STAFF REVIEW of Blood Bowl (Xbox 360)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010.
by Ken Laffrenier

Blood Bowl Box art As anyone that has ever read my reviews can tell you; I am extremely generous in my review rating (and I really like explosions in my games). That being said; consider that I am being generous in my rating for this game as well (not just because it has a clear lack of explosions).

The Blood Bowl franchise goes back to the days when we men were the true hunter/gatherers. We would scour for days seeking out adventure. We would stop at almost nothing to escape the omnipresent hordes or demons while rolling the dice to determine the outcome of our perilous situations. Anyone that has fond memories of d12's, d20?s, dodecahedron and Dungeon Masters (no Variation it's not what you think) will know exactly what I'm talking about.

Now, I was never a huge tabletop RPG player, however I kept a passing interest. While I was aware of the tabletop edition of Blood Bowl, most of the game play involved simply too much time and, with the groups I knew, too much money; as most groups required you to have at least a few of the hand painted and detailed miniature metal figures. The few games I did play back in the late 80?s were quite entertaining. The concept is simple; you are playing football with various ?races? that reveled in mutilating the opposing team as much as they did in scoring touchdowns. The rules were somewhat convoluted but once you grasped the concept and the rule structure the game was limited only by your imagination. This is a key point in the Blood Bowl saga; imagination is the foundation of the games vision. It was up to individual players to visualize the dismembering and disemboweling of the opposition?and to play out, verbally, the cheers and jeers of the crowd as various body parts were thrown to the masses (almost sounds like a family Thanksgiving dinner).

Fast forward 20 years, Games Workshop is allowing Cyanide Studios to develop Blood Bowl for various platforms. That?s right, ?allowing to develop??it would seem, according to Wikipedia, that Cyanide Studios had released a ?fantasy football game?, for release on the PC in 2004, so similar in structure to Blood Bowl that a lawsuit was filed against the studio. In an out of court settlement, Cyanide Studios was given a license to create a new game using the ?Blood Bowl property?. In June of 2009 a PC version was released but the Xbox version would not been seen until 7 months later.

The idea of bringing Blood Bowl to the consoles is long overdue. The visual powerhouse that is the 360 would serve as ideal grounds to bring to life all of the mayhem that has been stewing in our collective imaginations. However, it seems that Cyanide Studios used a grouping of old 386 PC?s in developing this title because the list of items that failed to hit the mark is substantial.

The game offers both turn based and ?real-time? gameplay in varying states including championships, campaigns and multiplayer, unfortunately it?s all based around the flawed assumption that everyone has an innate understanding of all things relating to Blood Bowl. In turn based mode you have the opportunity to arrange and manipulate your team on field to set up passes, catches, attacks and runs among various other abilities, but one misstep (see: incomprehensibly biased dice roll) will stop you in your tracks and move the play to the opposing team. The game, even in its easiest setting seems to favour the opposition and will rarely allow for a couple of movements before initiating a fumble or other ?unfortunate? incident on the part of your team. Real-time mode, by name alone, brings to mind Madden-esk gameplay with a violent twist. Not to be outdone by the turn based model, real-time requires you to enter in to ?concentration mode? every few seconds in order to micromanage your team; realistically this is just a flimsy form of turn based play.

?Ahhh?, you say, ?I must have avoided the included tutorial, hence the limited ability to adapt to the unique method of play?. While I would like nothing better to go back and learn how to make this game work in my favour at least once in a while, the tutorial did nothing but increase my frustration with the title. The tutorial is offered in a play to learn format but it is done onscreen with the instructions displayed on an opaque overlay that hinders the ability to see what you are supposed to manipulate on screen. Add to this the fact that the A button is used to advance the instructions as well as complete the steps in the tutorial and you have the recipe for utter foolishness. I did go through the tutorial several times to ensure that I was giving the game a fair shake but the game does not explain many of the rules or roll sequences so you are still left feeling as though you are playing as an outsider to an exclusive club. It is tempting to lay the faults at the feet of gameplay alone, but let?s move on.

The visuals are lackluster at best, the stadiums are original and the surroundings do have some unique visuals but they all seem to have been developed on a template. There are no dynamic offerings and even simple items like the cheerleaders show no variation in movements. The clipping in the cutscenes really seemed to bother me more than I expected?this is the same console that showcases top notch visuals on a regular basis but Blood Bowl developers can?t be bothered with creating seamless cutscenes. The in game graphics are disappointing, while you have the option of zooming in to see the action on the field up close and personal, there really is a lack of action of see. Where is the mayhem that we all expect, why do ?destroyed? players simply fade out to leave a light red circle on the ground, why do players of different races dodge and jump in exactly the same form, why o? why can I not toss various limbs to the stands? I can think of only two reasons for the visuals in this game?either they were developed for the original Xbox as an arcade title or there was a complete lack of interest in creating this game visually.

The sound isn?t entirely bad, in fact the banter between the announcers has some truly funny moments but the complete lack of sound atmosphere is confusing. Surely the developers could have included some in game music to offset the innately repetitive sounds of whistles and grunts. All in all the sound could have been worse and while the announcers do start repeating their lines after a short time they do have a redeeming quality to them (unlike the game, they?re entertair promises to be a more personal affair, playing against real people with the dice against us both should level the playing field; however in almost 4 hours of waiting for matchups, I could not find a single player online. No, my connection was fine, as in between wait times I would throw on Diner Dash for a little multiplayer( yes, Diner Dash had more people playing than Blood Bowl).

The Blood Bowl saga is not likely to end here. The RPG game has a tremendous following and to be honest I look forward to a ?re-envisioning?. It is unfortunate that this installment is overshadowed by so many faults because the nature of the original game lends itself well to the Xbox visual capabilities. This title is likely to be picked up by many people (most paying the full $50), and there may even be a few that enjoy it?to those individuals I salute you?you are far more patient (and tactically minded) than I. I will say that I am looking to get together some buddies to have an old fashioned tabletop game of Blood Bowl since playing this release. Perhaps this is the true genius of the Xbox release?drive up demand for the old, reliable offering (I wonder what a painted Skaven is going for on EBay these days).

Overall: 6.0 / 10
Gameplay: 6.0 / 10
Visuals: 5.7 / 10
Sound: 6.5 / 10


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