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Urban Reign

Platform(s): PlayStation 2
Genre: Action
Publisher: Namco


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PS2 Review - 'Urban Reign'

by Katarani on Sept. 29, 2005 @ 2:34 a.m. PDT

Urban Reign promises to offer players non-stop, inner-city brawling action with no time restrictions or referees. Back alleys, junkyards and bars serve as battlegrounds for more than 60 different fighters, all of which boast their own unique set of fighting styles including boxing, wrestling and street fighting. Players can select from over 30 weapons including bottles, bats and 2x4's to be used in the destructible arenas to add to the mayhem.

Genre: Action
Publisher: Namco
Developer: Namco
Release Date: September 13, 2005

Long ago, the big offenders in video games were drugs and gangs, especially in the early '90s, when anti-drug awareness was at its peak. Nowadays, the focus seems to have shifted more towards pure violence, sex, and shock value, leaving behind the subtle, sometimes confusing or cheesy nuances of games like NARC (the old arcade game, not the recent PS2 mess) and Streets of Rage for games that, instead of fighting the bad guy, allow the player to become the bad guy. Games like Grand Theft Auto, Manhunt, and 80 other games all inevitably made by Rockstar personify improper behavior, endorsing violence and drugs instead of, for example, fighting drugs by punching them in the face with a rocket launcher.

I have a point with this, honest. My point is: Urban Reign, for better or worse, hearkens back to the days of games passed, days where "Winners Don't Do Drugs" was emblazoned proudly on the attract mode of every game in the arcade. On the other hand, it also tries to be "hip" and "edgy," causing the whole effort to fall relatively flat on its face. Part wrestling game, part old-school beat-'em-up, part Tekken meets Boyz n the Hood, Urban Reign is a textbook example of a game trying to be too many things at once and ending up as very little of anything at all.

Urban Reign puts you in the shoes of Brad Hawk, tough-as-nails street brawler and Matrix-wannabe who may or may not have a heart of gold. Someone's kidnapped KG, a member of the Zaps (one of the local gangs) who frankly has the words "pummel me, I'm a walking target" written all over his face. You're not hired to find him, no. Shun Ying Lee, the sultry Chinese woman who the Zaps suspect to be behind the kidnapping, hires you instead. Your mission? Clear Shun Ying's name by, it appears, beating the living expletive out of the Zaps and pretty much every other gang roaming around downtown.

You do this in an expansive story mode, encapsulating a good 100 missions (read: fights). These missions pit Brad, and later on, one of a variety of AI-controlled partners, against up to five separate enemies of varying power and skill. Controls here are simple, if a bit too loose: One button performs punches, kicks, and the like; another is responsible for the multitude of throws and grapples in your arsenal. Pushing these two together, as expected, causes your character to perform a pain-dealing special move. A third button is the obligatory "run aimlessly" command (which if used in proximity to walls or other fighters, allows you to run up them for a short distance a la Matrix), and the final button is used for countering. The whole ordeal seems quite similar to wrestling games - namely the recently-released WWE: Day of Reckoning 2 - right down to the countering mechanic which seems to be impossible for human senses of timing but is flawlessly executed by the computer time and time again.

One problem not evident in Day of Reckoning 2 that rears its head in Urban Reign is subtle: you "target" attacks by pressing a direction on the left analog stick, which is simultaneously being used to move around. Such execution means you're going to either walk into a lot of attacks, or that you'll never pull off just the attack you want to, when you want to. In addition, hit detection is usually solid but has a few gaping flaws, most notably in the special moves. Brad's initial special move in particular seems to have a hit radius far smaller than the wide, sweeping kick suggests, which causes wasted special move energy, especially if the move was accidentally executed instead of another of the special moves … which are selected in the same fashion as normal moves.

The AI, as it were, is a mixed bag as well. Regardless of your difficulty setting, the AI between your partner and the enemies is unbalanced, always favoring the enemies. On the easiest modes, your partner has the IQ of steamed cabbage, and as the difficulty ramps, they get better, yet always remain one step behind the foes you're facing, resulting in you having to save them constantly, regardless of whether or not that's the goal of the mission. The AI also, as previously mentioned, has countering your every move down to an art, to the point that even on the easiest difficulty, they manage to do it a good amount of the time. Aside from that, enemies are solid, providing a challenge without being hideously cheap.

The missions, thankfully, are more varied than even most wrestling games. Granted, they all involve pummeling your opposition, but occasionally you're asked to single out one thug, or even a thug's body part. One mission in particular had me beat up an opponent until his legs were critically damaged, probably the closest a game will get me to kneecapping somebody. There are also the occasional rescue missions and timed fights, and while there is variety, it's hardly enough to make 100 missions of "beat some guys up" into anything more than 100 missions of "beat some guys up."

There's a multiplayer mode, allowing you to... well, you do exactly what you do in the story mode, although there are some variants, such as who can hold a weapon the longest, but all it boils down to is beating up the other player to survive. The box claims "over 60 characters" with which to do this with, but fails to clarify that a good three-quarters of them are gang members which are basically the same character with a different face, leaving perhaps 10 or 11 unique characters, which is average for today's fighting games.

Urban Reign is a story of gang warfare, unlikely allies, and a whole bunch of punching people in the soft and squishy bits. The barely tolerable story mode does little to cover up the fact that Urban Reign is little more than pummeling goons in the face for three hours, and then bam, you're done. It's really not a bad game, simply a boring one. Even if you're a fan, slippery controls and occasionally inconsistent AI might make you steer clear. Rent before you buy, unless you love Tekken and Streets of Rage enough to be blindly approving of anything that resembles either game. As a matter of fact, rent before you buy them, too, as your needs may be better fulfilled with Soul Calibur and Fighting Force, respectively.

Score: 5.9/10

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