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[ Writer ] = BAD
[ 03/31/06 ] = Dead (Again)

Finally broke out and played a demo of Urban Reign (that I've had for a while), and it was a pleasant surprise. This is another new, 3-D side-scrolling fighter the media hates, but the incomplete version I played wasn't bad. Namco is known for their unorthodox, yet easy approach to the fighting genre, and this is apparent in Urban Reign. More than anything, I think I noticed the system and control in UR, which isn't unlike that of their other fighters; Capcom makes their side-scrolling fighters play similar to their head-to-head fighters, and with UR Namco has made it play similar to Tekken and Soul Calibur (which was a good decision). Namco made it a point to allow the player explosive results with little effort. In other words, cool moves (like running up walls), sans the complication expected to perform them. In UR the player can go into airborne attacks after running up walls (or enemies), perform team attacks, and hit enemies on opposite sides at the same time with normal moves. You can even hit enemies and start combos while facing the opposite direction! The hits and juggles are also very similar to that of Tekken and Soul Calibur, but more forgiving; there may be juggles in a few other side-scrolling fighters here and there, but in UR it's more flexible and loose. Weapons like swords, bottles, and hockey sticks round out the fighting, but didn't seem as easy to use as in other fighters. Essentially, it plays like Namco's Tekken Force series, but without the stiff, muddy control that made those games frustrating at times (I'll get into that another day). I've heard complaints about the control in UR, and while not as tight as a Capcom fighter, those who play or have played other Namco fighters should be right at home.







While the control was good, though, it seemed like the incomplete version I played had a few collision issues; a certain Special Move consecutively missed opponents directly in range, and grabs didn't seem to catch as they typically do in Namco fighters. I imagine these problems were worked out for the final version, however. On a side-note, the overall flow of the game didn't seem as seamless as other titles in the genre. The character design, while not as good as some other titles in the genre, is actually pretty good; the main character (Brad Hawk) is OK, there's a hot Chinese chick (Lee Shun Ying), a bad-ass with style (Dwayne), and a martial arts master (Kadonashi). The assorted enemies also look pretty cool, and look like thugs ripped from real life; when I first played the game I thought I was kicking my neighbor's ass! It was awesome. I also thought that the animation was pretty good, too; the team-up moves look crippling, and most grabs break and shatter limbs. The destructible backgrounds were also pretty good, and featured lots of breakable objects to slam and hit enemies into. Like other 3-D side-scrolling fighters that have come out recently (BeatDown and Final Fight: Streetwise), though, Urban Reign was dead in the water and never had a chance; reviewers already hated this game just because it was a side-scrolling fighter (and a 3-D one, at that).

Even though magazines and "professional reviewers" have pretty much always hated the genre, they hate it now more than ever, and it shows (except for The Warriors, because to them, apparently Rockstar can't make bad games). And that is precisely why I give Namco credit for this game. Namco, a company that usually doesn't take too many risks and sticks with the tried and true, took a chance with Urban Reign after ill-reception of Death By Degrees. In both cases, they made a game for a genre that is all but loved by the media and masses. For Namco to come out and make a good side-scrolling fighting game says a lot, considering the fact that the genre has been almost completely ignored for the last 4 or 5 years; sure, Sammy made Demolish Fist, Sega made a new SpikeOut, and Capcom's Viewtiful Joe qualifies to some, but that's not much (and the TMNT and Dynasty Warriors games are another genre). I was happy to see that another developer besides Capcom was even trying to do anything for the genre (since developers like Jaleco and Data East from the 16-bit era have long since passed). Everything I've seen on UR sounds the same; random assholes who should be rating (and playing) RPGs and EA sports games are calling it "mindless" and "repetitive." I'm not saying that UR is perfect, or that it surpasses key titles in the genre, but from what I played it's not a bad game.

A title doesn't have to be perfect to be fun or enjoyable. Even the incomplete version I played was fun and featured unique attributes that separated it from other titles in the genre. It has an "urban" theme with some violence (very little, if any blood), but UR is a title that anyone can pick up and play. It is easy to pick up and get into because it's not bogged-down by puzzles or anything like what you see in Death By Degrees; it's just good 'ol fighting with a modern flair. Gamespot says that UR is "difficult to recommend to all but the most hardcore beat-'em-up fanatics," but this is just another one of their exaggerations. The game actually seems to appeal to everyone, with its easy learning curve, easy control, and fun cooperative play. As fun as the preliminary version I played was, I would say the game is worth a play from both casual players and fans of the genre.