Unreal Championship

Unreal Championship

Written by Charlie Sinhaseni on 11/21/2002 for Xbox  

Unreal Tournament is a game that received a whole lot of lovin’ from the guys around the Gaming Nexus offices. Featuring perhaps the most addicting gameplay of any First Person Shooter on the market, Epic had an amazing title on their hands that took the world by storm. Sure it never quite matched up the mighty Quake 3 juggernaut, but it lingered around long enough to garner a following. Epic and Infogrames, proving that their respective mothers didn’t raise no fools, were wise enough to milk their product for everything it was worth. Packaging it with high-profile sound cards, re-packaging the product in the “Game of the Year” format, and adding more subsequent upgrades. By the time that the company was finished with it, nearly everyone and their mother had come in contact with the game and from the looks of it, they liked what they saw.

After building up a solid fanbase, and hooking thousands on their proverbial crack, they were wise enough to produce a sequel for the game. Many were hasty to proclaim the title a one hit wonder, especially after the numerous delays that pushed back the title’s release date. In addition to the PC sequel, Epic also commissioned a console version of the game be made to accommodate the Xbox Live launch. Developed quite similarly, the games contain many of the same elements and in that sense, Unreal Championship is a worthy console title. Now the title is out on store shelves and if you’re a skeptic, you certainly won’t be one for much longer. This game is amazing and is a worthy successor to the original, the only thing keeping it from perfection are the horrible design choices that seriously dampen the experience.

UC isn’t a simulation by any sorts, you’ve got rockets, adrenalin moves and double jump maneuvers. In short, the United States army won’t soon be basing their training off of their experiences with this game any time soon. Don’t come here expecting one-hit kills and realistic action because you just won’t find it. What you’ll get is a game that relies on trash talking, fast reflexes and a whole lot of action. Someone looking at you wrong? Then send him a little greeting via strategically placed rocket to the kisser, it’s just that simple.

There’s a storyline thrown into the fray somewhere but it only really extends to the opening video. After that it’s basically you against a bunch of bots in a battle of single-player supremacy. This game is sort of like sex, it’s not much fun if you’re going at it alone. The single-player game is basically a ladder mode where you have to compete in a tournament. Interestingly enough, UC’s single-player mode is even shallower than that of UT2003’s. You’ll hire a team of bots to help accompany you but instead of trading and acquiring new talent as you move along, you’ll begin with a team and move on from there. If anything, the single-player mode is essentially a glorified tutorial that will introduce you to the various match types.

What is different about the console variant is that the different types of player models actually exhibit different characteristics. For instance, the larger ones are able to sustain more damage while moving slower and the smaller ones contain the opposite characteristics. This is pretty nice as you’ll soon discover that selecting the right model goes a long way in accommodating your method of play. I really liked this dynamic and I felt it fit in well with the overall game. The differences really stop there though, the majority of the game is just a port from the PC and while it brings with it the good, it also carries the bad.
The gameplay modes remain unchanged in the transition. The exact same modes make an appearance; deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, double domination and bombing run. Double Domination is the next iteration of the Domination mode that appeared in the original Unreal Tournament. I’m not particularly fond of these matches, as it seems to actually be a step backward from the original domination mode of UT. Instead of earning points for controlling certain areas on the map, double D requires you to hold two points for 10 seconds in order to garner a point for your team. If the opposing team takes control of your point then the count is broken and must be started over again. In theory this sounds like an excellent game but in practice, I found it to be too easy to simple kamikaze and take control of the point. On the other end of the spectrum, there are levels that sometimes end far too abruptly. It seems as if a proper balance could not be maintained and the end result is a match that is far too short, or a match that seems like it lasts for an eternity.

