Urban Reign (PlayStation 2) review
"At first, its depth seems marginal. You can only punch, kick, grapple, dodge or run for most of the game’s first half. However, the finer points of each of these moves combine for some real mayhem. Later in the game, you can even pick up or throw weapons. Things really get intense. Finally, the ability to target specific body parts adds yet another dimension. That might not sound so good, but when you experience it, everything changes."
From his name to his haircut, Brad Hawk means business. On the way to his newest job, he interrupts some gangsters talking in an alley and beats the crap out of them, just because he can. He leaves them where they fall and saunters off to see his new employer. Her name is Shun Ying Lee and she wants him to show some rival gang members that she deserves their respect. That’s where you come in.
As Brad Hawk, your only goal is to kick ass. Urban Reign is simple like that. You don’t have to search for allies hidden away in parks and subways. You don’t have to keep a list of phone numbers in a little black book. No one cares what outfit you wear and the cops are on vacation. The game keeps things simple. I liked that a lot.
The general structure works like this: you look at a map with a few blips that represent missions. Choose one and you’re off to a fight in about ten seconds. It might be in an alley or a tavern, on a rooftop or in a street, or somewhere else entirely. Every environment is detailed and impressive, from a junkyard with cars piled in heaps and on their sides, to a garage where mini-vans take damage as you knock goons against them or strike them with a segment of pipe. The makeshift arenas aren’t large, but they give you room to work with and they look great. Most of the time, there’s only one blemish: the ugly buffoons who haven’t learned that you kick more ass than they ever will.
Educating them is easy at first. Urban Reign coddles you for the first twenty matches. One mission might see you knocking down any one goon, while another may ask you to break someone’s legs. You’re not really playing the game at this point, just going through a tutorial that for once doesn’t suck. That’s partly because you’ll be too busy fighting to notice, and partly because the combat system is interesting enough that you’ll want to use it properly as quickly as possible.
At first, its depth seems marginal. You can only punch, kick, grapple, dodge or run for most of the game’s first half. However, the finer points of each of these moves combine for some real mayhem. Later in the game, you can even pick up or throw weapons. Things really get intense. Finally, the ability to target specific body parts adds yet another dimension. That might not sound so good, but when you experience it, everything changes.
Let’s say you’re fighting in a park, to the sound of grinding rock music. Three gangsters are coming at you from one side of a fountain. One is carrying a pipe and the other two are shuffling lazily. Quickly, you rush forward and sweep one of them off his feet with a roundhouse kick, then turn to the side. The waiting thug has anticipated your attack and he’s swinging a punch of his own. You duck to the side and grab him at the knees. He topples backward. Bones crunch under your attack’s force. He groans and tries to rise to his feet while you move past him to the guy with the bat. The fool starts to swing, but you kick him in the gut and the weapon slips from his hands. You snatch it from the air, spin to your left and bring it down on the first gangster’s head. Everything happens in a few short seconds. It’s all fluid.
Not every fight goes so well. Sometimes you fail to dodge and a kick to the face leaves you seeing stars. You stumble about while your adversaries beat you like crazy and there’s nothing you can do until you recover your senses. Then maybe you strike back with a flurry of fists. Or, maybe you just take more abuse until you’re lying on the ground as the game cuts to slow motion and a menu that asks you if you want to retry.
I saw that particular menu a lot, mostly when I was fighting some guy named ‘Golem.’ This brings me to my first gripes with the game: it gets downright difficult near the end and some of the most irritating enemies are recycled repeatedly. The game switches things up, sure, but I swear I beat Golem five or six separate times. Occasionally, he fought me one-on-one. Other times, he had a friend. Sometimes, so did I.
Around twenty-five missions in, other gang members join your team. Mostly, they’re boss characters you’ve been fighting. After you knock enough sense into them, they’ll help you to topple those greater threats that lie just beyond another plot twist. None of this is ever melodramatic or a pain in the butt. You just complete the missions and things happen. Once you have comrades, some missions let you choose who should accompany you to a rumble while others specify a certain friend. Each character has a unique fighting style. Some are boxers, others know martial arts, and still others are just all-around good fighters like Brad.
At first, I was afraid that the tag system would be a gimmick, but it’s really not. Later matches involve enough enemies that sometimes you won’t even notice you have the help. There nice touches, too, like when you and your friend corner a guy and pummel him from either side. Some moves are awesome. For one, Brad ducks to the ground while his ally runs up his back, then drops on the nearby gangster with a fierce kick that crushes him. Early on, your allies help you to make short work of opponents that would otherwise beat you to a pulp. Later, after you’ve won a slew of matches and increased Brad’s offensive and defensive capabilities, there’s a real sense of teamwork.
Eventually, after one hundred missions, it all comes to an end. I was tiring of the ‘Story’ mode at that point, since the plot twists aren’t particularly exciting and some of the matches were just obvious filler. Then the credits rolled and I unlocked the ability to play through my favorite battles as the other characters. There are thirty-two in all. Using different combinations is fun, in part because you can challenge your best times and performances for individual missions, but also because there’s a four-player mode. If I had friends nearby, that would kick ass. Unfortunately, I do not. Next time my brother-in-law comes over, though, I’ll be sure to remember Urban Reign. It shouldn’t be hard. Good games are hard to forget.
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Staff review by Jason Venter (October 03, 2005)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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