban Reign will raise your frustration level while simultaneously lowering your self-esteem. Brad Hawk is outnumbered and outfought every step of the way. I guess you could say that because of it, Urban Reign is one of the most realistic fighting games ever created, because if you get into a real fight with 4 guys in a back alley, they aren't going to take turns; they'll jump on top of you and beat you into a heaping pile of bones, teeth and blood. Unfortunately that doesn't make for an enjoyable videogame where the player usually prefers to be the victor rather than the bleeder.

It's not because of the lack of moves that fighting isn't effective. Namco sandwiched a lot of cool, well animated attacks into Urban Reign. The biggest problem is breathing room. You'll never be given enough breathing space to execute these devastating combos which the game incessantly hints is the reason you're having to restart the same level over and over ad nauseum. You'll also rue the day airjuggling was invented. You'll spent more time in the air than Casper the Ghost. When playing against a real opponent you'll find a slightly more rewarding gameplay experience, especially if the Player 2 you're playing with isn't very good. At least you'll be spared the relentless CPU AI cheapness. The 4 player multi-tap mode simply pits you and three friends against each other in a battle royal. Again, here you'll have some opportunities to try out those wicked combos you won't be able to manage during a real game. With over 60 characters to select from, you'll be spoiled for choice.

While Urban Reign could have been so much more in terms of playability and enjoyment, Namco sure knows its way around the PS2 architecture. Urban Reign packs a decent visual one-two punch and will probably fool one into thinking it's worthy of a go-around based on graphics and animation alone. Equally as impressive are the sound effects of the various blows and smashes, which lend the game some aural dynamics that as mentioned, aren't quite matched by the gameplay.

As we previwed below, Tekken fans will recognize unlockable characters like Paul Phoenix and Marshall Law who can't save this one no matter how hard they try. We were really hoping that the third time was the charm for the 2005 resurrection of the Beat-Em-Up genre, but so far it's 3 and 0. The only thing Urban Reign will provide you with is a realistic foreshadowing of what would actually happen to you if you ever ran into a few angry dudes in a dark alley late one night. If that sounds like fun by all means go for it.

What the hell is going on? I'll tell you what's going on: You suck at videogames! Namco's Urban Reign is the deepest Beat-Em-Up ever created and I defy anyone to prove me wrong. I've read the naysayers reviews, including my next door neighbor to the left and believe you me, I thought actually being able to play games was a pre-requisite for becoming a game journalist. Apparently not. Urban Reign is not a walk in the park by any stretch of the imagination but for every action there is a reaction and those who are skilled enough in the art of videogames will utilize everything Namco provided to best the ingame competition.

When I say "deep" I mean it. You could never accuse games classic bmups (beat-em-ups) like Double Dragon, Final Fight and Streets of Rage of being anything but skindeep in terms of fighting execution, but Namco changes the playing field in Urban Reign. Each character has 18 standard attacks which consists of 4 frontal, 4 back-turned, 4 running attacks, 4 specials, 1 down attack and a multi-enemy special. There are mutliple grapples available, various taunts, stuns, lots of juggle attacks, wall runs, environmental and weapon attacks, throws, counters and evades. Doesn't sound like Namco skimped on anything. Of course, it's how well your candy ass actually performs all of those moves that will make or break the game for you.

I'm not suggesting Urban Reign is without flaws. It suffers from a shallow story which is technically there simply to provide a reason for facing as many opponents as you do. Fights range from single opponent affairs to melees with up to 5 enemies onscreen to boss battles. Some battles will be relatively short and sweet while others will require mastery of every attack and counter you can muster just to stay afloat. It's true that the game doesn't offer endless freedom to roam and engage others in battle like the recently released Beat Down, and in that sense some gamers may find URs instant fighting approach a little too direct for their tastes.

The camera doesn't tend to make keeping your head above water any easier and this is definitely Urban Reign's biggest flaw but it's not like screwy cameras aren't part of the industry. Anyone remember Ninja Gaiden's flawed camera? You deal with it. Don't give up.

Mastering all of the moves can be a daunting task and one that you'll need to accomplish for you to get very far. I've read the reports of the unfair air-juggling and that's just such garbage. There are many ways to counteract an air juggle in Urban Reign...unless you're a moron. Then I can see it being a total problem. For those that strive to be a better fighter by using all of the means provided by Namco, you will get off on the challenge. Once I got into the game and found my skills improving, I didn't shudder when I was placed into a situation having to beat on an area full of guys - it was just an opportunity to hone my skills! And I honed while I owned!

Once you reach level 30, you'll unlock Challenge Mode which acts the games co-op feature. If you don't have a friend to pick up controller 2, Namco conveniently allows you to set a CPU controlled partner (with an adjustable level). You won't be able to play through the game as is with another player, but Challenge Mode is a fun way to pass the time and it's just pretty much one battle after another. The multitap 4 player feature didn't interest me and so I have to admit that I didn't play it too much, but I could see a room full of buddies getting into this very easily.

