Urban Reign
by Soren Highwind

Screenshots taken from Gamefaqs, IGN, Gamespot, and totalvideogames.com. About a year and a half ago, my dad came home one day with a copy of this game. Apparently he had bought it on a whim from the Dollar Store for like, ten dollars. I played through it in a few days, let a friend borrow it, and forgot all about the damn thing for a while.

Then, a few weeks ago, I was over at said friend's house when I spotted it lying on a shelf. I thought it was about time I take it back, so I headed home with it (along with Wild ARMS 3 and Devil May Cry, but we'll talk about those later) and played through it again. It occured to me while I was spin-kicking a dude into a wall (something you'll do often) that I had forgotten how fun this game was.

I had also apparently forgotten how frustrating it could get.

But before we get to that, let's get the plot out of the way. There's really nothing much to tell; you play as Brad Hawk, a self-proclaimed "professional". He has just arrived in the not-so-great city of Green Harbor, which has recently fallen into hard times thanks to gang wars and riots and whatnot. There's a few plot twists here and there, but nothing too fancy; the story gets the job done, and that's all it needs to do.

With that done away with, we can get to the meat and potatoes of the game--beating the shit out of people.

Urban Reign is essentially a 3D beat em up. There's a hundred missions in this game, and they all involve beating people up in some way, shape or form. You can either beat up everyone, beat up a boss, beat up two bosses at once, beat up a certain person (See where I'm going with this?), beat up a certain part of a person's body, or beat everyone up while protecting someone (don't worry; these people can actually defend themselves).

You have a hell of a lot of options to kick peoples' asses in this game. Pressing the O button once makes Mr. Hawk throw a regular punch, while pressing it a bunch of times performs a basic four-hit combo. From there, pressing O and inputting a direction yields different results- up lets you do a roundhouse, left or right performs one or a series of gut punches depending on how much you push the button, and down trips people, which is actually one of the most useful moves in the game.

Triangle is the game's throw button, and using it and various directional inputs yields different results- like, say, twisting someone's arm, or performing a piledriver. You can even grab and throw dudes while running. Triangle is also a sort of reaction move; pressing it when surrounded by enemies allows you to kick all of them out of the way, which usually sends them sprawling.

Pressing Triangle and O simultaneously (along with directional inputs) activates a special attack. Pressing it neutrally does a spin kick that's ideal for when you're surrounded. Pressing it along with left or right does a super punch, up does a super combo, and down temporarily increases the damage you do. This all takes away from an energy meter directly below your health, which you can recharge by beating people up and getting hit in turn. It fills up rather fast most of the time, so you usually don't have to worry.

There's all sorts of neat attacks you can do once you're far enough in the game. For instance, you can run up a wall, and from there you can press O. If an enemy is close enough, you'll kick him, and if there are more enemies, you can bounce and kick them too, sometimes multiple times. Or, if you press L2, you'll taunt someone. If the person you've taunted is stunned, they'll stumble toward you, giving you ample opportunity to beat them up some more.

I haven't even started talking about weapons yet. There's something like thirty different ones, and they all control differently. There's plenty of variety; you'll come across anything from sledgehammers to crowbars to katanas to glass bottles. They work like your regular combos in that using directional input determines your attack.

As I said before, the game has a hundred missions in its Story Mode. Before each mission, you'll be told the jist of what's going on by Shun Ying Lee, the person who hired you and the boss of the city's Chinatown area (though you can skip it if you don't care). Once you complete the mission, you'll be given anywhere from one to four Ability Points to spend on your stats- like, say, to increase your defense to special attacks, or increase your attack power with weapons. As long as you use the points they give you, you should be maxed out by Mission 90 or so.

After around Mission 30, you can take a partner into missions with you, unless the mission itself says otherwise. Your partners all have various fighting styles and are useful in different situations. Shun Ying, for instance, has ridiculously high attack stats in exchange for the worst defense of your partners. By contrast, Chris, a fighter that uses capoerta, has pretty good all-around stats but is only useful in enclosed spaces most of the time. There's ten different partners in all, and you'll probably use all of them at least once.

While you're playing a mission with a partner, pressing R2 and one of the face buttons lets you perform a Partner Command. X lets you control your current partner, Square passes a weapon between the two of you, Triangle makes them attack the enemy you're locked on to (R1 if I didn't mention it earlier), and O lets your partner do his own thing (which is their default command in a mission).

Right. I think I got all of the controls out of the way. Let's finish the review, shall we?

Once you complete Story Mode, you unlock Free Mode, which lets you play through any of the story missions with anyone you've unlocked over the course of your playthrough. What's the point of this, you ask?

Well, once you complete a mission in Free Mode, you'll be graded on your performance based on two factors: how long you strung a Combo (which in this game means how many times you hit things without getting hit yourself), and how long it took to complete the mission. Faster times and longer combos mean a better score, which in turn means a better rank (from E, the lowest, to S, the highest). Getting high ranks on Free Mode missions unlocks more fighters to mess around with.

There's also a Challenge Mode, where the goal is to play through a set amount of matches. This unlocks fighters as well.

Good luck doing that, by the way. There are sixty fighters, and some of the requirements are ridiculous- for instance, getting S rank on all missions on Hard Mode gets you the final boss as a character. The good news from this is that, if you're a completionist, you're going to be busy for quite a while.