In Bombing Run mode, you’ll play what is essentially rugby with deathmatch rules. There is one ball that must either be run through or thrown through the opposing team’s goal. The team with the most points at the end of the round is of course designated as the winner. This most emphasizes perhaps what the hardcore audience wanted the most, teamwork, for without teamwork you’ll find yourself on the losing end every time. It’s simple really, and genius at that, the ball carrier cannot fire his weapon so he must rely on his teammates to protect him as he makes a run at the opponent’s goal. So obviously, you have to work as a team or the whole operation will fall apart. You’ll also have to rely on some of your teammates to sit back and protect the goal from opposing ball carrier. So you’ll have to organize your team and co-ordinate your plan of attack wisely if you hope to be successful. As you play through this mode you’ll find that the more selfless and cohesive teams will always prevail. Out of all the modes in this year’s game this is definitely my favorite, and judging by the number of players online, I'm not alone.

Of course the other modes are present as well, Capture the Flag, Deathmatch, Team Death match, all of which operate just as you would imagine. Though these matches may have become old hat for some, UT2003 still manages to make them more than enjoyable. There are dozens of maps in the game, each of which have their own distinct flair and style. Each new locale lends an entirely new atmosphere and more importantly, an entirely new experience from the previous one. Each of the maps are entirely unique and were built from the ground up, this means no cheap rehashes from UT are included to help build up the map total, we’re talking brand new material here.

Some of the new maps are great but the sad truth is that the majority of them are just plain awful. They range from wild rendezvous in outer space to a Tolkien-esque forest setting, complete with fairy dust-like objects. Each of them are well designed and feature plenty of room to maneuver and strut your stuff but they all tend to have one major flaw that prevents them from being functional. For instance, the spawn points are just a horrible mess, basically throwing you into the center of the action after each death. It's not a rarity to spawn on a map only to sent to your fiery death a fraction of a second later. There were plenty of questionable design decisions for the maps from the atrocious choke points on the Bombing Run maps to the relative easiness of the Double Domination matches, the designers really should have gone back to clean up the maps after releasing UT 2003. You’d think they’d have learned a thing or two by now.

Each of Unreal Tournament’s weapons makes a return in one form or another, most of them featuring significantly upgraded designs. Though their functions still remain generally unchanged, all of the weapons now have a more futuristic feel to them. The standard weapon is no longer a simple handgun but instead a fully automatic machine gun, the sniper rifle is now a weapon that fires out lethal bolts of lighting. There are some interesting new additions though, for instance, the Link gun’s secondary mode can now be used on teammates to help boost their firepower. The changes are generally skin deep though, the weapons still function in the same fashion as before and there aren’t many changes. I had a few problems with this though, I felt that the 'cheap kills' of the original were a huge problem, especially in a game that emphasizes great skill and precision aim. It's far too easy to blanket an area with Bio Rifle sludge or even the grenades from the standard rifle. It basically boils down to plenty of random kills that are garnered by luck rather than skill.
You’ll control your character via a very Halo-esque control scheme and it works quite well. Most of the weapons have primary and secondary firing modes that are mapped to the triggers, the left analog stick acts like your feet (keyboard) while the right analog stick acts like your eyes (mouse). It’ll take some time for newbies to become accustomed to it but after a bit, controlling your character soon becomes second nature. Since I had played the majority of the Xbox’s First Person Shooters I had no trouble jumping into this one. Control is surprisingly responsive and I was able to rack up the headshots in no time. I found the tracking to be a little too slow for my tastes though, it took me far too long to turn around to combat any enemies that happened to sneak up behind me. As opposed to merely flicking my wrist to meet him, I had to wait about a full second as my character slowly turned around all the while taking damage from my opponent. You can change the control sensitivity to your liking but I couldn’t find one that suited my tastes.

Visually, you’ll want to get your bibs ready because you’ll salivating over this one for quite some time. The PC first person shooter has often been a platform for showcasing the latest and greatest technologies. Games like Doom 3 and UT2003 will forever change the way that we look at our graphics. Thankfully, UC exhibits much of the same charm and allure that made its PC counterpart so attractive. Most of the game world’s are populated by some truly dazzling special effects that will send your senses into the next dimension. The atmosphere is truly amazing here, the more sci-fi levels will contain surrealistic coronas to really make you feel out of place. Confined corridors contain metallic textures that are so realistic that you’ll want to reach out and touch them.

