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[ Writer ] = BAD
[ 10/20/06 ] = In The Face Of Loss

After covering the demo version of Urban Reign, I went out and bought the final version a few days later. I wanted to reserve judgement on the game as a whole until after I had played the final product, and now I have. The final version of the game is fun and enjoyable, but not without flaws. I have tried my best to convey my thoughts on UR by looking at the differences between the demo version and the final version, as well as some similarities it has with other Namco fighters. The game has been talked-down by many, and some say that Namco has made better efforts, but this is one of my favorite Namco titles.

I liked the demo better in that a good number of moves and characters were all available from the start; in the final version, moves and characters are unlocked gradually. UR is a lot like other Namco games (Soul Calibur, Tekken) in that respect. Namco made sure to include over sixty different fighters (probably so that at least the media couldn't complain about character selection). They also included Paul and Law as hidden playable characters, but the focus is not on them, and UR really doesn't ride off the popularity of the Tekken series (unlike Ergheiz with Final Fantasy characters). In the final version of UR, you basically save and build your character similar to BeatDown, enhancing attributes like strength, defense, and skills after each stage. Also at the player's disposal are flashy Special Moves and Team Special Moves that rock the enemy in a series of deadly attacks or throws. The over-the-top Team Special Moves are absolutely crazy and one of the coolest things about UR's fighting system. They're even fun to watch! The control compliments the moves and other built attribuites you get, and is still like other Namco fighters as it was in the demo, but this is one aspect of the control that hurts the game. Doing what I wanted to do seemed easier in the demo; maybe the control was tweaked?

The counter system works OK in the demo, but later, more difficult parts of the final version prove that the system should work better than it does. The game gives you "tips" when you die, and one of them tells you to use the counter move, but most of the time you still fail even when you use it. The fancy footwork of the counter looks cool and can sometimes be useful in one-on-one battles, but against several opponents you'll almost always be punished directly after bobbing and weaving a flurry of attacks. If you'll just be punished even when you use the technique skillfully, what's the fucking point? This is one of the most frustrating parts of UR. No, I'm not an expert player, but I know fighting games well enough to see that the counter system in UR needed more tuning for the final version. Another aspect of the control that I noticed in the final version is that the camera is a bit off. It's difficult to control, and even changes directions while you're trying to adjust it! I don't usually complain about the camera in 3-D games because I believe it's up to the player to control the camera to his/her liking, but in UR the camera jerks back and forth too much. If Namco had spent just a little more time tweaking the camera, the last few stages in the game would have been a lot easier.





There are also time limit parts in the final version that weren't in the demo, but they should have been kept out of the final version, too; the ticking clock may add a sense of urgency and diversify the gameplay, but passing these stages can be a headache. Also not in the demo version are stages with objectives that involve hitting enemies in key areas (i.e. head, torso, legs); in some stages you have to break their legs so that they don't "come crawling back," and in others you break their arms to prevent them from brandishing weapons. These parts also diversify the gameplay, but it can get annoying having to re-play the whole stage over and over again after accidentally finishing a single enemy without sufficient damage to a key area. The thugs in UR have a lot more life than that of other side-scrolling fighters, and it's both good and bad; it's a different approach to the genre, but it makes some stages exasperating. And like other titles in the genre, there are (a ton of) weapons that can be used to knock enemies out quicker, but actually acquiring them is difficult (since the opposition can pick them up, too). Another important thing is that GameSpot (and some other idiots) say that UR features no cooperative play, but it does, and it makes the game a bit easier in the near impossible spots. However, the game is inconsistent in co-op, and only allows it in some places. Having played through almost the whole game as of this writing, it seems that this decision was made because the story revolves around one certain character, but it still sucks. Namco's approach to co-op is unique, but it breaks the flow of the game and gets annoying after a while.

The difficulty lies somewhere in between normal and extremely cheap; in some parts the game is fair and challenging, in others it's mind-numbingly difficult and borders on unfair. The inconsistency in difficulty sometimes makes UR frustrating, and the game would have been so much more fun if it weren't for the few parts that are damn near impossible (even for hardened side-scrolling veterans). Some of the stages are so hard later in the game that they are virtually impossible to beat single player; I hate this about Urban Reign. Enemies have powerful moves that hit key body points over and over, resulting in stun frames that paralyze you and allow them to combo you over and over again. Not only that, but it suffers from what I like to call "Double King" syndrome; chain throws are way, way too powerful in Urban Reign just like in Tekken Tag Tournament with the King / Armor King team. The ridiculous chain throws in UR are enough to piss anyone the fuck off, especially when combined with the aforementioned issues. Taking hits slowly fills a meter for a screen-clearing melee move used to escape beatings. But sometimes the moves don't work because they go through enemies too often (like in Soul Calibur and Tekken), and to go with it the counters hardly ever work in tight situations, either. What pisses me off the most about UR is that in addition to the aforementioned repeat stun combo issues and chain throws that render the player defenseless, the counter system (usually of saving grace when everything else has failed) is moody and unpredictable.









