Blood Bowl Review (Xbox 360)
Never in my gaming history has a title felt so frustrating yet so satisfying all at once. Blood Bowl is punishing, confusing, not at all accessible; yet once you find the end zone, those problems seem very short lived. Of course, all of those negative feelings come rushing back on the ensuing kickoff.
If you are unfamiliar with Blood Bowl (as I was), here is the rundown: Blood Bowl was originally a turn-based table-top game with a pretty passionate fan base and heavy rule book. It is kind of like a cross between rugby and American football, but set in a medieval fantasy world with orcs, elves and dwarves. It demands risky decision making and rewards brutal hits and blocks.
All of this has made the transition to the videogame version, especially the steep barrier to entry. This is a complex and strategic game, not a remake of something like Mutant League Football. After playing for a few weeks, I still do not have a truly comfortable handle on all that is going on.
Basically, it works like this: On your turn, you can move all of your players once, with the aim of securing the ball and getting it to the end zone. Dice rolls are working behind the scenes, determining the success of each of your actions. Linemen can knock down opposing players, receivers can get open, throwers can make the long pass. Actually, any player can do any of those things, but the unit's attributes affects the outcomes.
And each action has many outcomes. Run near an opponent and you have to "roll" to get by him. Throw the ball and it could be dropped, be a bad throw, get intercepted, etc. Try to block, and you yourself may get knocked down. Essentially, the game is not entirely American football. You can forward pass as much as you would like and play is continuous, like Rugby.
Player powers and races add another layer of variables that come in to play, offering both negative and positive outcomes. Your blocker may not be able to be knocked down. A lineman may be able to throw another player. It is even possible that your player is so dumb that he will actually do something stupid on his own.
Once your given order fails (dropped ball, missed block, etc.) your turn is over. The opponent then repeats the cycle. Games last a certain amount of turns, not minutes.
This probably all sounds confusing, and it is. Again, this game has a very steep learning curve. Unfortunately, the game does little to make this climb more appealing.
Just another day in the Blood Bowl.
No Help Here
There is a tutorial of sorts, but it is probably one of the lamest tutorials in any sports game. It is very basic and even gives instructions in case you "get stuck during this tutorial..." You know, tutorials themselves should not be so unclear as to get the user stuck -- that sort of invalidates the point. The manual is actually more helpful. Too bad, as this game, more than any other, requires a helpful tutorial.
Anyway, if you stick with this game despite a lack of help, you may find it as occasionally rewarding as I did. See, when everything goes well, you have moments of clarity when your game plan works. It is fun to have a successful turn, positioning yourself exactly the way you want, creating a turnover and then walking in for a score. In this way, the game plays more like chess than any kind of football you have ever played.
But, just like the tutorial, every aspect of this game is plagued with problems. Nothing seems fully explained in-game, words are misspelled and the whole front-end is pretty clunky. Graphically, it is almost last-generation in its detail. Basically, the game feels budgeted and has a rushed-to-release feel throughout. However, it is actually neither. The game will set you back $50 and was delayed more than once.
Good Game, If You Can Find It
Again, if you can look past these somewhat cosmetic problems, there is lots of depth here. You can play single matches or enter a fairly deep campaign mode. If the campaign mode was more user friendly, this would be one of the most enjoyable franchise modes available. During the experience, you will sign sponsors, upgrade players using a XP system, hire mercenaries and buy enhancements. Each race plays a little differently. On paper, this sounds like a lot of fun. In reality, it is a lot of blind menu surfing and guessing about what you are doing. I restarted my campaign three times before I correctly spent my funds.
There is another mode of play where the game unfolds in real time. This seems like an unnecessary addition that did not add to value of the package. It is not an arcade mode that turns Blood Bowl into a medieval Madden. Instead, both players issue commands at once, which makes an already complex game just chaotic and unorganized.
I'd like to see Ray Lewis take on this guy in a gap.
Let the Good Times Roll
Finally, for a turn- and dice-based game, I wish the die rolls were a bigger part of the experience. Since they are almost all done behind the scenes, events unfold a bit too quickly without any sense of control. For instance, if you threw a bad pass, it would be nice to say that you had a bad roll. Instead, you just see a bad pass outcome and have to squint at some tiny scrolling text to see exactly what happened.
I wish Blood Bowl were a better game. It offers a great alternative to regular or arcade sports titles. It is a creative strategic game that is not easy (and would not be easy even with a better user interface). We need more options like Blood Bowl. If you have the time, interest and patience to fully explore the world of Blood Bowl, there is stuff to like. Unfortunately, it just does not work as a whole and will not be something the average user will gravitate towards.
On the Field: Complex, deep and rewarding gameplay is hindered by a lack of guidance or explanation. Not your typical arcade or simulation football game.
Graphics: Not good, though, it is not like they are an absolute necessity in a game like this. They are, however, symptomatic of the game's overall lack of polish.
Sound Design: Creative, but quickly annoying announcers.
Entertainment Value: A big question mark here: The campaign is deep and entirely replayable. The other modes are not much to write home about. The biggest issue is whether you have the patience to get into it. Either way, there are lots of customization options.
Learning Curve: Probably one of the most difficult sports games you will ever play, but unnecessarily so. It is a challenging game that could have been so much more approachable.
Online Play: Limited to single matches. Online leagues would have been awesome.
Score: 6.5 (Decent)