Atari's much-anticipated release of Unreal Championship for the Xbox has arrived. This game defies low expectations by delivering an outstanding translation of the popular PC FPS series. Unlike other console ports, UC stays true to it's roots and is focused on multiplayer play. The game modes and options have been specifically geared for multi-player action. It's not been watered down, thankfully. Though the single player mode is quite good, the online aspects are the main thrust and rightfully so. Since FPS titles aren't really prevalent in the console world, most newbies will be happy to learn that there's a tutorial included which will run down the basics and show you how to use some of the weapons. This is actually a good idea, since the weapon functions in Unreal Championship aren't always as obvious as they are in other games, and this allows you to see how they work without having to get fragged to do so.
Unreal Championship has a large array of game modes. Obviously, the main thing to look at is the Deathmatch one on one mode which is challenging thanks to the large maps and enemy aggression. There's also a Team DM mode where your total frag total is dependent on your teams. In Survival mode, you have to go the longest without getting hit. UC also includes a fun team-based Capture the Flag mode where you have to defend your base while trying to capture your opponents. There are some more interesting modes including Bombing Run where you have to capture a ball and send it into the opposing team's goal. This is an interesting change of pace. UC's Double Domination mode is a variation on capture the flag, where your team has to control both domination points for ten seconds in order to score, it isn't as easy as it sounds with the fast respawns on killed opponents get. This makes is much harder to defend your base from attack.
These can be played solo with AI team-mates and opponents or can be played online. The game allows you to play a solo game, a linked game or compete online. Each of these modes offers several different maps and environments which increases the replay value. You can also opt for instant action or set each round to your liking by adjusting the controls, number of opponents and other weapons. Before each round begins, you can create a profile where you select your main character and the team-mates you want on your side. These players have different speed, armor, and power rankings so you should pick the one who most closely plays to your strengths.
As you'd expect, UC features a plethora of cool weapons which are innovative and loads of fun to use. The Finally, you have the simple to use, yet powerful Assault Rifles which fire a lot of rounds quickly but doesn't damage opponents with heavy armor, but the Assault Rifle's secondary attack allows you to throw grenades, which can be fired to damage an opponent from far away. You can also grab Flak Cannons, where the shots bounce off the wall and are quite useful in damaging an enemy hiding around a corner. Other weapons such as Ion Cannons can do serious damage from far away, but have limited ammo and take a long time to reload. Another cool choice is to use the Lightning Guns which zap your opponents and can be used from a safe distance. Getting the Rocket Launchers is almost like getting a free frag since these can kill an enemy with a single good shot with little risk to your character.
The standard weaponry is impressive but UC also includes more advanced weapons, which don't appear that often but are more than worth getting. Some of these include the BRF Rifle, which marks your opponent for an orbiting cannon that will unleash a huge beam on them and their surroundings, killing any of them instantly. There's also the Translocator, which captures an opponent and moves them closer to you for an easy kill. Finally, there's a two-stage Shock Rifle where you shoot a photon beam at your opponent to stun them and then shoot a second attack to finish them off. There are also some special weapons for team modes including the Ball Launcher to help you throw balls at an opponent's goal and a Link weapon that links you and another team-mate together, making it easier to attack shared goals. Each of these weapons is more complex to use, but worth learning because they're devastating. During the game, You can also pick up health, extra ammo, adrenaline and other special items, as you'd expect. Finally, UC also allows you to perform a special move by pressing a button combination. This will unleash a special attack, such as the Berzerk mode where your character becomes more powerful and less vulnerable to boot.
Unreal Championship's online mode is excellent and performs with little lag, giving you a surprisingly smooth experience and the lack of narrowband competition increases the challenge and allows the intensity of battles to stay constant. Connecting to the service caused little problem and the game started much faster thanks to the broadband only connection. The Xbox' player matching service is excellent and allows you to play against players with similar skill sets, though doesn't always mean the games will be cakewalks. Connecting to the service was simple and the variety of maps and gameplay modes is excellent, giving UC a very high replay value. One major innovation that XBox Live brings to the table is it's Voice Communicator headset, this is used in several different ways. The Communicator allows you to talk to your team-mates and discuss strategy but can also be used to taunt your opponents. The Broadband connection makes the voices crystal clear and the backtalk adds a new dimension to the experience.
Even though console controllers aren't the ideal platform for playing FPS titles, Unreal Championship plays well with it's intuitive controls. There are two models of the Xbox controller and while the game performs well with either, the new controller S seemed to have the edge thanks to its smaller size and better analog sticks. The Upper right analog stick is used for movement, and pressing down on it is used to jump. The secondary analog stick is used to look around and strafe. Player shoot by pushing the left and right triggers which are quite responsive. Face buttons are utilized to select and switch weapons. Playing with this default setup isn't too terribly difficult, though players can customize the controls to their liking as well. The only problem comes with turning, which seemed to be a bit sluggish, though this was compensated for by the smooth strafing controls. Still, it must be said that the developers have done and excellent job of taking the tradition keyboard/mouse configuration and making an adequate response with the Xbox controller.
As you'd expect, the game looks incredible and sets a high benchmark for other titles to achieve. The environments look absolutely spectacular with realistic objects, light sourcing and excellent mapping creating an utterly convincing experience. The maps range from burned out space-ships, alien worlds, abandoned bases and other worlds. The light sourcing is spectacular throughout and the game includes day and night levels, which makes the game look incredible. UC runs at a very smooth frame-rate throughout, making the special effects seem all the more spectacular. This game pushes the Xbox hardware and the console once again proves it's worthiness. The interface is excellent UC's HUD display is well-designed, displaying your health, armor and other variables without much effort. This is easy to follow and doesn't get in the way of the action. UC's visual elements fit together cohesively making for a smooth and highly-polished appearance throughout. The music is excellent and fits the bleak, apocalyptic atmosphere perfectly, creating a perfect compliment to the frenetic action and as stated earlier, the in-game voice communication and taunts are handled well, integrating into the action perfectly.
While the comparisons are inevitable, Unreal Championship isn't in the same class as Halo, but it's not trying to be. The game's simpler and more straightforward approach works well to create a satisfying and addictive game. By concentrating on the multiplayer aspects, the game plays to its strengths and the lag-free Xbox Live online system makes for a smooth gameplay experience throughout. It's cool weapons are fun to use on opponents and the highly-polished play mechanics should keep you hooked for hours. With challenging maps and incredible graphics, this is one of the best looking Xbox titles to date, putting you right in the action. UC's responsive controls are intuitive and the developers deserve praise for translating PC controls to the joypad effective. This makes UC one of the best console FPS titles to date, bringing the adrenaline rush of online play without watering it down.