The first-person shooter has traditionally been a PC genre. While there's always been room for such games on console systems, dating back to early entries like Wolfenstein 3D for the SNES and Doom for the Sega 32X, console hardware has had extreme difficulty when it comes to doing justice to these fast-moving games. Most ports are inferior to their PC counterparts, and most console-only first-person shooters (with a few notable exceptions) cut too many corners to garner support from anyone who has seen what a first-person shooter could be, given the proper hardware. Over the years, the playing field has evened out quite a bit, making room both for successful ports of PC shooters and entirely new console-specific games. Unreal Championship falls somewhere in between, as it's more or less the Xbox version of the recently released Unreal Tournament 2003, which is a fast-paced, multiplayer-focused PC shooter. It also happens to be one of the first online games available for Microsoft's newly launched Xbox Live service, giving it a leg up on the console-based competition and making the choice between playing shooters on a PC or on a console closer than ever before.
Unreal Championship will be very familiar to those who've played Unreal Tournament 2003.
Unreal Championship sets up its combative events as a sort of futuristic team sport, though this is really exhibited only in the game's intro movie and the loading-screen text that describes each level. The game's single-player component is simpler than UT2003's--rather than drafting your team one player at a time and trading team members around as you go, you'll simply pick which bots you want to fight at your side and go from there. The single-player ladder starts with team deathmatch and works you through the rest of the team-based game types, including capture the flag, double domination, and bombing run.
Capture the flag and team deathmatch adhere to the standards of the genre. Double domination is a twist on the domination game found in the first Unreal Tournament. Here, there are two control points in each level, and a team scores by holding both points for a specific period of time. Bombing run is a new twist on one-flag capture the flag in which each team has a base with a goal ring in it and a ball appears in a central location on the map. Players score for their team by taking the ball to the opposing team's goal and then jumping through it for seven points or throwing the ball in for three points. Ballcarriers can't fire any weapons, but the ball can be passed from player to player. Unreal Championship also features a standard free-for-all deathmatch.
One spot where Championship differs a lot from Unreal Tournament 2003 is in the way it handles the game's different characters. In UT2003, each character had his or her own set of stats in a few categories and a preferred weapon, but this came into play only when that character was being controlled by the computer. In Unreal Championship, the characters' different skills and affinities come into play even when you're controlling the action. There are a handful of different races, and the manual is annoyingly vague when it comes to the differences, but the basic gist is that robots can jump high, the Egyptian-looking anubans earn adrenaline (which is used to execute certain special moves) faster, and juggernauts are the slow, tough guys. In addition to that, each individual character in the game has a weapon preference. The character will start with that weapon every time he or she spawns, and further still, there are three affinity types that give the player a higher ammo maximum for that weapon, increased attack power, or a higher rate of fire.
The single-player mode is mostly just a proving ground for playing Unreal Championship online.
This is an interesting twist in a genre known for its varied and colorful yet functionally identical player models, but it also seems like it throws the balance off a bit. Having a rocket launcher on hand every time you spawn is a serious advantage, and the ability to fire it faster than other characters almost seems unfair. For one thing, it would have made racking up killing sprees super easy in full games if Unreal Championship had included that classic UT recognition system, but for some reason it doesn't. UT2003's interesting adrenaline system is included, however. As you score or pick up special adrenaline pills, your adrenaline counter rises. When it reaches 100, you can tap out some directions on the control pad that activate special power-ups, like super speed, invisibility, regeneration, or berserk power. The adrenaline system gives you some flexibility in how you play, and it can tilt the odds in your favor occasionally. It's always fun to turn the tables on the opposition.
The character-specific abilities and weapon options can be disabled with one of the game's many "mutators," which are a small set of lesser options that can be toggled in any game type. These actually have the ability to make serious changes to the gameplay. Some of the included mutators are low-gravity mode, one-weapon arena mode, regeneration, and "instagib," which arms every player with enhanced shock rifles that can kill with one hit and have infinite ammo. Combining different mutators and game types can make for some pretty unique matches.