Unreal Championship 2: The Liandri Project
Demo Review
Developer: Epic Games
Publisher: Midway Games

One of the benefits of subscribing to the official Xbox magazine is that you generally get the magazine a little earlier than your local book store. This is a good thing, as every so often there is a demo you are waiting for with baited breath, something you've been wowed by in teaser videos, screenshots and word-of-mouth. This month's big tease? Unreal Championship 2: The Liandri Project.Epic Games hasn't had very good critical success with the console games they've ported over from the PC. Going way back to the Dreamcast version of the original Unreal Tournament, right on through the more recent Unreal Championship 1, it's been hit and miss (mostly miss) with graphics, performance and control schema. I've played all of the console versions, and can't say I liked any of them (although Secret Level's squeezing of UT on to the Dreamcast was nothing short of remarkable to behold).With that said, it should be no secret that I fired up the Xbox magazine demo disk with low expectations, and a fair degree of cynicism. To get into a better frame of mind, I first played the 'Worms' demo that was also on the disk. Fun, mindless game that helped take the edge off. I liked it.Before actually playing the demo, I took a little time to play the trailer and Mike Capps' (President of Epic Games and Lead Designer on UC2) little walkthru video. (Shame on Mike for dropping the 's' bomb on the video...) Both were very well-done, and provided a wealth of information about the game. Frankly, like when my beloved Philadelphia Eagles won the NFC Championship game and made it to the Super Bowl, I actually got my jaded hopes up a bit about UC2.After all, UC2 was built from the ground up for the Xbox, or so Mike says. I don't know how they do that (I'm not all that bright) when the engine was written on the PC, for the PC. Perhaps it's because the Xbox is a PC after all. But wait, that would leave the 'built for the Xbox from the ground up' comment as virtually meaningless..... But I digress.On top of that, our own Prophetus has seen and played UC2, and has come back to us gushing over the graphical splendor, the melee action and the keen-o controller schema. I don't take Prophetus lightly when it comes to comments such as these. He's a hard-core gamer, and over the past several years we've had the opportunity to review a number of UT2004 levels together, and have been in close agreement on what we've experienced.So, with my basic outlook on Unreal-console gaming improved, and fueled by a real desire to see if Proph and I agree yet again, I fired up the demo and took a look around. First, the basics: CharactersYou start out by playing as Anubis, Lauren or Szalor, each of which have different health/speed attributes, weapons, moves and adrenaline abilities. There are a number of other characters that are locked out in the demo, including Selket, Arclite, Malcolm and that Mortal Kombat guy, Raiden.Gametypes/MapsThe UC2 demo comes with CTF, DM and TDM gametypes. You can play either against your Xbox or online via Xbox Live! Map selection is limited to two CTF maps (Emperor and ViperPit) and three DM/TDM levels (Deadbolt, Remnant and Praxis). The full game is shipping with about 40 levels, and if past history is a predictor, you can almost count on new levels being made available at some future point via Xbox Live!WeaponsDemo weapons include the Rocket Launcher, Ripjack (like the old Ripper, with an exploding alt-fire), Sniper Rifle and Stinger (remember the Stinger from Unreal 1?), as well as your race's melee weapon (sword, staff or blades). Other weapons you'll get with the full game include the Rivet Gun, Shock Rifle, Grenade Launcher, Goo Gun (with new, improved 'sentient' goo globs!), dual Pistols and more.AdrenalineI am no fan of adrenaline. Frankly, I think it's one of the worst additions to the Unreal franchise since they 'fixed' the model/map scale, or added Relics, or didn't come out with a WarCow model in UT2003/4, or.... Damn, I'm digressing again. Unlike UT2004, where you'd be lucky to use adrenaline more than a couple times per match, you'll find yourself using it all the time in UC2, and it's a necessity. Each character has their own adrenaline menu with various enhanced abilities to pick from. With the demo characters, this includes Nimble (especially useful for the slow but powerful Szalor), 'Repulse' (allowing you to turn your opponent's attack back on them), Invisibility, Vampire (gain health through kills), Speed and more.MutatorsYou do get a handful of mutators to play with in the demo, including:

  • Campfire - All players carry a ticking timebomb which goes off in about 45 seconds. Killing your opponents gives you more time (30 seconds, up to a maximum of 45 seconds). This mutator is certainly useful to keep players from camping or sleeping on the job. The explosion wipes not only you out, but those around you. You'll know if someone is soon going to blow if they are flashing (last 10 seconds of the countdown).
  • Melee Only - that's right, only melee weapons (which means, pure 3P perspective). You fight with what you came with...
  • Speed Match - everyone has adrenaline-enhanced speed, all the time. Fast, fast, fast!
  • Wall Crawl - everyone has the wall crawl ability, all the time. My spidey-sense is tingling....

ControlsOk, here's where I've always had a problem with console first/third person shooters: the control schema. I just can't seem to get past the fact that I move and groove much better using a keyboard and a mouse than I ever could with a controller, Xbox or otherwise. Epic is also aware of the need for good character/weapon/special ability controls, and offers up the following in UC2:

  • A - Jump
  • B - Melee Mode, heavy attack or pounce attack from mid-air
  • X - Adrenaline menu
  • Y - Switch ranged weapons
  • L - Alt-fire/Reflect or Shield (in Melee mode only)
  • R - Fire or Shield (in Melee mode only)
  • Back - Toggle scoreboard
  • Start - Toggle pause
  • White - Taunt Menu
  • Black - Change view (1P/3P), except in Melee Mode, which is always 3P
  • Left Stick - Move/Jump (push)
  • Right Stick - Look/Target Lock (push)
  • Pad - Left (team voice chat), Right (public voice chat)