Like a phoenix rising from the flames, the Awesome Forgotten Noughties Games series is being resurrected, because there’s still so many games to get through. Don’t expect any kind of regularity to these articles, but just know they’re back because the content grind is real. If you want to see what the series is all about, check out our archive right here.
Pretty much every gamer has their preferred beat ‘em up. This is a universal truth that unites us. Most will say either Final Fight or Streets of Rage, though occasionally you’ll hear a few dark horse picks. The Alien vs Predator or The Punisher beat ‘em ups developed by Capcom are good shouts, along with Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow Over Mystara (also developed by Capcom), but allow me to present an alternative: Urban Reign.
Developed by Namco and released on PS2 in 2005/06 (it took a few months for it to come to Europe), you control big strong boy Brad Hawk, a professional asskicker brought into the city to prevent a turf war ignited by the disappearance of a rival gang member. The plot quickly turns into conspiracy and corruption as the gangs have to band together to take on a new invading force, followed by another invading force after that. Honestly, it’s just a bit of fluff designed to get you from fight to fight. The real highlight is the gameplay itself.
The combat was simplistic at a base level, with circle to attack, triangle to grapple, square for reversals and X to dash. For a 3D beat ‘em up, those are your bread and butter attacks, but if you started to poke around with the systems, there was enough depth there to allow you to easily dispatch multiple opponents and look good doing it. Urban Reign is one of those rare cases of style and substance.
Pressing a direction during an attack or grapple would change which limb you’d target, with up attacking the head, left and right targeting the arms and down taking out the legs. The more damage you do to a certain area, the more damage and stun they’ll take from each subsequent hit, allowing you to gain a huge advantage.
Despite its simplicity, the combat is surprisingly versatile and still holds up to this day. Most basic combos ended with a launcher that could be followed up with a juggle combo or an air grapple. Brad’s air grapple was particularly satisfying, as he plucked enemies from the sky and powerbombed them into the ground. Better still, you could dash during the move for running powerbomb, and hitting the move against a wall would result in higher damage.
Players could even deal with multiple opponents with ease. A quick press of the grapple button between two enemies would unleash some fantastic looking attacks with relative ease. Being able to run up two guys and boot them in the head like it ain’t no thing will never get old. Ever. Failing that, you’ve got a range of special moves that can help deal with a crowd.
Defensively, you’re given just as many tools to deal with would-be assailants, including a dodge and reversal mechanic that can be used to escape pretty much any normal attack, along with a counter that, if timed correctly, could do some serious damage. You could also just run away, before running up a wall, jumping off and dropkicking someone in the face.
This is why Urban Reign stands out in the beat ‘em up genre, as it places so much emphasis on you being the coolest motherfucker that ever walked the face of the Earth, and we haven’t even got into things like tag fighting, weapons and reversal chains. For the entirety of the time you’re playing Urban Reign, you’re as badass as Neo in the lobby scene of The Matrix. Just trade the edgelord trench coat for some snakeskin leather.
Urban Reign also supported multiplayer, with up to four players if you owned the fabled multitap peripheral, and it’s here that the game came into its own element. It’s hard to describe, so it’s better to just show you. Check out the video below and tell me that doesn’t make you get hyped.
So why, despite all that it has going for it, is Urban Reign forgotten about? Even though the game has been featured on the channels of prominent streamers and content creators like Maximilian Dood with his above video, it’s become somewhat of an afterthought, outside of a loyal following. Part of the reason for that has to do with when the game launched.
Urban Reign came out during a time when beat ‘em ups were making a kind of resurgence, for better and for worse. Though we had games like Viewtiful Joe and The Warriors providing quality, albeit in completely different ways, games like Beat Down: Fists of Vengeance and Final Fight: Streetwise decided to poke a hole in the bottom of the barrel to find even further depths of abhorrence, which left Urban Reign lost in the shuffle. Even God Hand, which came out a few months later, arguably stole some shine from Urban Reign.
The reviews for the game weren’t exactly stellar either, with the game averaging out at a, well, average score. Many reviewers acknowledged the style and flair that the game possessed, but pointed out the admittedly mediocre story mode structure of 100 fights one after another, which is fair enough. It’s probably not the most exciting way to create a single player campaign, especially during the final third when the game starts throwing the really powerful opponents at you.
Still, Urban Reign deserves to be remembered amongst some of the best beat ‘em up games ever made. Yes, including God Hand. It’s just as good. If you’ve still got a PS2 lying around, you could pick Urban Reign up for a decent price. That, or you could just try emulating it, but you didn’t hear that from us. That’s naughty. Stop that.