Namco's Urban Reign is probably best classified as a beat 'em up, although it shares many gameplay similarities with fighting and action titles, making it sit somewhere between the 3 genres. The game received a mixed reception from critics, with most reviewers awarding the a game a very average, middle-of-the-park score. The game suffered a similar fate to God Hand (the two games released roughly 12 months apart in Europe), gaining a reputation for being too difficult and perceived as unfair. Sadly, Urban Reign didn't go on to gain the cult following that God Hand did, leaving the title unknown to a lot of gamers.
I'll start by introducing the single player modes and glossing over some of the player character's abilities before explaining them more thoroughly in a mechanics overview. This write-up won't be in depth enough to be classed as a guide, although it may provide the foundation for one if I ever decide to expand on it.
Single Player Modes
The main single player mode is Story Mode, which sees brawler-for-hire Brad Hawk employed by the Triads to find a missing rival gang member with the intent of putting a stop to the war between them. The story isn't particularly interesting, and as expected from the genre, exists purely to transport players from one fight to the next. The developers tried to add a few twists and turns that are appreciated, but it's hard to become invested in the plot and characters with such little development.
Story Mode is made up of 100 missions, which sounds ridiculous until you know that each mission is a single encounter within a small arena. You could compare a mission in Urban Reign to a “Verse” in Bayonetta, or a stage of the arcade mode in a fighting game. After completing a mission, players earn ability points which can be used to upgrade Brad's attributes, which are:
- Regional Attack (I'll explain these in the next section)
- Special Attack
- Weapon Attack (locked until enemies start using weapons)
- Toughness (General endurance against strikes)
- Head Endurance
- Upper Body Endurance
- Lower Body Endurance
Ability points have to be assigned, so “No Upgrade” runs aren't possible (sorry Raeng!).
In addition to having upgradable stats, Brad can unlock a variety of moves and abilities. These include new Special Arts (which are either super moves/combos or buffs of various types), the ability to grapple enemies in mid-air and the ability to modify grapples by inputting another command mid-animation.
Also unlockable is the ability to bring an AI partner as backup, with several different characters made available over the course of the game. AI partners can be interacted with – you can instruct them to stay close to you, keep their distance, pass you their weapon or even throw them your own if you don't need it. A particularly important feature for the Very Hard difficulty is the ability to swap between characters on the fly. Towards the end of the game, partners have a tough time keeping up with the enemies the game throws at you, so it pays to manage swapping between characters to keep them both alive. If your partner is KO'd, Brad will continue to fight solo. However, the mission is failed if Brad is KO'd, even if your partner is still able to fight.
The replay value in single player comes from “Free Play” mode, which allows you to replay any story mission on any difficulty as any character (as long as they aren't an enemy or specific partner already featured in the mission). In Free Play mode, players are ranked based on performance, with S being the highest grade available. Points are awarded (or deducted) based on the following criteria:
Clear Time (quicker time = more points)
Max Combo (the highest number of hits you land consecutively without taking damage)
Damage Taken (less damage = more points)
Partner KO (Losing your partner = point deduction)
Recovery Item (Using items dropped by enemies = point deduction)
Score multipliers are adjusted depending on the which characters you choose (the weaker the better) and what difficulty you play on. Free Play mode is where you have the flexibility to come up with your own ideas for challenge runs – maybe a Very Hard no partner run, or if you hate yourself, S-ranking every mission on VH as the 0* character (I'm not sure the human spirit could withstand such torture, but I assume it's possible).
Combat Mechanics Overview
The combat system, in my opinion, is where Urban Reign truly shines. This game is how Tekken's Force/Devil Within modes should have played. In this section, I'll run through the game's controls, detail how commands are performed and give a bit of insight on the game mechanics.
Strikes are executed by using the Circle button. Each character has a multi-hit combo string that can be performed by pressing Circle without a direction (or neutral). When combined with a directional input, different strikes can be performed to target different regions – Up + Circle will target the head, Left/Right + Circle will target the upper body, and Down + Circle will target the lower body. These are referred to as “regional attacks”. Regional attacks add depth to each characters move set, adding additional combos, launchers, sweeps and knockback attacks.
Grapples are performed using the Triangle button. Pressing Triangle with a direction performs a regional grapple, just like with strikes. Certain characters have additional abilities with grapples, such as the ability to catch enemies with grabs in mid-air, or pressing Dash during a grapple animation to execute a different grab altogether. Mid-air grapples are dependant on where on their body the enemy is caught – for example, wrestler Jake can catch enemies with a Powerbomb if he grabs their lower body, or a Stunner if he grabs the enemies head. Certain grapples can do more damage if performed against a wall – a running Powerbomb becomes a 2-hit grab, throwing the opponent against the wall twice. It is also possible to perform a grab on enemies who are downed, although most characters have exactly the same moves in this scenario.
A neutral grapple will see your character grab an opponent and hold them in place. This can be performed from the front or back of an enemy. From here, you can choose to strike the opponent up to three times, press neutral grapple again to push the enemy away, or perform a regional grapple move. A neutral grapple can be useful for holding an enemy in place to prepare a double team attack with a teammate. Enemies will break out of a neutral grapple if you don't act quickly enough.
Double team attacks can be performed by grappling an enemy while your partner is close by. These are performed automatically providing your partner is within range. Double team attacks cannot be reversed, and provide the attackers with i-frames throughout the grab. Similarly, you can throw two enemies at the same time by initiating a grapple on one while the other is close by. This type of attack cannot be reversed either, and also provides the attacker with i-frames throughout. Making use of these moves will give you a huge advantage in battle, and makes many of the harder missions much easier.
