Urban Reign (PS2) Review

Urban Reign was a surprise hit for me. I hadn’t heard of it at all until I saw it on some random website, not even a review I think it was talking about the hidden characters from Tekken being in it… anyway, it looked fun so I rented it out from Blockbuster and sure enough! It’s like a scrolling beat ‘em up, except you select missions in locations rather than move from one to the other seamlessly. I brought it a few months later and me and my friend played the hell out of it. What’s it like now? Let’s find out in what is the last console game of this generation, as well as the second… See what I mean about the genre falling out of fashion?

Background:

Brad delivers an electrifying punch! (for the record I had several screenshots of people going through furniture here, but it’s one of those games that goes blurry when the action gets going, sadly…)

Urban Reign was an attempt by Namco to revive the scrolling beat ‘em up genre with modern flair. It was released in the US and Japan in September 2005, and in Europe February 2006… for some reason. Sadly the game didn’t sell that well, it never turned into a franchise, and so the scrolling beat ‘em up returned to the shadows once more…

Gameplay:

A bust up in a biker’s garage! Look at all that leather and denim…

The gameplay is certainly more modernised than anything else I’ve covered in this marathon (even 2020’s Streets of Rage 4, due to its retro aesthetic) It has combos from pressing the same button, of which there are two attack buttons, and it has specials by pressing the two buttons together, though it drains an entirely separate meter rather than your health (filled by attacking, getting hit and dodging), but that’s about where the similarity to traditional controls end. You can still grapple but you can do several moves, including throws, and you can grapple standing, while they’re on the floor, mid-air and while running, giving it an almost pro-wrestling feel (very Def Jam, now I think about it…) but where the engine really shines is the countering. You can press a button at the right time to counter a move with one of your own, but that can also be countered, leading to some pretty cool looking move exchanges at a high enough level. You can also dodge, which is you press attack right after a dodge leads to some equally great looking stuff, which combined with everything else leads to some really fun beatdowns of large amounts of thugs, or a really good one-on-one “boss fight”.

The fun doesn’t stop there either as not only are there weapons to use but the environment is extremely destructible, meaning more often than not you throw your opponent through a nearby table, box or metal bin. There is one mission set in a biker gang hideout that was my “go-to” level if I just wanted to have some fun because it has loads of opponents to beat and lots of destructible tables and useable pool cues and the like. Properly good fun. There are lots of characters to unlock as well, and while I’ll admit they’re on the generic-as-all-hell side of things their movesets are often extremely different. As mentioned there are two Tekken characters in the game as well, Paul Phoenix and Marshall Law, which I guess means this is sort of Final Fight to Tekken’s Street Fighter… or at least it was supposed to be…

In terms of modes, there is the main Story Mode, which is split into 100 missions, some really small encounters or one-on-one fights, others quite the long battle against a good chunk of enemies, and then there is a Free mode where you can play any of the missions as any character, or even just fight with up to two, three or four players, and unlock more characters to play as, and a Challenge Mode which is your classic survival or horde mode, where you and an ally (either human or AI) have to survive waves of enemies.

Cliché-wise the game is lacking, but much like last week’s effort that’s an unfair thing to spin as if it were a “bad thing”, as it’s free from clichés because it does something different. Still, I was surprised at the lack of overweight enemies, and I’m sure one of the 100 missions could’ve taken place in a lift…

Graphics and Sound:

I had JUST hit him with a wrench, must have pressed the screenshot button a fraction too late. Ah well…

The graphics can only be described as “classic PS2”, the models are decent, with some good detail on the clothes and faces for the time period, and the lighting effects stand out, especially the Tekken-style lightning-like … things that happen when you get a good hit on an opponent. The levels can be a bit murky and grey, again as a lot of PS2 games are, but it’s not too bad. Plus, as I said earlier in the review, the amount of people and destructible objects on screen at once is impressive.

Sound is good enough, the melee striking sounds are very good, as are the “falling through furniture” sounds, which let’s face it, are the two most important things! The voice work and music can only be described as “dull as hell”, but not poor or anything…

Story:

This is what constitutes a cutscene in this game, someone turning around and looking shocked at the camera… Cool?

You play as Brad Hawk, a thug-for-hire who is … hired by a lady name Shung Ying Lee to take out a dangerous gang in Green Harbour, USA. In order to do this they end up taking out several other gangs and recruiting various members of them, or people who were going against them, eventually unveiling the old chestnut of a corrupt politician being behind it all…

I’ll be honest, I barely pay attention to the story, it’s just “who do I beat up this time”, and all the characters are as cliché (leather-wearing guy with long silver hair) or generic (boxer in a hoody, biker in a leather jacket with a bandana, karate guy in a gi etc, etc…) as they come. Luckily it wasn’t a problem when the game was this fun…

Thoughts Then:

Brad kicks off of a wall, spins in midair and then goes on to deliver a kick! (See what I mean about the screen going blurry during action?)

I was fully addicted to Urban Reign, it was so fun to just pick up and play and even better with a friend. Sure some of the missions were a bit dull, and later bosses were a tad difficult, but in the end my save file was full of top-ranking scores on most of the missions, because it was just that addictive at first, and afterwards was a great “stick on for a quick go” game as well…

Thoughts Now:

A triple threat match in a subway! What is this, WCW Backstage Assault? … No, that was Wednesday, sorry…

Urban Reign still holds up quite well, honestly. The combat is still fun and the environments are still fun to send people through, and while it obviously looks dull and dated visual-wise, it doesn’t detract too much. The cast is even more boring than I remembered however, to the point where it kind of annoyed me as this could’ve led to something of a genre revival had it had more oomph behind it… Ah well. I’d buy an updated remake, let’s put it that way!

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