I play games. My fiancée Gina plays games. We play together on the couch, but we don't usually play the same game at the same time. Although neither one of us would put the First-Person Shooter (FPS) genre at the top of our lists, I thought that the review copy of Unreal Championship 2: the Liandri Conflict might be a good chance for the two of us to broaden our play habits a bit and bond a little at the same time.
…It seemed like a good idea, anyway.
I guess my first clue that perhaps we didn't choose the right game was when I opened the package and showed Gina the cover. On one side was Anubis, the main character of the thin story mode. A tall, imposing figure clad in what must be several hundred pounds of armor, he definitely looked the part of "bad-ass." On the other side of the cover? Selket, a busty female popping out of a metallic bikini, every vital organ except for the reproductive ones exposed, a fact which Gina did not fail to notice. She wasn't offended by the skin, but rather, by the fact that that there was no protection or even logic in Selket's "combat" outfit. I had to agree with her.
We both took our favorite spots on the couch the next evening and I watched as she played the game through its tutorial and opening levels. A huge platformer fan, she is certainly no stranger to holding a controller. But her immediate sense of being overwhelmed by the controls was evident. She picked things up quickly, and then I went through the same levels myself. Once we had a handle on things and had been through team matches and a good portion of the story mode, we each looked at the other and the shared glance said it all: We were both ready to go back to our other games.
Technically, there's nothing wrong with the game; quite the opposite in fact. The graphics are sharp and the framerate is solid, both in singleplayer and multiplayer modes. Personally, I found a few of the animations to be a bit lacking, but it's hardly even worth mentioning. Liandri is a notable game in that it blends the traditional shooting action of a FPS frag-fest with third-person melee combat, and I thought it worked extremely well in terms of transitioning between the two. The gunplay came off like the standard sort of affair, but using melee weapons added a nice dimension to the action by giving the ability to deflect shots back at opponents, or getting up close and personal for some punishing strikes.
However, despite the revelation of seeing the entire character onscreen (instead of just a gun in a hand), neither one of us could find any reason to keep on playing. Running around arenas, blasting the hell out of the blue team, didn't appeal to either of us. We just didn't see the point. Our apathy towards dealing shrapnel death wasn't Unreal's fault; it comes off like a very polished and well-produced game. I suppose our issue was more with the genre and its mindset. Kill, respawn, kill some more, repeat. Capture some flags, play with super jumps or one-hit death insta-gib rifles, etc. It all starts to blend together in an overstimulated mess of testosterone irrelevance.
Granted, neither one of us fall into the 18-to-24 year-old male demographic, nor has a cherished love of trash-talking, so I suppose that we aren't the audience that is supposed to "get it." Still, it was a little bit frightening to see how quickly two seasoned gamers like us found our eyes glazing over and our minds wandering. Even a few glasses of wine couldn't help liven things up. If I had to encapsulate it, I'd say that the experience felt very shallow and unsatisfying, especially since we were looking for constructive, rewarding teamwork and not heated competition. At the end of the night and a few hours of asking her to kill the blue guy on the stairs (or having her tell me to blast the robot behind the pillar) we were left feeling like we had neither enjoyed ourselves nor accomplished anything.
As much as we both like the idea of co-operative play, I think the bottom line is that we were in the wrong playground. Unreal Championship 2: the Liandri Conflict is a fine package, full of screaming weaponry and loads of options for players who live for this sort of thing, but I doubt that anyone who's not already into the big-caliber/big tits run-and-gun culture will find much to bring them into the fold. It's all well and good for games like Liandri to exist for those who savor its flavor, but it's a shame that the game industry hasn't done more to broaden and explore co-op gameplay structures lately (outside of MMORPGs). It really shouldn't be as hard as it is to find something two people can settle in with for an evening.