Pressing Triangle and Circle together performs a Special Art, or SPA for short. Each character has access to at least 5 different SPAs. A neutral SPA can be performed while standing or laying face up. These require the least amount of meter to use, and deliver a knockback attack in all directions surrounding the player. These are similar to the sort of special attacks seen in old school beat 'em ups, where some life is lost to perform a crowd-controlling attack.
SPA + Up performs a strong attack. These do a lot of damage, but typically have a long and obvious start-up animation while the character charges their attack. Left/Right + SPA performs a quicker multi-hit combo that lacks the obvious tell of the stronger attack. Down + SPA activates a “status effect”, which is essentially a buff to a character's property or stat(s) and makes the SPA gauge glow a particular colour while active. The main status effects are as follows:
Power Up (Red, 50% increase in attack power)
Concentration Up (Blue, automatically performs deflects/grapple breaks)
Super Armor (Yellow, reduces damage received and negates hit-stun)
Arcanum (Green, changes/expands the characters move-set while active)
Some boss/special characters have a purple status effect, which combines 2 of the above effects together.
Characters are invulnerable during SPA attack animations. Normal attacks can be freely cancelled in to SPAs, which opens up more combo opportunities. This adds some depth to the combat system, as SPAs can be used to provide i-frames and negate damage when it would otherwise be unavoidable.
The square button is used for a range of defensive techniques. The first is the dodge, which is performed by pressing Square without a directional input. Dodging is used to avoid damage from strikes, and briefly makes characters invulnerable during the dodging animation. If you press Square with a directional button to defend the same region that your opponent is attacking, you'll perform a deflect, where you will parry the move and place the opponent in to a vulnerable position. Deflects can be performed to counter grapples (which I think are referred to as reversals in-game), as well as to break out of juggles.
A Dash is performed by pressing the Cross (or X) button. This causes the player to sprint, allowing you to cover large distances quickly, but massively reducing the turning circle of the character. Whilst in a dash, you can press Cross again to stop and return to your neutral stance. Additionally, you can perform grapples straight out of a run, or perform a variety a strikes using the Circle button, either with or without a directional input. Certain characters can dash in to enemies and walls to run-up them, which can be followed up by a strike or a grapple depending on the character.
One of the most important uses of the dash is that it gives you access to the evasive roll, performed by pressing Square mid-dash. To my knowledge, the entire rolling animation is made up of i-frames, making the roll an essential method of avoiding damage. The opening frames of the dash can be cancelled in to the roll, strikes or grapples, so you're able to press your next input as soon as possible after pressing dash.
Like many other action games there is a lock-on ability, performed by holding R1. If you input a Dash while locked-on, you will sprint towards the enemy.
Pressing L2 will perform a taunt. Taunting enemies while they are stunned will cause them to stagger towards you. A handy use of this would be to lure 2 stunned enemies towards you for an easy 1-on-2 throw. I don't have a full understanding of the stun system, but it seems you cannot be stunned while your regions are still in the green state. It seems that throws, wall impacts and certain strikes can trigger stuns. If you find yourself stunned, you can use an SPA to cancel out of it.
Picking up Items/Weapons
L1 is used to pick up weapons and recovery items. Recovery items can be used by pressing Circle (while neutral) and can increase health or SPA, although these don't appear in many missions.
Having a weapon equipped modifies the character's striking move set. Some characters can only perform single hit strikes with weapons, while others have combo strings. Some characters have access to special grabs and and weapon SPAs.
The R2 button is used to interact with your AI partner, as mentioned in the previous section. Pressing R2 on it's own will call your partner to stand near you for a double team attack. Holding R2 and pressing Triangle will instruct the AI to attack opponents that are targeting you. R2 + Circle will instruct your partner to split up from you and draw the aggro away. R2 + Cross allows you to switch characters and control your AI partner. Finally, R2 + Square lets you throw a weapon to a partner (or if your partner has a weapon and you don't, request theirs). If you throw a weapon to a partner, enemies can intercept it and catch the weapon, so make sure your line of sight is clear.
The amount of damage a character takes depends on their toughness stat, as well of the offensive stats of the attacking opponent. Another factor to take in to account is the endurance system. Characters will start fights with each of their regions in green, and as they take more damage, the regions will change colour to yellow, and then to red. Characters have individual stats for head, upper body and lower body endurance, which determine how much punishment a region can take before moving to the next damage state. If you're familiar with the endurance system seen in WWE wrestling games on PS2, you'll already have a good idea of how this works.
Like in Tekken, launching enemies and keeping them juggled is useful for extending combos and maximising damage output. However, it should be noted that guaranteed or “true” combos are difficult to perform, as enemies are rarely ever completely defenceless. All normal attacks and grabs can be dodged or reversed, even when in mid-air. SPA attacks are unblockable against standing enemies, but damage can be avoided by performing the dodge roll. It's useful to remember that SPA attacks provide i-frames up until the recovery animation. Because of this, the neutral SPA is a great way to avoid otherwise certain damage at the cost of a very small amount of meter.
Here a couple of videos to demonstrate some gameplay. The first is a compilation of promotional combo videos made by Namco to show off the game in the run up to it's release, and the second is a fan-made double team exhibition demonstrating some of the cool attack animations.
That'll be the end of my summary for now. I'm not an expert like I said, but happy to try and tackle any questions if my explanations have been a bit wonky. There is still quite a lot that I haven't covered (versus multiplayer, challenge battle etc.), so I might post some updates over time. If you haven't played the game before, I hope you'll consider giving it a chance!