Unreal Championship 2 was once cited by one of the creators as "pushing polygons like crazy." This holds true as UC2 is probably one of the best-looking original Xbox games you could ever find. Epic Games made the most of it and created one of the franchise's best by changing directions with the addition of a third-person camera and melee weapons. If it doesn't sound like an Unreal Tournament game that's because its not.
This time around the single player campaign primarily features a new tournament known as Ascension Rites. Liandri Corp has gotten it's greedy paws into a Nakhti ritual that determines who the next king or queen will be. As Anubis you face your ex-betrothed Selket, her minions, and others vying for the crown through thirteen battles with various modes of play. The four training sessions at the beginning will make sure you've got the game well understood. Once the Ascension Rites is completed, the real Tournament begins. While there are only 10 tiers with varying rules to play through, each of the fourteen characters has a tournament ladder for themselves.
In addition to the Ascension and Tournament modes, Challenges mode makes an appearance where the player goes against several opponents on a team alone or against new enemies, such as Raiden from Mortal Kombat (who appears as a tie-in since the game is published by Midway) who is unlocked upon completion of all the challenges. Mutators make a comeback and take part in each of the game's modes with some new and exclusive mutators like Looting, Melee Only, and Camp Fire, which can make things a bit more interesting. Mutators can change the game in new and better ways even after many hours of normal play.
DeathMatch, Team DeathMatch, and Capture the Flag modes are present while new modes Nali Slaughter, Overdose, and Survival make an appearance. Nali Slaughter has several competitors attempting to kill as many Nali as they can while also killing or avoiding each other; its mindless fun at first but does feel like a real challenge. Overdose has players attempting to take control of an energy ball and hold it as long as they can without dying while attempting to reach a goal. More points are scored the longer the player holds onto the ball by the time they reach the goal. At the maximum dosage, the player reaches a godlike status with invulnerability, speed, and other temporary boosts. Survival pits the player or players in a one-on-one deathmatch against bots or a human opponent with the winner advancing to the next round.
A big change for the franchise comes just before going into battle, this time the player is given a choice of only two weapons. One weapon using explosive ammo and the other using energy ammo. This forces the player to think ahead in terms of play style since the maps are too small to fit so many weapons, instead they're littered with ammo pickups of each type.
The addition of a third-person camera adds a new depth to the playing field and allows you to see more of the action as well as a better view of the melee combat. It adds a whole new side to the Unreal franchise and t can give you an upperhand in battle with the ability to charge weapons, dash through the air, shield your character, and reflect projectiles, which can add insult to injury. Along with each character having a melee weapon they also have two pistols which, when charged, can freeze a target in place for a short period of time giving the player (or bot) a few seconds to execute a Coup de Grace attack. These are stlyish, one-hit melee kills that are activated by pressing a displayed button combination.
It seems to have lost the brooding of past titles and replaced it with a more technological look with glowing surfaces, water distortion, distance fog, and lights creating shadows and colors on the characters like crazy. It must have pushed the original Xbox to its graphical limits.The level design is varied throughout the 40+ maps with none of the old Unreal maps making a return. Its all new stuff for a new game and the hard work shows throughout each design with amazing detail in each expertly crafted map. Distant mountains and structures look pixelated due to the technical limitations but the feeling of size and scale that's presented is mind-blowing for the console era.
The music is as dark and adrenaline-filled as you would expect from an Unreal game with techno beats, rock guitars, and orchestral instruments giving off vibes of urgency with a touch of old-school Egyptian mummy movies mixed in. While it is in tone with the Unreal universe, it feels somewhat lacking in edge and excitement as though the music is afraid to be anything less than empirical.
Voice-acting is superb with each character taunting, cheering, or calling out orders during gameplay while the Ascension Rites cutscenes are never too dry or phoned in.
Sound effects are plentiful with grunts from the characters, distance explosions, pick-ups, gunfire everywhere, and sound distortion during a few of the adrenaline power-ups. Often times you can hunt down an elusive bot or player by following their grunts. The levels themselves never feel lifeless because there's always an environment sound happening nearby: birds chirping in open areas, the wind blowing by, footsteps through water, flames crackling, machinery motors whirring, water moving, and many other sounds give life to even the most mechanical-themed maps.
If there is a downside to Unreal Championship 2 its that it feels like just a one-trick pony. The possibility of a franchise here has flexed all its muscles with the ideas presented and for a sequel to be bigger would have to include some new and outrageous things. It would be hard to follow up and doing the next game in the same style would cause Epic Games to cement its feet and prepare to throw it in shark-infested waters.
The replay value is practically immeasurable if you have three friends willing to make a party of it. While the original Xbox Live may be dead, the Unreal franchise has always had bots and adjusting the difficulty feels like you'll want to better yourself. Unreal Championship 2 is only available for the original Xbox but is backwards compatible with the 360 and looks and plays best on it.
You need Unreal Championship 2 on your shelf and you need to experience this game. The ideas feel refreshing to a genre that was soon to be saturated with copy paste clones and even now it has aged well with the melee combat and character traits keeping things in a good balance with an ease of access that any FPS fan can comes to grips with. We need to see an Unreal Championship 3 only to see more of the fresh ideas that 2 breathed into the franchise and the FPS genre in general. For it to be a follow-up to just a port of Unreal Tournament 2004 is a big deal since UC2 showed that the genre doesn't have to be stale if the developers are willing to push the limits and add new ways to play instead of how to play.