PC Review - 'Speedball 2: Tournament'

by Tim McDonald on Jan. 17, 2008 @ 2:42 a.m. PST

Speedball 2 transforms the futuristic game setting into a high-speed online sports spectacle. Offering international leagues, a large-scale ranking system and a virtual marketplace, Speedball 2 pulls out all the stops in modern multiplayer gaming action.

Genre: Sports
Publisher: Valve/Frogster
Developer: Kylotonn Entertainment
Release Date: November 27, 2007 (Europe)

Dear Speedball 2,

We had some fun back in the early '90s, didn't we? You, me and an Atari ST. I was a gamer, even back then, and you … well, you were the most amusingly violent sports game there's ever been, with the possible exception of Mutant League Hockey. We spent a lot of time together — two teams of nine men matched up against each other, with a host of power-ups, and no rules when it came to injuries. You even awarded points for injuring members of the opposing team!

Why, everyone had a favorite method of playing with you. Some would rack up a huge multiplier and then go for the goal at the end of a match, while others would head straight for the Electro-Ball and fry the goalkeeper, sending the ball bowling into it in the same shot. Me, I always favored outright violence, beating down every single player along the way to the goal. But then, somehow, lots of other games came along, and you kind of faded into the background, until we eventually drifted apart entirely.

Now, 16 years later, you're back, and lately you and your family have been trying to get my attention again. Your sister has packaged herself up to be just like you were back then and released herself onto Xbox Live Arcade, and I have to admit, the things you did back then work almost as well now. Sure, she's aged a bit, but you can still have fun with her. As for you, well … while she's trying to be like you, you've grown up.

The problem is, so have I. While I've grown up to be a highly respected journalist — well, a respected journalist … okay, a respectable journalist … all right, a journalist — first glance says you've just put on a pretty dress and some new makeup, and added a "Tournament" subtitle. Worse still, that first glance shows that the makeup is paper thin and a little cracked. Come on, Speedball 2: Tournament; your graphics are far from impressive and more than a little glitchy. Despite having removed some of the problems that galled even back then, like the completely identical-looking players, you've lost a lot of your flair. No longer is your art style so pitch perfect, and no longer do we see pictures of a team of frankly scary men celebrating every win or mourning each loss, with text depicting the score beneath. There are pictures, certainly, but they're dull, and covered with text describing the points scored in each match. This has caused a bit of a disconnection between us, I'm afraid, and I'm no longer jubilating or mourning every result.

And is it just me, or have you slowed down a bit in your old age? The games we used to play were frantic and fun, but even barring the physical speed, you seem to have slowed down a bit in the head. Honestly, Speedball 2: Tournament, your AI is idiotic at times, both friendly and opposing. Every time I see players running away from the ball right next to them because they're not the teammate who's tactically marked to be in that spot, I die a little inside. And what on earth is with letting goalkeepers run into their own goals? If you're going to make automatic player-switching the only way to play that won't drive you absolutely insane, for the love of God, don't let the goalkeeper run into the goal while holding the ball! If an opponent gets that far down, and I'm chasing him with a defender, then I don't want to switch to the goalie as he reaches the ball and runs directly into the net! Really, that's just petty, childish, and something I'd not expect to see in a girl of your age and caliber.

Speaking of the opponents, you don't put up nearly as big a challenge as I remember. Teams don't seem to differentiate all that well. Part of it might be because rather than your original two leagues, you now have four, and so there's less of a difference of ability within each league, but when I'm playing against bottom-ranked team Revolver, and then I next match up against the highest team in the league, but I don't feel any difference … well, it's just another mark against you. While we're on the topic of the leagues, I have to say that the new team names lack the passion of the originals. Sure, we still have the old favorites like Violent Desire, Baroque, Super Nashwan and Steel Fury, and those names still provoke a smile, but that smile dies when I see that my next match-up is against "The Sharks."

