Unreal Championship 2: The Liandri Conflict
San Francisco
March 16th 2004

Epic Games and Microsoft Game Studios formally invited BeyondUnreal and several other sites and magazines to an exclusive first look at the beta version of their next generation Unreal title for the XBox. After I exhausted several hours explaining to my wife I'm headed to San Francisco to preview a game and not apply for a marriage license, I finally receive permission to accept Microsoft's invitation. We all remember the press release about Epic and Microsoft's partnership. Like a California forest fire, the news rapidly spread throughout cyberspace and instantaneously detonated apprehensions about the future of Unreal. Even a Democrat with pictures of George W. Bush dressed in a Village People outfit could not create the same level of alarm. Rumors stated that the black magic known as Microsoft would publish all Unreal games for both the PC and XBox. The truth is Microsoft will publish only two Unreal engine titles for the XBox. As for future PC versions, it is unknown who will become the next publisher. So put away your Billy G. voodoo dolls and behold the birth of their first love child, Unreal Championship 2: The Liandri Conflict.

En route to San Francisco, I pondered about the scattered success of sequels. Empires rise and fall. Life is a constant cycle of the fresh replacing the aged. Sadly, new does not mean better, but this pattern is now the model with movies and games. In the past, the announcement of sequels often surprised us and created a sense of impatience and excitement. However, during the last decade, sequels to movies and games were less than spectacular and more often than naught, were a source of bitter disappointment. In the Unreal universe, gamers reluctantly gnawed on the desiccated fodder of Unreal Tournament 2003, Unreal 2, and Unreal Championship. With the release of Unreal 2's Expanded Multiplayer and Unreal Tournament 2004, gamers finally received a stay of execution from the Governor of Games. As I walked to the event at the Metreon, I privately interrogated my caffeine-injected brain and wondered if Unreal Championship 2 could gratify the restless fans. What followed was a complete surprise!

The first Unreal Championship was a chump port of Unreal Tournament 2003 and did not provide XBox or PC fans with anything extremely new or exciting. However, Unreal Championship 2 is built from the ground up using the next generation Unreal Engine 2.5 and is totally unrelated to UT2004. Although the responsibility for the development of the game rested on Scion Studios, Epic decided to integrate Scion into one big happy family. Scion Studios is no more but all the members continue to work as Epic employees. Together, Epic and Microsoft pushed the envelope by incorporating melee attacks and breathtaking visual effects. Yes, you read it correctly, I said "melee attacks" and it is awe-inspiring.

Imagine Soul Caliber 2 meets Unreal creating a baby called, Kick Ass. This game features 14 class-based models, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Selecting a model in the menu performs a short movie sequence showing off their special abilities. All classes have access to six custom adrenaline combinations. Each model comes equipped with a personal arsenal of projectile weapons and melee attack weapons such as; dual energy based swords for the Egyptian Selket and the vampiric sabers of the Necris Lauren, an energy tipped staff for Anubis, and powerful Skaarj wristblades for Zalor. With the exception of the sniper zoom, using normal weapons gives the player a choice of either first or third person view. However, with hand-to-hand weapons, the view automatically switches to third-person. Some of you may find that repulsive, but it does allow the player to soak in all the effects and frankly, it works well. In fact Epic did such a great job, everyone refused to switch back to first person view.

The melee attacks provide another level of excitement to the Unreal series. Each melee weapon produces astonishing offensive and defensive effects. For example, crossing a pair of swords creates a plasma shield. Additionally, melee weapons can repulse or reflect an opponent's projectiles, redirecting them to another target or back to the surprised antagonist. Another melee tactic is the flash. The flash causes the opponent's screen to turn into a disorienting negative image of the world. Also, pressing the correct controller button allows a player to charge-up their melee attacks. Initiating this move forces the player to pause in mid air for a few seconds, but leaves him/her vulnerable to a counter-attack. However, successful completion of the action produces a visually satisfying health reducing attack. To top it off, each character can perform an ultimate death kill. Stunning an opponent allows the player to input a series of button combinations to invoke a deadly gib infested frag. All the visual effects made me envy the XBox owners.

Every action in this game causes a tremendous visual reaction. The shock rifle effects resulted in a 911 call to pull me out of an eye candy-induced coma. Unreal fans are familiar with the shock combo, but Unreal Championship 2 takes our beloved weapon to a new level! A successful shock combo will literally warp the world with a pulsing ripple effect (a la Matrix). Furthermore, the player is able to statically place five shock balls anywhere on the screen and, if detonated by the primary fire, cause a chain reaction of shock blasts. My personal favorite is the ability to infuse five shock balls into one big package causing a screen distorting mega explosion. I begged Epic to put this feature in a UT2004 patch, but a mocking snicker filter through a rather large picture of Billy G. After I returned from the Twilight Zone, the visual information feast continued.