Epic's next Xbox game, Unreal Championship 2: The Liandri Conflict was available at E3 2004, and we spent some quality time with it. We played through several deathmatch rounds with three other players in a fairly tight level with a good variety of depressions and heights. Starting a new round of Unreal Championship 2 begins with your choice of character--all of the game's characters have either appeared in previous Unreal products, or they are based on characters that have appeared in previous games, like the Egyptian-looking Sekhmet, a female warrior wearing a golden headdress. Sekhmet, like the other characters in the game, uses a melee weapon (in her case, dual swords) and her choice of ranged weapons, including a default set of pistols and two additional slots for weapons like the shock rifle, the flak cannon, and the sniper rifle. We grabbed the last two and headed on in.
Unreal Championship 2's control scheme may seem a bit complex at first, but every last option makes you a better fighter and makes it so you're more likely to survive. Like Halo and every other console shooter after Halo, Unreal Championship uses Halo's basic control scheme of moving with the left thumbstick, aiming with the right thumbstick, and firing with the triggers. The right and left triggers of the Xbox controller perform your weapon's primary and alternate fire attacks, respectively. For instance, like in previous games, the flak cannon still fires a shotgunlike spray as a primary, and it launches a heavy, explosive flak shell as a secondary. You can also optionally switch between melee and ranged weapons with the B button; as we've mentioned previously, melee can be used not only to attack enemies up close but also to deflect incoming fire. The A button is used to jump, and in true Unreal fashion, you can double-jump by tapping the button twice, which can be very handy when used with the flak cannon's alternate fire or a quick sniper shot.
As we've mentioned before, pressing in the right thumbstick lets you lock onto your targets, though this tactic didn't seem especially useful in the particular level we played, largely because the level itself consisted of several tight corners leading down to a central pit area. Because we spent much of our time hunting down our opponents, who blasted their guns and then sought cover as best as they could, we found ourselves focusing more on avoiding incoming fire and leading them with flak shots than on trying to carefully target each one. Naturally, different levels with different layouts will lead to different playing styles, and we expect that the infinitesimally few players who prefer to use the cowardly tactic of "camping" (hiding in one place while firing off potshots) may find more use for the lock-on function.
Even though the game isn't finished yet, the E3 demonstration ran extremely well. We experienced no real hitches in the frame rate, even when two or three characters were onscreen exchanging melee attacks and weapon fire. Unreal Championship 2 is scheduled for release this holiday season.