Unfortunately, the overpowered throws and repeat stun combos show that this is a Namco fighter. Compunded, it all gets really irritating, especially later on in the game when missing a single move leads to disaster. Another notable example of extreme difficulty is when the game puts you up against a hulking enemy called Golem by himself. Not so bad, right? Wrong. What makes this battle so hard is that they gave him strong attacks, an axe, a power-up move that makes him virtually invincible (no joke), and a charge meter that replenishes a lot quicker than yours. Why the hell did Namco need to give him such powerful attacks and and exe, and a power-up move that allows him to take almost no damage and prevents him from being knocked down? It's fucking cheap. Then, to go with it, Golem fights alongside the endboss. Even with a partner, you cannot even imagine how difficult the battle is. There are several stages in UR that could consume even the most hardened side-scrolling veteran with livid anger. You can tell that this game was meant to be a credit-eater. "Impossible is nothing," but it's probably damn near impossible to clear this game without continuing. I can go through several side-scrolling fighters without continuing, but I don't think I'll ever get through UR in one credit. In the hard parts the cards are stacked high, and not in the player's favor.

The visuals are just as they were in the demo version; UR was developed on the same hardware as Soul Calibur III, Soul Calibur II, and Tekken 5, and the graphics look equally impressive. There are a ton of different characters throughout the game, and each one of them features a good amount of detail (cool clothing and footwear). The scum you fight in UR range from petty thugs to gangsters, mafia, and military rejects. UR's varied playable cast is led by a dude called Brad (a tough-as-nails-no-neck bad-ass), and includes (but is not limited to) Kodansha (an ass-kicking karate master), Dwayne (a scrapper from the streets), and Shun Ying (a Chinese bombshell that I swear I've seen before in real life). The characters in UR look as good as they should look on the hardware; Namco did a good job with the characters in this game. The animation is on par with Namco's other PS2-based fighters. Most of the characters look good in motion, as punches, kicks, throws, Special Moves, and Super Moves come out (and connect) just as they do in SCII and T5. The over-the-top team moves are a spectacle to watch, as bodies fly and limbs crunch. The animation would more enjoyable overall if the sporadic difficulty didn't detract from it, though.



The destructive battle grounds are detailed, too, and take place at different times of the day; there are a few stages that take place at night, but some fights take place during broad daylight, and there are even a few in the rain! I really like this about the game (it always reminds me of Jaleco's Rival Turf!). Nearly everything in the game is destructible, and Namco used the particle effect capabilities of the hardware for broken boards and other debris that litter the backgrounds of UR. One of the coolest things about this game is when the screen erupts into all-out-chaos with stuff breaking, shattering, and flying all over the place. You name it. Walls, windows, fish tanks, and other background objects even take damage as bodies are thrown into them! If you like breaking shit, this is your game. The other effects are also pretty good in UR, and resemble that of the SCIII and T5; glowing lightning indicates body-specific injuries upon impact, and bright hit sparks follow the contact of each hit. On the subject of visuals, the final version is noticably polished in design, with a better-looking intro and map screen, among other things. I could be wrong, but the cinematic sequence before the first alley stage seems to be different from the demo version, too.

The music, sound effects, and voices in UR were also underrated. The soundtrack is composed of mostly guitar riffs, but it isn't all metal; it's a creative, catchy mix that compliments each part of the game. I noticed the sound effects immediately when I played UR because they are so similar to Namco's other fighting games; the cringe-inducing popping sounds (changed slightly from the demo version) during limb breaks were borrowed from the Tekken games, and some of the weapon sounds are similar to SCIII. The voices are just as good as the music and sound effects; all the grunts, screams, growls, yells, and cries of battle are loud and clear in UR. Overall the audio is good, and should please Namco fans.

The game isn't just for "the most hardcore beat-'em-up fanatics" as GameSpot says, it's just that the difficulty is inconsistent; aside from a few horribly difficult parts, the game can be for everybody. Namco makes their titles for everyone (as opposed to a niche audience), and this can be seen in UR's approach to the genre. It's not hard to get into, there are a ton of characters, a ton of weapons, and it's really fun with friends. You can really rock some shit with two players, and it's cool watching team combos in slow-motion at the end of every stage. Some fans of the genre might like it, but the "hardcore" that is often spoken of probably passed judgement on this game because it's 3-D, or because they're afraid they won't be "hardcore" if they like it. Most reviews have been written by assholes who have no respect for the genre either way. In other words, guys who should be reviewing Madden or some other shit like Profit Hearts...I mean, Kingdom Hearts. I'm not saying the game is perfect, or that it's the best in the genre, because it's not. But even with its flaws, it's not a bad game or even an unplayable game. There are people out there who will play a game even if it's not as good as some other titles in the genre (myself included). I would have liked to see as many enemies onscreen as FFSW or BD, but at the same time I give Namco credit for their unorthodox approach to the genre (emphasis on less enemies but longer lifebars). The often-criticized story is also pretty good; plot twists kept me in the game wondering as everything unfolded.

UR isn't quite up to par with that of Capcom's or Sega's 3-D side-scrolling fighters (Final Fight: Streetwise, BeatDown, Shenmue II, Spikeout) but the game shows that Namco made a good effort with some good ideas. They took a chance with the ill-recieved Death By Degrees, and an even bigger chance with Urban Reign; I give them credit for making such a move. Is it worth buying? Sure. I would say the game is worth more than "just a rent." That is, possibly at the cost of your sanity...