Publisher: Ubi Soft Entertainment
Developer: SouthEnd Interactive
Release Date: 10/25/2002
Deathrow is a sports game based on the futuristic sport of Blitzball. The closest possible comparison to Blitzball is extreme Frisbee, without the silliness. In an amalgamation of football, soccer, and Frisbee, the goal of Blitzball throw the disc through the other team’s goal, which is a relatively small circle either suspended by a support or hanging on a wall. Each game lasts four rounds, of three minutes each. However, that is where the similarity to the sports of today ends. While on your path to the other team’s goal you are free to beat the living snot out of anyone that dares to get in your way.
Deathrow is to sports like Carmageddon was to racing. While you can win the conventional way by having more points than the other team, you can also win by simply leveling the other team. If an entire team is knocked out in one round, the other team wins no matter what the scores are. Combat is a relatively simple affair, with one button performing punches, one performing kicks, and one for blocking and evading attacks. If you hold the left trigger you can also do dives and slide kicks. While it doesn’t have as much depth as one might like, the control scheme is easy to pick up and get acquainted with, yet leaves room for a person to get more skillful as they play.
Every player on each team has their own stats, including Health, Strength, Endurance, Aggression, Passing, Speed, and Injury Points. When a player’s health is reduced to zero, that player loses an injury point and is knocked over. Once on the ground you must mash the A and B buttons in order to quickly fill your life back up and get back on your feet. If a player has no more injury points, they begin to limp. While limping a player’s speed is cut in 1/4th and he/she cannot dive or roll. If the player’s life is then reduced to zero they are KOed for the round. At the end of each round each team has the option to heal injury points on their players, for a modest fee.
Powerups are scattered about on powerup pads in every arena. Regular health powerups bring your health to 100%, Mega healths bring your health to 100% and recover an injury point, Attack boost temporarily boosts a player’s strength, Speed boost temporarily boosts a players speed, and Credits simply adds a varying amount of cash to your total holdings. Powerups are extremely useful, players who want to beat up the other team will have a hay day with attack boosts, and players who want to deftly maneuver around the other team with fall in love with the speed boosts. However, you are not the only person who frequents the powerup pads, and it’s wise to cut off the other team from getting powerups that could put you in a bind.
When you have the ball, your attack abilities are hindered and you must play the game on the sport side of things. The same buttons used for combat are used, only they now pass and throw the ball. While holding the ball, anything you can throw to in your cone if sight has a green line going from you to it. If you turn to face it the line turns into a white line, meaning your character will try to pass or throw the disc to that player/goal. Passing is just as simple as that. However, throwing the disc is different. By holding the throw button down you charge the disc, making it glow with a green haze. While it’s charging you can still move around and line up your shot but if you overcharge the disc it will explode, causing you to both drop the disc and take some damage. Before that happens however you should throw the disc at either a goal or enemy team member. Charged discs go farther, faster, and straighter, and anything that tries to catch them gets heavy damage. Pesky goalie keeps blocking or catching your shots? Give him a taste of the green pie. Annoying enemy team member keeps trying to take the disc? Let him have it, with a complimentary disc to the head. This move is where the game gets its name. The game is called Deathrow because this move is called the “Death Throw” thus, Dea-throw.
The AI in the game is fairly smart as far as AI goes. If you single out an enemy team member and beat him up, he will remember you. Depending on his aggression, he will either hit you more than usual on his quest to get the disc or he will make it his life’s goal to knock you out. Depending on the enemy team’s teamwork skills, if you are beating on one of the enemies another one may jump you to help out his teammate. The same goes for your team as well. During the game you can change the way your AI behaves, setting them between five modes. The modes are Full Aggression, Aggressive, Neutral, Defensive, and Full Defense. On the higher end of the scale your team will just do anything it takes to get the disc into the goal, while on the lower end your team will hang back and try to make sure no disc goes through your goal.
The selection of teams and players in the game is fairly low at first with only four teams, but playing through the games Conquest mode either alone or with friends will net you unlock credits which you can spend by purchasing new teams, players, arenas, or features. The teams themselves are varied, ranging from a group of ninjas, to a task force of marines, to a seemingly cracked-out bunch of ex-football players. Unlocking things is a chore in most games, but it is a different story in Deathrow. Playing through the Conquest mode multiple times is actually fun, as even if you pick the same team you’ll never have the same game twice.
The graphics in the game are a pretty good representation of what we have come to expect from an Xbox title. The textures are sharp and detailed, the player models are varied and vibrant, and the various special effects are some of the purest eye candy seen thus far on the Xbox. The disc lets off an ambient light of either red or blue, depending on what team is currently carrying it. Players who get the business end of a fist will leave bloody marks on walls, floors, and objects. Camera robots will buzz around overhead while arena-specific things will happen in the background. In the prison level you can see guards patrolling in the catwalks, and in the underwater dome level you can see dolphins and other marine life swimming around. It all adds up to a very nice looking game.
The sound in the game is excellent, ranging hardcore and techno music playing in the background, to the roars and cheers of crowds, to the gentle noises of the disc and the brutal smashes and yelps of pain from combat. Deathrow supports custom soundtracks, so feel free to replace the default music with any form of music you like. Before every match the players will talk a little smack to each other, which is very vulgar and yet very amusing at the same time. You can taunt while in game by pressing the black button, which will aggravate opponents. Overall the sound complements the on screen action very nicely.
Deathrow has some other things that are worth mentioning that really don’t fit anywhere else. To spice the admittedly short loading times up various fake ads scroll by satirizing the media of the future. Ads will flash by like “1-800-WE NUKE!” and “Rent-A-Mech, rent two mechs and get a days worth of ammo free!” Also, between matches you will get messages, some of which are offers from corporations who want to sponsor you or players who want to join you. Others are actually useful, like genetic enhancements that up a players stats for a price. Then there’s the oddball ones, like “Your star player has been caught sleeping with the mayor’s twin daughters. Pay the expenses for the cover-up”. Whatever the developers were on when they added this stuff in, it makes for a nice touch.
Deathrow is not without flaws, although they are minor. There are only two camera modes, one behind the player and one above. However, both offer a wide area of view and never seem restricting or distracting even in the most heated four player split-screen games. Also, some people won’t like the simplicity of the games combat.
That being said, Deathrow is a great game that breaks a little new ground and looks good doing it. While it’s not for everyone, Deathrow is to gaming like a Swiss Army knife is to camping. Whether you have ten minutes to play or all day, playing on your own or with a group of friends, Deathrow is a great game to just sit down and enjoy. If you are looking for a game that performs well on all fronts and you are interested in the premise, give Deathrow a try. You won’t be disappointed.