Unreal Championship Xbox Review

A prime candidate for the Xbox online service, it comes as no surprise that online gaming is an integral part of the first console only Unreal title. Carrying on much in the vein of the Unreal Tournament series, Xbox owners were originally promised a much different experience, with hints of vehicles and other such features to distinguish itself from previous Unreal titles. Quite ironically then, we end up with a product extremely similar to it’s PC brethren, the recently released Unreal Tournament 2003. So how does it stack up on a console?

The single player options, as you might expect, are minimal. The main ‘campaign’ mode consists of a series of ladders, one for each gametype, and each including 7 progressively more difficult tasks. You pick your team from a large selection of humans, aliens, robots and the token ‘weird things’ and lead them through team deathmatches, capture the flag sessions, double domination (hold two areas of the map for 10 seconds to score) and bombing run, a new mode much akin to games like Speedball and Deathrow. Once through, you are pitted against your teammates in a one on one survival mode, much like you would find in any fighting game.

Though not extensive, the single player mode serves it’s purpose as a good training ground for the real meat of the product – online play. This game is no Halo, it doesn’t pretend to be involving or deep, Xbox Live will be the primary reason for purchasing it, and Digital Extremes knew it. The Xbox Live front end is good, not as intuitive or as useful as Moto GP’s, but far more friendly than the questionably minimalist approach of Mech Assault.

You of course have the obligatory Quick Match, Optimatch and Create Match options, and they are done well, Quick Match let’s you see the game details before dumping you somewhere, giving you the option of declining to enter. Optimatch gives you all the filters you need, and handily displays the speed of each game, an aid to avoiding lag.

Up to now, Live games have been exceptionally smooth, suffering from almost no lag, but for whatever reason, there are frequent noticeable problems in Unreal Championship. They can be easily avoided through wise use of the Optimatch feature, but the problems are there, and they are something you might want to consider.

PC first person shooters have a tendency to translate poorly onto gamepads, Unreal isn’t so. The controls are fully customisable, but even the default setting feels natural and smooth. The adrenaline combos can be a problem, pulling them off in the heat of battle can be a challenge to your patience. Digital Extremes have created a sublime gameplay experience overall, fluidity and speed are both set to max, arcade is the name of the game.

Technically, the game can hold it’s own against most next-gen games. Everything is crisp and clear; the geometry is quite impressive in many areas. The lighting is particularly nice, with each room in a building having a feel of it’s own, much thanks to different lighting conditions.

There are, of course, some hiccups. The framerate, usually a steady 30fps, can drop considerably if too many people crowd themselves together, with gun fire surrounding you, slowdown is not what the doctor ordered. In this respect, the game feels very rushed, and not fully optimised to take control of the ample hardware the system offers.

Sound wise, Digital Extremes did a good job, the soundtrack is mostly forgettable, but luckily not intrusive in the least. A custom soundtrack option would have gone down a storm in such a fast, arcade like blaster, alas, we don’t always get what we want. Voices are minimal, but suitable cheesy, aliens bark a quite satisfying alien language, whilst robots spout such insults as “flesh is a design flaw”. As if the voice support online isn’t enough, the humans also shout such cheery lines as “ownage” and “I am superior”, it seems someone was playing too much Counter Strike.

Overall

The game is hard to recommend to those without Live ability. The core of the game is it’s online gaming, without which, it’s lifespan comes close to nil. If you are lucky enough to be an Xbox Live owner, however, you will be hard pushed to find a more satisfying arcade blaster. High expectations will only lead to disappointment, but the right attitude will see you leaving with a smile, the game is fast, violent and fun, it never pretends to be anything else.

Summary:

Graphics
High quality, but with some serious slowdown.

Gameplay
I challenge thee to find a faster and more satisfying FPS on next gen consoles, fluid, fast and smooth.

Sound
Lack of a custom soundtrack option, but suitable voices and a tolerable soundtrack go a long way.

Lifespan
Subtract 4 or 5 from the lifespan below if you don’t have Live, with online play and downloadable content, online gamers won’t get bored quickly.

8 out of 10
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