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Unreal Championship

Developer: Digital Extremes | Publisher: Atari
Players: 1+ Player Game | Release Date: 09/24/02 | Genre: FPS

The online first person shooting arena is perhaps one of the most profitable areas in gaming today. Come on, who doesn’t like kicking some poor sap’s tail in a quick fragfest every now and again? The fact of the matter is there’s nothing quite like the visceral thrill of going head to head against real, live, intelligent opponents from all over the world while you’re sitting in a beanbag chair on your living room floor… and kicking butt. Over the years, there have been many FPS games available for online play on the PC and one of the most popular of those is the Unreal Tournament series. While the Dreamcast got things started on the console side of things, shooting enthusiasts can finally get down to business with the advent of Xbox Live and the latest title from Epic Games: Unreal Championship.

Unreal Championship has been built with the Xbox hardware in mind from the very beginning, and the results are quite nice. In the single player campaign, you must first choose your character and your teammates. From there, you can enter the ladder matches which include several game types such as Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Double Domination, and the all new Bombing Run. Bombing Run is a great new addition to the Unreal universe. In this mode, each team has a base, and in that base is a psychedelic looking loop. A ball appears at a designated spot on the map and your team must grab the ball, run it into the enemy base and either shoot or carry it through the loop to score some points. The ball carrier, however, will be helpless to shoot any opponents, so it’s imperative that the team protects him or her or it at all costs. As the ball carrier, you can opt to just shoot the ball out of your possession and take out any adversaries before picking it back up, or you can even aim at one of your teammates and fire the ball at them for a pass. This new mode opens up a whole new world of funtastic slaughter all for the sake of the oh-so-sweet victory.

In each of the ladder matches, you’ll be expected to perform as part of a team. Luckily, you can play the role of leader and boss your not so bright AI counterparts around. For instance, during a Capture the Flag game, you can quickly bring up a menu and order characters to either defend your base, or attack the enemy’s. The menu is brought up with a simple press of the Y button, so you don’t have to worry about getting blown to bits as you stand there and wade your way through a series of menus. You can also taunt your foes whenever you feel like it by pressing the Y button twice, so now you don’t even have to wait until you’ve secured a kill to start talking smack.

Ah, and speaking of talking smack, you no longer have to rely on the characters to do the trash talking, if you play the game online, you can do it yourself. The usual game modes are all there, and yes, Bombing Run makes the cut too. Playing online is incredibly addicting, and you’ll no doubt find yourself glancing at the clock and being astonished that your “shortâ€? gaming session has now lasted five or six hours past your bed time; shame on you. The online element offers another bonus in the way of downloadable content which should help to extend the life of the game.

The graphics in UC are excellent. Character models look fantastic, and the weapons and their fire look more brutal than ever before. You’ll wince as you round a corner and catch a face full of shrapnel, courtesy of an enemy flak cannon; you’ll stare in awe at the smoke trail left by your foray of rockets; and you’ll stand and laugh over the remains of the last infidel who challenged you. All this, and in exquisite environments to boot. The use of lighting and particle effects is amazing in UC, the game looks, for lack of a better word, unreal. The outdoor levels represent some of the best arenas yet seen in any FPS, console or otherwise. Fans of the series will undoubtedly appreciate some of the new combat areas, and will quickly become well acquainted with them.

The sound in the game is a bit of a mixed bag. The effects, such as gunfire, character voices, and the announcer are well done and help pull you into Unreal’s dark, futuristic death sport. The music, unfortunately, is pretty lame. You’ll get a few cheese metal tunes and some faux pas techno tracks, and not a whole lot more. Of course, you do have the option to turn the sound effects up and the music down if you wish, but a good soundtrack could have only improved upon the game.

The only other complaint you may have with the game is the frame rate issue. Yes, the game takes hits on the frame rate fairly often, even in the offline mode. And while the broadband only internet experience will cut down on lag, you’ll still see frame skips once the flak starts flying. Thankfully, UC has too many other good qualities that more than make up for any of its bad points, which in truth, aren’t even that bad anyway. The game definitely delivers the unique, fast-paced action that you’ve come to expect from the series, and there’s plenty of bang for your buck. If you’re able to play on Xbox Live, then this game definitely deserves your cash, and even if you can’t, it’s still worth looking into for the intense single player game and the system link capabilities. For shooter fans, Unreal Championship is the experience you’ve been waiting for.

By Ryan Schaefer - 12/15/02
ESRB Details: Blood and Gore, Violence
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Screenshots for Unreal Championship

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