Unreal Championship 2 The Liandri Conflict review

Xbox World checks out Epic's latest in the futuristic sports genre

So, as you can tell, this is not your average fire-and-forget arena game and that it all hangs together so well shows what a good job Epic has done to balance the various weapons and tactical components. For our money there are just two flawed features in the game.

The first is your piddly default pistol - it's not powerful enough to kill an anaemic ant. Although it does have a stun mode, it takes too long to power up in the heat of battle.

The second is the heavy melee attack, which, when triggered, pauses horribly before sending your character on a set path forwards. This brief pause telegraphs the move to opponents and they almost always get out of the way before you can inflict damage.

Midway is no stranger to the finishing move and Epic has integrated its own version here. Whup an enemy to within an inch of his or her life and they'll be frozen for a brief moment.

During this time you get a chance to enter a button combination and administer a gruesome coup de grace. There's nothing quite like finishing off a vulnerable opponent then gloating over the chunks of meat that were them left on the floor.

UC2 may be all spangle and glitz but the arenas and vistas can be stunningly beautiful. Although there are many incidental details, like gorgeous blurring effects and sumptuous reflection maps across water, you'll hardly have time to notice them in the thick of combat.

Make no mistake, this is one of the prettiest games on Xbox and makes the last version look positively retro.

Both outdoor and indoor arenas can be selected and they're superbly designed with some vast open-plan spaces and a few with tunnel complexes.

Because of the added speed and manoeuvrability of characters there's also a greater need for elevation and in some maps the importance of height advantage cannot be underestimated.

Camping is discouraged and you'll find few places to hide away as this game is all about speed, movement and quick reflexes.

You don't need to worry if you haven't yet got Xbox Live because the bots are extraordinarily competitive. There are five difficulty settings, so it's going to be some time before you cane it offline.

There's also a single-player story in which you play Anubis, a warrior out to claim back the Rite of Ascension from the omnipotent Liandri Corporation. The plot is pure claptrap but it's the best way into the game, bringing you up through tournament ladders.

One irritating flaw is that you can't skip the cut-scenes if you forfeit a tournament, so you have to sit through them again as they gnaw slowly at your will to live.

Tournament games include Deathmatch, Capture the Flag and Team Deathmatch bouts but there are a few new ones thrown in.

In Overdose you must pick up glowing spheres and take them to the appropriate 'basket' to score, the twist being that a radiation overdose can send you on a killing spree.

Survival is a one-on-one tournament in which players take turns challenging the winner and Nali Slaughter is a kind of macabre ethnic cleansing mini-game where each player must wipe out as many of the meek Nali as possible within a time limit.

The off- and online multiplayer customisation possibilities are impressive so there's little chance of getting bored of one game style.

Nearly all the special powers and abilities can be toggled, tailoring the game to your preference. You can even lose the melee combat entirely if you specifically want a shoot-to-kill game.

With 14 characters, each with different strengths and weaknesses, up to eight players online and impressive league ladders we fully expect Unreal Championship 2 to be one of the most popular Xbox Live games around.

It's not good enough to knock Halo 2 off its lofty pedestal, but it certainly has the depth to keep the servers busy for a year or two.

Be warned, though: Unreal Championship 2 is a bit like riding one of those bicycles with the steering plumbed in the opposite direction.

At first, flicking between shooting and melee combat will feel clumsy and disorienting and there's a steep learning curve to tackle before everything clicks into place.

Persevere, however, and once the kills start to accumulate and your reflexes become lightning fast you'll forget you ever struggled. An acquired taste, perhaps, but this game is sure to mature very well indeed.

Unreal Championship 2 The Liandri Conflict is out for Xbox on 22 April

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