Genre : RTS/RPG/Sports
Developer : Cyanide
US Publisher : Strategy First
Euro Publisher : Digital Jesters
Release Date : June 2004
Pre-order 'CHAOS LEAGUE': PC
“Sherman, set the Wayback Machine for 1986.”
“Where are we going today, Mister Peabody?”
“We’re going to visit a future game critic who has just bought a copy of Games Workshop’s immortal board game of fantasy football, endearingly entitled “Blood Bowl.”
I remember that day. I remember it all too well, as a matter of fact. I have been looking for that same elusive feeling ever since. The feeling that my two favorite sports, Football (the real American kind, not that “oh-I-can’t-use-my-hands-sissified-game-of-soccer-some-people-call-football”) and Cruel, Bloody Violence, were married in an unholy, but glorious union.
I have played this savage game for years where two teams of orcs, skeletons, vampires and their kin played a no-holds-barred game of ersatz football. In fact, I still own my original boxed version of the game from 1986. The rules were simple: The winner was either the first to score three touchdowns, or kill all the players on the other team, whichever came first. It was easy to learn, fast-paced and fun to play. I was in board game heaven.
On the video front, I can only recall two attempts at this game archetype. I’m only going to mention that there was a truly crappy version of the game for DOS. Then, Electronic Arts came out with the short-lived but much-loved Mutant League Football for the SEGA Genesis. This was how the game should play on a screen. Wow! In retrospect, it’s a wonder I didn’t see EA for the juggernaut it is. I would have bought stock at the IPO!
Then….years of nada, zilch, bupkiss. Until I got my hands on Chaos League.
Chaos League has brought the grand days of deadly football back to life. And this time, it’s pissed off!
Over 70 teams, comprised of ten races are present for your slaughtering pleasure. Humans, Elves, Orcs, Barbarians, Goblins and more are in full force, full armor, and are full of ill will. In addition, you can equip your team with doctors and cheerleaders as well as purchasing time warps (by way of Slo-Mo’s) to aid in your pursuit of the Chaos League Trophy.
It all begins when a one-eyed pig trots out onto the pitch with a football on its back. Then it’s all-out, well, chaos. Your individual characters each have their own particular strengths and weaknesses. Your quarterback will have a much stronger arm than your other players, but he’s more prone to damage. Your receivers have great hands, but are virtually useless as defenders. Your linemen are huge and mean, but couldn’t pick up the ball on the first try if their lives depended on it. On the whole, choosing your active players and the best formation for them is one of the biggest challenges. Your opening formation can spell almost instant defeat if you leave a hole open in the wrong spot.
Once the ball is in someone’s hands, the game play takes on a familiar RTS feel. Click on a character to select it, and then right click on where you want it to run, or whom to attack, or whom to pass the ball off to, etc. If you choose to right click on a team member then both of them will work together as a team, so assigning a lineman to one of your recievers will give him extra protection.
Your characters have skills that are automatically accounted for, but the real strategy and micromanaging kicks in with the use of breath powers and spells. Each player has a starting amount of health and breath, represented as a red bar and a blue bar, respectively, beneath the player’s on-screen portrait. Health is more of an absolute value, as you are hit and take damage, your health will decrease, but healing is possible by using the team doctor or the Heal Self breath command.
Your breath, on the other hand, constantly fluctuates based on the players’ level of activity. Breath will recover over time and can be spent to pump up the crowd, to sprint for an added burst of speed, or to utilize a master power that pumps your player up for the current fight. These commands can be used anytime, so long as the player has enough breath to pull them off. You can also set the aggressiveness of the players to Passive, Aggressive or Very Aggressive. These settings control how the player will react to opponent’s stepping into their zone of control. Board wargamers will remember this concept.
The spells available are also dependent on breath. There are three types of available spells; Attack Spells (which use a lot of breath), Zone Spells (which use slightly less breath) and General Spells (which require a normal amount of breath), either one of them can be cast from any position on the field. In addition, each spell has two levels of expertise. Spells and levels are acquired over time by gaining experience points in a series of games. Some players may begin the game with 4 spells in their repertoire; most will have only one, or none. 8 additional spells can be learned by any player bringing the possible total to 12. Available spells include Hiding, which masks your players from your opponents’ view, Eagle Eye, which will increase the vision of a player, Blessing, which raises a player’s stats for a limited amount of time, and a full complement of other offensive and defensive magicks
The crowd will also come into play during the course of a ten minute match. If your cheerleaders are especially good, the crowd may actually help turn the tide of a match. Spectators will throw objects and occasionally weapons onto the pitch which can (and will) impact your players, both metaphorically and literally. If you have spent money at the beginning for Hooligans, they will also affect the crowd, and therefore the match. Other means of swaying the game in your favour can be pulled of by using drugs to enhance a player's performance (speed, savagery, dexterity), or by bribing a referee, to look the other way when your doped up super character goes berserk. Of course this is not without risk as one of the features will allow you to perform random drug tests on one of the other team's players if you suspect foul play, and if tested positive he will get expelled (you can replace him but that will cost you extra $).
The documentation makes mention of a Turn-Based mode. This initially got me very excited, and opened up the possibility of a much more strategic game. But this is a misnomer. The so-called Turn-Based mode is not much more than the RTS game with multiple 8-second pauses thrown in to allow for a bit more control. But instead of adding to the game, these pauses are more of an annoyance and distraction than a strategic aid.
The full version promises to include scenarios where individual goals are set and must be completed to unlock subsequent challenges. This would probably be a better way to get players used to the feel of the game. As it is, the tutorials aren’t much more than movies that give an overview, but are not really all that helpful. Also promised are a multiplayer version allowing as many as 6 people to play in a single game and an ongoing Championship mode that allows creation of unique teams and their growing powers as experience points are accrued.
Graphically, the game is a little cartoon-ish, but this actually works considering the genre. The sound effects are run-of-the-mill, but may be tweaked before the final pressing. The in-game commentaries in my preview version were only available in French, so I can’t tell whether they are entertaining or annoying. My only other complaint is with camera control. In a game with this much action, a 360 degree free-floating camera is almost a must, but here we are limited to a number of preset angles. The zoom feature pulls the view from about 5 stories above the pitch, to a single player filling the entire screen. This works smoothly using the mouse wheel, but really doesn’t help get a sense of the action, especially when five of six players are all scrumming for the ball.
In the final analysis, Chaos League is a diamond in the rough. But it is a fun, easy to learn game that should appeal to both sports fans and fantasy gamers. I’m looking forward to the full version to see what’s been tweaked.
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