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Urban Reign

In the mid 2000s, beat ‘em ups were pretty much dead in the water. There was the occasional attempt to revive the genre, but those seldom caught on. By this time, these games were largely considered relics of a bygone era. That didn’t deter Namco from developing Urban Reign, though. It pitted a brawny enforcer against every gang in town, fashion rooted in the late 90s, and one of the most robust fighting engines to ever appear in a beat ‘em up.

Players control a brawler for hire named Brad Hawk. A sword master named Shun Ying Lee has brought him on board to help find an important gang member who has been kidnapped. This results in Brad traveling the city of Green Harbor roughing up a number of local toughs as he tries to get answers and weaken their power base. Of course, as the game progresses players learn that things aren’t as simple as they seem and the plot begins to thicken.

Beating up these gang members is the meat and potatoes of the game and really quite satisfying. There is a lot more to fights in Urban Reign compared to other games in the genre. While beat ‘em ups have traditionally been straightforward affairs with players walking up to baddies and spamming punches and kicks with the occasional throw or super move, Namco made things a lot more interesting here.

Yes, you can still walk up and punch enemies in the face repeatedly. However, Brad is also a very good grappler. He can put enemies into all sorts of holds and pummel them from there. It is also possible to do a number of different throws when he gets his hands on someone. Moreover, Brad can also do a number of running attacks as well as running and flipping off a wall to escape enemies. If that wasn’t enough, it’s also possible to team up with other characters for some attacks.

The game leaves players with a lot of options with how they can fight enemies. As such, it can be a lot of fun experimenting or just changing things up to keep fights fresh. It isn’t simply a matter of punching one’s way through legions of street toughs without giving it any thought.

Of course, enemies aren’t just going to sit there and let themselves get beaten to a pulp. They’re actually quite smart in Urban Reign. Usually Brad will be facing off against more than one enemy at a time. As a result, players need to keep an eye on what everyone is doing. Focusing too much on punching one baddie in the face will leave Brad exposed for a rear attack by someone. The same could happen while trying to throw someone. Getting the person halfway into position, he might be interrupted by an enemy attack. Crowd control is essential in this game if players want to survive.

Seeing the game in action, it’s about par for the course as far as titles taking place in a modern urban setting in the mid 2000s go. There are no lack of dingy alleys or gang dens that players will fight in. Character design is where things get interesting because everyone looks like characters from a late 1990s gang movie. Fashion in Urban Reign is very much in sync with clothing of that period. Ditto for the music. It all feels like something from an early 2000s action movie.

While developers have tried to jazz up the beat ‘em up genre in the past, no one has tried to accomplish this in the same way that Urban Reign did. It was far more common for companies to incorporate moves out of something like Street Fighter when adding something new to their games. Namco went with a fight system that feels more like it was plucked from Tekken (which isn’t a surprise given that they made those games as well – note that a few Tekken characters can be used in Urban Reign’s free for all combat game mode). This is a beat ‘em up for people who like dealing with smart enemies and enjoy a good amount of grappling. If this tickles your fancy, consider checking out Urban Reign.

- IroIro
July 16, 2019
Platform: PlayStation 2
Genre: Beat ''em Up
Developer: Namco
Publisher: Namco
Released: 2005

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