We fear change. Especially when powerhouse franchises like the Unreal series are involved. And especially when a game moves away from its established roots and dares to be different. Take Ghost Recon 2 for example. A firm favourite amongst FPS fans, the shift in perspective from first- to third-person alienated the majority of sniping spectres and lost some of the comfortingly familiar characteristics we knew and loved. So we were wary of UC2. As in, lock your doors, stay off the moors, we-don't-like-your-sort-round-here wary. The original was a local game for local people, and we liked it that way.
It came as nice surprise then (read: bloody massive shock), when we got to grapple with Liandri Conflict. At first glance it seemed like any other Unreal title; a slick, smooth game engine, meaty weapons that feel immensely satisfyingly to wield, and the return of all our favourite characters. Yep, UC2 ticks more boxes than pubic lice. Dig a little deeper however, and you'll discover this sequel has evolved far beyond its now seemingly encumbering predecessors...
We kicked off the impressive single-player campaign with Tournament mode. Seven Unreal characters are immediately available, and players follow their individual career ladders through the bloodthirsty, Liandri Corporation-sponsored conflict. The default difficulty setting informs us we're 'Experienced' at the game, though with later settings confidently described as Expert, Masterful and Godlike, you can tell, as is characteristic of the series, that UC2 isn't going to be an easy ride. This sets a precedent for the majority of the game; sneaky camping and sniping gets you nowhere, as frighteningly astute AI will suss your tactics and overwhelm your position in no time. UC2 makes no bones (apart from yours) about its punishingly hard difficulty. Skilful dodging, nerves of steel and faster twitching than an electrified ornithologist are the only way to make progress. Your head's pounding, sweat's dripping down your face and the taunts of your last slaughterer are ringing in your ears. This is brutal, in your face blasting, and we love it.
All our favourite Unreal weapons return, complete with primary and secondary modes of fire (see Weapons of Mass De-Rezztion, below). Before each match there's the handy option of assigning your character weapons from the familiar arsenal - one Explosive (rocket launchers, ripjacks, flak cannon and all-new grenade launcher) and one Energy weapon (shock and sniper rifles, bio rifle and stinger gun). This option allows players to really learn each weapon's combos and strengths; the downside is you may ignore the less-appealing (though just as powerful in the right hands) weapons, like the bio rifle.
Each Tournament rung features different game modes for all the characters involved. It's great fun to experiment and master the ton of different
Adrenaline powers on offer (see I Have The Power!, right). Deathmatch and Capture The Flag are obviously present, but also on the roster is the brilliant Overdose. A bastard child of Bomb Run, different coloured orbs will sporadically spawn on a map. Players fight opponents to collect them, then endeavour to leg it to the corresponding reception points. Deposit orbs at the distant, corresponding-coloured gates, and you'll earn six points, or wuss out and go for the nearer, opposing-coloured gate for three. Equally, the longer the player holds onto an orb the more their radiation levels build up and, when they reach the relevant coloured gate, result in a huge 'overdose'. Adrenaline powers are instantly assigned, and you'll temporarily become an unstoppable killing machine - great for barging your way back to the next orb spawn point. Brilliant fun, this game mode sits particularly well with players not inclined to the strategic co-ordination of CTF, and should be an absolute blast online.