Player models have also received a significant upgrade. The guys at Epic have been touting that their models feature up to 100 times the amount of polys as the originals and I’ll tell you, they’re not exaggerating. All of them look amazing, featuring tons of little details to really differentiate themselves from the others. All of the faces do well to match up to their portraits, featuring perhaps the most detailed faces to ever appear in a FPS. Each of the body parts has the ability to move independently of each other. This may not sound impressive in writing, but believe me, it’s amazing in execution. Aptly named “Rag Doll Physics,” each of the bodies get tossed around like your favorite childhood rag doll. This is especially prevalent in the death animations as you watch your combatant succumb to death. I recommend you die next to a cliff in order to observe this technology at its best, you’ll actually see your character fall down the side of the cliff in a realistic manner, limbs flinging around all over the place. It’s just like watching one of those entertaining Stunt Gone Bad shows on Fox, popcorn anyone?

While the frame rate manages to keep up the majority of the time, any heavy action will slow it down to a standstill. Having more than 5 players on the screen at any given time generally makes this game look like the second coming of Myst. This is especially noticeable in the larger maps and especially in bombing run. I checked out the same maps on the PC with the same amount of players and failed to experience the same amount of slow down. I also noticed that some corners were cut to keep the bandwidth down in online play. Play the game offline and you’ll notice some of the most impressive animations that you’ll ever see in a game. Play it online and the fluid, life-like robots suddenly look and behave like puppets.
Again, like the PC counterpart, the network code leaves a lot to be desired. Many times I had a hard time sustaining a decent connection on a game containing five or more players. I realize that the Xbox Live network is relatively new so I’m pretty certain that the stability will improve over time. As it stands though, the network code is pretty hit and miss, sometimes it runs well and sometimes it doesn’t.

One aspect of the game that delivers on all levels is the audio. If you’ve got a 5.1 setup be prepared to crank this baby up. The same level of sound quality from the PC version exists and thus you’ve got the 5.1 Dolby Digital Support. There is definitely a new feeling of immersion that really puts you into the middle of the action. It’s a shame that all gamers don’t have access to this setup because it’s definitely a treat. All of the audio elements are cleanly sampled leading to one of the year’s best audio treats. This is one game where if you’re not careful, your subwoofer will really kick your ass. I recommend you rent a shack out in the middle of Wyoming so that you can play this game without having to worry about pissing off the neighbors.

John also pointed out to me that it’s quite easy to become stuck in some of the game’s architecture, I didn’t understand what he meant until I went back and revisited the game. It seems that it’s simply too easy to become stopped by even the smallest piece of the environment. When you’re running around corners, sometimes a small area of the environment will protrude out and stop you dead in your tracks. This isn’t too large of a problem during the majority of gameplay but it becomes a huge annoyance when you’re playing cat and mouse with a rocket launcher.

Should you get Unreal Championship? You’ll have to ask yourself another question first in order to find the answer. Do you already own Unreal Tournament 2003? If you do, then you’ll probably want to pass this one up. At its core, it’s a watered-down version of the highly popular PC game and to be honest, it’s pretty difficult to play the inferior Xbox version after having experience the PC game. Then again, if you’re only confined to the console realm in terms of gaming, then you should really consider picking this one up. The Xbox Live capabilities are pretty awesome, there’s nothing like killing your friend for the 50th time and chiding him about it the whole time. Then again if I had a choice, I’d rather pick up the superior version of the game for $27.99, but that’s just me.
Excellent and addictive gameplay is hampered by a buggy network code and some questionable design decisions. This is a nice pickup for those who have yet to experience UT2003 but if you already own the PC game, there's nothing for you here.

Rating: 8.6 Very Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.


About Author

Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.

It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.

It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.

When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."

As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.

When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.

Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile

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