While I appreciate the unorthodox concept of Brad's review, I feel as though it's lacking the detailed assessment Unreal Championship 2: The Liandri Conflict deserves. I suppose a casual player may be able to appreciate his circumstances, but a first-person shooter fan deserves more substance.
Unreal Championship has been an old standby for me on the Xbox. Its fast, polished gameplay and substantial variety of options make it a terrific game even in the wake of its sequel. While refinement is present to some degree in 2, it's less of an evolution and more of a departure. Some radical changes to the series have been made; additionally, some concepts toyed with in the previous game have been abandoned, while others have evolved. The results aren't always perfect, and indeed I felt the game took a few steps back in some regards.
The most notable change to the game, of course, is aptly foreshadowed in the game's tagline: "Bring a knife to a gun fight." I was very skeptical of the addition of melee combat, and it took a bit of practice for me to realize how well balanced and deep it really is. Few things in this game are as satisfying as being aggressively pursued by a player with lots of firepower and the "u-damage" power-up, only to swat their projectile back at them and hear the announcer proclaim "rejected!" as they are reduced to dust by their own firepower. The melee attacks are reasonably simplistic—which is a good thing—yet difficult enough to use that even the ability to block and deflect projectiles doesn't overshadow the range combat.
The weapons have undergone some changes. Instead of picking them up during the fight, players select one of four "explosive" weapons and one of four "energy" weapons. Some fresh new ideas have been used to modify old weapons; for example, most weapons have a sort of tertiary fire that can be accessed by pressing the primary fire button while holding the secondary button. This addition leads to some interesting new strategies. The explosive energy balls from the shock rifle can now be frozen in midair; rockets can be turned into "dummies"; grenades can be detonated in midair. All the guns are very well balanced and challenging to use. However,I did not like the "split beam" that the sniper rifle fires when the scope is not activated—personally, I prefer the lightning gun of the previous game. A roster of eight weapons seems just a bit too sparse for such a long-running franchise, particularly when only a few of them are truly new.
Additionally, the Adrenaline system has been completely overhauled. I for one didn't care for Adrenaline in the first game—I felt it made it too easy for a single player to dominate when a quick button combo for "regeneration" would make them nearly unstoppable. This time, though, it's much better balanced. Instead of D-pad combinations a la Mortal Kombat, players hold the X button to bring up a quick menu that allows them to choose one of six Adrenaline powers, some of which are unique to each character. Additionally, while adrenaline is still collected as in the previous game, there are more ways to build up one's Adrenaline meter through various creative killing methods.
Technically, The Liandri Conflict excels in every aspect. The framerate, which was unreliable in the previous game, is now rock-solid. The control is as responsive and accurate as one could expect from a console shooter. The game is slower paced than the first, and weapons such as the shock rifle are much easier to use (personally, I find that to be a bit of a double-edged sword, as I enjoyed the precision required in the first game). However, it's the gameplay modes that are a bit of a letdown. With two new mostly forgettable multiplayer modes, I found The Liandri Conflict to be a step backward from its predecessor in this regard.
Most notable is the absence of "Bombing Run." I thought it was a very creative game that encouraged teamwork and really played up the speed of the previous game. In its place is the somewhat similar but less compelling "Overdose," in which the object is to take glowing orbs from one part of the level to another. It's decent but generic (a bit too much like Capture the Flag) and not nearly as team-intensive as Bombing Run. Also new is a rather dismal mode called "Nali Slaughter," in which players compete to win by killing as many harmless "Nali" creatures as possible. This in the absence of the extremely tense "Double Domination" mode that was such a great feature of the first game is another strike against The Liandri Conflict.
However, the other modes remain intact—Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and Survival—and they're as solid as ever. The game is packed with maps—over 40 of them. And although the cap of 16 players may seem a little restrictive, it works quite well. More is not always better, and 16 players is more than enough to keep things competitive and chaotic without being overwhelming.
The Liandri Concept is a mixed bag. I have a hard time saying that it's actually better than the previous game—just "different." I miss the speed and precision of the original, and some of the changes to the weapons and gameplay modes aren't as strong as they previously were. However, the intensity of the combat is still there and, with the addition of melee combat, it's a bit of a deeper and more unique game than its predecessor. Even for a veteran first-person shooter franchise, bringing a knife to a gunfight isn't nearly as crazy as it sounds.
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