What my friend next door did manage to get right is that Namco did manage to serve up some hot graphics and fighting animation and yeah, the sound effects and music is pretty great too. Cranked through the right sound system and you can hear the beatings come to life. I'm such a freakin' degenerate.

Once you beat Urban Reign the first time you'll be able to play through the game in Free Mode with any characters you've unlocked. With over 60 different characters to choose from, you might find the game loses it's appeal before you've tried 20% of the characters. Multi-player mode is where you'll get the most use out of the collection of unlocked characters.

Urban Reign is brutal when it comes to shredding your self esteem. This much could be true for those with no skills. But I admire Namco for putting some brains into the heads of my opponents. People are crying because they game is too hard and too "cheap". Deal with it! If it wasn't hard, they'd be crying that the opponents don't offer any resistance. It's ridiculous. These crappy gamers have an excuse for everything. It's the camera. It's the cheap AI. It's the controls. No, it's the fact that you should be slinging burgers somewhere instead of pretending your a gamer. If you can't fly a plane, don't be a pilot! It's a simple philosophy.

Urban Reign will probably get low scores from the lemmings in this business who see one popular website run down a game because the dude or the chick can't play and they won't want to seem like they don't know what they're talking about. Happens all the time and it makes me sick. Urban Reign isn't for casual gamers; it's for the hardcore who wanted Tecmo to make Ninja Gaiden freakin' HARDER! If you know what I'm talking about, this ones for you.

PS. Dan I love you like a bro man, don't take these shots personally.

Preview by Vaughn

The classic beat em up isn't dead yet. I hesitate to call games such as SpikeOut: Battle Street, Final Fight: Streetwise and Namco's recently announced Urban Reign, a resurgence of the genre, but something is definitely underway. Ten years ago you couldn't turn around in a game store without knocking over a "me too" fisticuff street fest. Thanks mostly in part to Square's under-developed brawler, The Bouncer, released on the PS2 a few years back, the genre has pretty much taken a backseat to the almighty FPS. Can Urban Reign and its brethren bring back the once reigning champ of the consoles and coin ops to the forefront of gamers minds? That remains to be seen.

What appears to be setting Urban Reign apart from the competition is quite simply the fact that these Namco folks are responsible for Soul Calibur and Tekken. Drawing on the lessons learned from a decade of development on two of the most polished fighting games available, has got to give Urban Reign a helping hand in terms of playability. Surely Namco won't dumb down the entire experience by limiting movesets or altering the gameplay too much to appeal to the casual crowd - who usually avoid more involved fighting games. From what I've seen, the game employs a similar fighting engine to the Tekken series and allows for four player simultaneous action. I'm assuming that news will make most of you pretty happy.

Speaking of Tekken If you look close you'll recognize Paul Pheonix and Law from the popular PSone/PS2 series. You can expect to unlock a few more surprises as Urban Reign features over 60 fighters, 30 weapons and a ton of devestating combo attacks that can be performed solo or with a partner.

At this point the game seems very reminiscent of the Def Jam Vendetta series in terms of fighting arenas. It doesn't appear that your character will be allowed free roam through the mean streets and back alleys, but rather altercations will take place in enclosed areas large enough to house 4 characters.

If anyone can reinvent the beat em up genre, it's Namco. With Urban Reign due in stores this Fall (possibly September) you won't have to wait long to find out if the beat em up genre has evolved.

Story:

Gang life and street justice rule the inner city turning neighborhoods into war zones. One of the City's many gangs has hired you to protect their leader, plunging you into a war that involves corruption spanning from the streets all the way to the upper levels of city government. These fights aren't timed. There are no referees. Use what you can, there's no such thing as a clean fight.

Blaze through the streets and completing through 100 missions to protect your turf. Team up with an AI controlled character to pull off a host of destructive double team moves against multiple enemies. Play as one of over 60 characters in the multiplayer mode. Urban Reign brings the fight back to the streets, are you down to control your hood?

Features:

  • Experience the action with the city as your stage The back alleys and bars are your battleground as the gritty streets spread into all corners of the game- levels, weapons, and music- transporting the player to the wrong side of town.
  • Challenge your friends to insane multiplayer battles Supports multi-tap play for up to 4 players in a variety of combinations- battle it out fair or dirty, survival is the only option on the street.
  • Choose from a multitude of characters and fighting styles Choose from over 60 different fighters from the story mode, plus hidden guest characters - all characters boast their own unique set of different fighting styles such as boxing, wrestling, other street fighting styles.
  • Embarrass your opponents with devastating combos maneuvers Team up with another character to pull off spectacular combo moves. Toss your enemy skyward and watch your partner end the violence by catching and slamming him onto the pavement.
  • Use whatever it takes to bring the pain. Pick from over 30 weapons to open up new moves specific to each weapon. Broken bottles, bats, and knives add to the mayhem.
  • Modes include: Object Battle, Weapon Battle, Versus, Story
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System: PS2
Dev: Namco
Pub: Namco
Release: Sept 2005
Players: 1 - 4