Urban Reign – PS2 - Back in the day beat 'em up games kept me and my buddies enthralled for hours but it seems like ages since anything has come close to re-capturing and improving on the fun that was had with Double Dragon and Final Fight. When I first heard about Namco's effort at rejuvenating this forgotten genre I waited with baited breath in the hope it would be an awesome adventure. Some boxes are well and truly ticked thanks to the quality graphics and smooth combat engine, but unfortunately repetitive missions and a fairly insane difficulty level prevent Urban Reign from staking a claim as fighting game of the year.
You take control of Brad Hawk who is a mercenary brawler fighting on behalf of the Chinatown triads against a whole array of other gangs and freelance fighters across the city. However, there is no free-roaming option and you can only jump between locations once you've completed a mission. It starts off fairly simple so as you start to get to grips with the moves and you'll be treated to some sweet combo's and grapple maneuvers. You earn skill points for each completed mission so can build up Brad's power and fighting skills as you progress through the game; which you definitely need to do because once you're about a quarter of the way along it starts to get really taxing.
There is some variety between missions but not a great deal; you'll either fight one double hard bastard or a small gang of not quite so hard bastards. There's a little more variation thrown in with a time limit to bring down your enemy but other than that you'll repeat this formula over 100 missions.
The different environments look authentic and you can cause a bit of localized destruction by dumping a thug threw and table or into a pinball machine. It works well enough and adds to the atmosphere of a street brawl rather than just another fighting game like the Tekken series. You can also pick up weapons and fight dirty when needed but the amount of useable objects is limited. You won't always need a broken bottle to help you knock down your rival if you can master dodging and weaving coupled with some well timed grapple combo's. As expected there's also a special attack thrown in to help get you out of those tight spots when you're surrounded by 4 gang-bangers intent on kicking you into next week. There are great moments when you perfectly execute an attack from running up a wall or when you turn the tables by reversing a grapple and on the whole the fighting styles are impressive.
It feels great when you swiftly move between your opponents battering them all over the shop and there are times when you'll really find your flow and love the game. But the flip side is your adversaries can do the same and you'll be booted around for 30 seconds without a chance of getting to your feet. I enjoy a challenge and am willing to put in the time to get past a tough level but Urban Reign pushes those limits. To be fair if it wasn't for the super quick level reload when you try again I'd probably have more time to think about how frustrated I am rather than just get straight back into the action whilst the adrenaline is still pumping.
The graphics and smooth flowing fighting engine definitely moves this game up the ranks and if you can master altering the camera angles as well you'll be on to a winner. But, only if you thrive on trying to get past 'almost impossible' levels and have the dedication required to get you past those moments when you're so frustrated you just want to punch something really really hard. Some of the most aesthetically pleasing maneuvers occur during a tag team combo but unfortunately unless you complete the game you'll only get to appreciate them when you're getting your ass kicked. I was hoping that a 2 player co-op mode would be available from the beginning but I guess Namco felt like you have to earn the right. There are numerous other elements to unlock as you complete missions but once again the difficulty of the game may stop a lot of people ever getting the most of what's available. Unless of course you can't wait around and just use some cheats to unlock stuff. Normally I'm well against using cheats as they take away the challenge, but in this case I'll make an exception and encourage you to use them so you can get a complete package to have fun with rather than play the first 25 levels and never play it again cause you can't move on any further.
You can unlock challenge and free-play modes which allow you to have a go at any of the story mode missions with unlocked characters or take on a Zulu-style bombardment of bad guys. Another nice little touch is the inclusion of Paul Phoenix and Marshall Law from Tekken. There are a few different types of matches you can utilise in co-op mode such as destruction matches and free-for-all rumbles but unfortunately you can't take on the story mode.
Overall it has enough style and action to really get your heart thumping and will be appreciated by all beat 'em up fans…… at least until you start to feel like a wolf trying to blow down a little pig's brick house.
6.5 out of 10