Don't take offense, but I have to ask: Did you check yourself in the mirror before you came out? Because I can see even more cracks in your façade, and most are glaringly obvious. The most blatant in the menus, at least, is the misspelling of "Profile" as "Profil," but it's not alone. When I score a goal because, after a goalkeeper knocks the ball away, the ball ricochets off thin air into the goal, it's not amusing; it's just frustrating, and it cheapens you. It's worse when it happens to me, sure, but if I win because of it, it doesn't feel like a win. I'll admit it's nowhere near Sensible Soccer 2006's magically teleporting goalkeepers in terms of obviousness, but let's face it, that isn't saying much.

And oh, Speedball, what happened to the injuries? There was a time when a match rarely went by without at least one player being sent off because I'd broken his legs, but I've spent entire matches trying to get injuries — pitting the highest of League One against the lowest of League Four, no less! — and I've not once succeeded. Back then, it was half of the fun; no matter how badly you were losing, you just knew that you could knock out the goalkeeper and the enemy center forward because they had no health left, and their replacements would never be able to stand up to the onslaught.

The cry of, "Ice cream! Ice cream!" from the audience upon this common occurrence always resulted in a wry smirk. Sixteen years ago, in a game, it was almost satirical. Now, "Ice cream," is bellowed out all the time, and injuries are scarce. Come to think of it, what's with all of the bellowing? In those days, you only ever spoke when you had something to say; barring the absolutely superb introduction music that sets the scene, there was no music, and although I confess that it was a bit jarring, I can't say that your new techno-rock amalgamation is much of an improvement.

The thing is, if your touted multiplayer capabilities were up to scratch, I could forgive all of this. Back in the day, we had fun with my friends when they were here, and if you'd told me then that someday I'd have been able to play with people around the world, and in fact play in leagues against them, I'd have wet myself (well, I was still a child). Now that you've finally done it, it's nothing short of a gigantic disappointment, and the tasteless icing on the cake. Your server browser seems to be a little bit broken, Speedball. You don't appear to list many games, and the ping seems to be way off. While you've got support for clans and world rankings and things of that ilk, in the short term at least, it's just not working.

You're not all bad, though. I'll admit that regardless of what I said about your looks, there are some marvelous touches. Having three different "races" for the players adds a bit of much-needed differentiation between the teams, and it can even be a bit tactical at times, even if you follow the usual rule of "women = fast and weak, men = slow and strong." Those 8-foot-tall monstrosities that you call cyborgs, by the way? Absolute genius. Finally having a bit of control over the way the team looks is neat, too, with different types of body armor available, and custom color schemes and names. It's a minor touch, but it's always welcome. Even going back to what I said about injuries, some of those impacts look absolutely savage, and having the requisite bits of armor fly off is an excellent touch, even if the helmets do look a lot like the ball at higher resolutions. That's not really a knock, though; even a cursory examination shows the difference. Adding in four-player support (2v2, split across the two teams) was a great idea, too.

Yeah, I admit it: When you get it right, you really get it right. There are times when you work flawlessly, and the matches are nothing short of amazing, but it's just too few and far between. There are plenty of other games out right now that, while perhaps not being gloriously violent future-sports games, have simply pegged the feeling of constant fun a lot better than you do. I don't know whether you felt like you had to run out and join the party, but the simple truth is that you're not ready for this. Heartbreaking though it is to say it, you really could've done with a bit more time. The promise is there, but there's almost nothing to act on it.

There's promise, and that's the best I can say for you. You're out there, now, and I'm tempted to treat this like a public beta. You've been patching yourself up a bit over the past few days, and if this trend continues, then you may just be worth a second look. I can't help but wish that you'd waited another few months, though, because then I wouldn't have to write this. As it is now, I simply can't recommend you to anyone but the most ardent fans or interested parties.

I'm sorry, Speedball 2: Tournament. It's not me. It's you. It really is.

Yours,
Tim

Score: 5.5/10

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