A couple things before I move on: one, this game has good animations. Really, really good animations. This is the only reason the game has a T rating. There's no blood, no sexual content, and all of two curse words. The way someone's arm looks as you break it, or the fluidness of your combos is so damn realistic-looking that the ESRB couldn't handle that shit. Here's some gameplay videos to show you what I'm talking about:

Note: Somewhat poor video quality. Also, the songs used don't appear in the game.

A short video demonstrating Free Mode.

Marshall Law and Paul Phoenix are guest characters in this game.

Two, the soundtrack kicks all kinds of ass. It seems that Namco decided to go the hard rock route with the tunes for this game, and I'm glad they did. Pretty much every song in this game- from the character select screen to the many boss themes to the music on any given mission- serves to get you pumped about beating the shit out of people. It's a great effect in-game. Here are some of my personal favorites, if you're curious:

Chinatown Welcome

First Job


Closing In

And now we move on to the bad stuff. Remember way back at the start of this review when I said that this game could get frustrating? That never stopped being a thing that was true.

Since this is a Namco game, you can guess that it will have the patented Tekken Juggle Physics(tm). And you'd be absolutely right. Thanks to the patented Tekken Juggle Physics(tm), you can knock an enemy into the air, and then keep him there for a ridiculous amount of time. Good news, right?

Wrong. The enemies can do this to you too. And they'll do so a lot. Since you do a good deal of missions without your partner, you can fight up to five dudes by yourself, which is an awful lot in this game. This means that, at least once every few missions, you'll get knocked into the air by someone from behind you, interrupting the combo you had been doing on someone else, then get hit into a wall, stunning you, before someone throws you, before you get wailed on from the ground. Then, when you get up, still stunned, the enemy will do a fucking super move on you.

Any sane person would see this and go "ARRGGHH!", myself included. This game takes whatever fucking opportunity it can to be a cheap bastard. Since it doesn't have many options to do so, it often resorts to two things:

1.) Juggling you into the air, then a wall, then the air, rinse and repeat.

2.) Have every enemy gang up on you at once, preventing you from doing anything but get knocked around for a good ten seconds, losing something like a third of your health bar in the process.

This cheapness can turn some missions into frothing rage-fests. As an example, in one mission, you have to beat up a certain person. Here's the thing, though: there are four people, all of whom have fucking katanas, and they all attack you constantly. Sure, you can take a partner with you, but oftentimes they'll just ignore him and come to you. Meanwhile, you can barely pull off a combo before the enemy you're supposed to be defeating super-moves out of it, knocking you to the ground and giving him the perfect oppotunity to go beat up your partner with the three other people.

Or, as another example, in one mission you have to fight this dude named Golem, who's basically this gigantic steroids-using motherfucker. By yourself. And he has an ax. And he has a special move that makes him immune to flinching from your attacks, takes half damage, and gives him double damage. The solution? Run away, run back, perform a jump-kick combo, run away again, rinse and fucking repeat, which is pretty much the exact opposite of what you want to do in a game like this.

Or how about a mission that takes the cheapness cake: you fight the leader of a gang at the top of a building. He has a bigass katana, and a move that doubles his attack. With the right special attack, he can kill you in one combo. ONE. COMBO.

Now, I rage a lot when I play video games, but most of the time I don't really mean it; it's just good-natured over-exagerration to have fun. This game changes that; whenever I play a mission where cheapness comes into play, I'm usually turned into a sailor-mouthed douchebag who snaps at anyone who interrupts him. It's at times like these when I realize that the game is no longer fun: it is an exercise in patience to see if I can complete a mission before I rage-quit in a fit of frothing...well, rage. As you might imagine, I don't like this when I play video games. Not a whole lot of people would, I assume.

Also, although you can play this game with two people, you can only do so in a designated mode. No Free Play, no Story Mode, no Challenge Mode; only matches where you fight other people. While it's still fun, I kinda feel like Namco missed out on a big opportunity here.

But, despite the cheapness that this game throws at you on a regular basis, it's still a ton of fun. There's just something about being able to spin kick a guy into a wall, performing a piledriver on him, doing a super combo, kicking him while he's down into a wall, then throwing him into your partner so that he can perform a super move of his own that's so continuously satisfying that I'm willing to play through the frustration.

So, to give the lowdown on this game:

Fuck yeah!
Lots of options to beat people up and many modes to do it in
Tons of fighters to unlock
A rockin' soundtrack
Fluid, incredibly well-done animations
Good old-fashioned replay value, for all you completionists out there
Solid voiceacting, featuring the likes of Steven Blum, Crispin Freeman, Yuri Lowenthal, and Liam O'Brien, among others.

Eh, whatever.
Whenever there's a cutscene, don't pay attention to the characters' lips. Trust me.
The final boss can either be seen as the biggest anticlimax ever or a huge relief, depending on your point of view.
The plot's not all that complicated.

What the shit, game?!
Enemies will often juggle you between the air and the nearest wall.
If they're not doing that, they're ganging up on you en masse.
Stat upgrades don't really feel like upgrades.
Some of the conditions for unlocking extra fighters are downright ridiculous.
You have to fight bosses multiple times to unlock them as a partner, and it gets fucking annoying at times.

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