CHAOS LEAGUE - PC REVIEW
American Football, as we all know, is a rubbish game! A bunch of meatheads partaking in a sport reminiscent of egg chasing is hardly going to set the world on fire. Indeed, the game is supposed to be brutal, but the quarterbacks are more like prancing fairies and the wide receivers tip-toeing cinderella's that look like a fly could swat them. What would make this sport more interesting for a mass audience? Hmmm... how about replacing the opposition with a bunch of savage Orcs suffering from blood-lust who would rather use the wide-receivers head for a ball and arms as a toothpick?? Yes, that would be much more fun.
Chaos League is essentially that. A variation on the American Football theme, featuring otherworldly teams such as orcs, elves, goblins, undead and the obligatory human team too mash-up whilst also attempting to score the all important "touchdowns!" Beating the opposition into a pulp, stamping on players while they're prone, bribing the referee, assaulting the opposition with powerful magic and killing the agile quarterback with a well-placed headbutt are the order of the day here. However, This is not another of Electronic Arts' piss-poor updates of the John Madden franchise - this is something much more original and refreshing.
Well, when I say original, it's not really that original. But how many of you were playing Speedball 2 at the beginning of the nineties? More to the point how many of you have heard of yet alone played Bloodbowl?? If anything, Chaos League is a blatant rip-off from the aforementioned gaming system introduced by Games Workshop circa 1995. The team setups are identical, the player statistics are identical, the random card plays are vaguely similar and although the special player skills have different names they still do pretty much the same thing. However, Games Workshops' own PC version of Bloodbowl has very much dated over the sands of time and Chaos League can be seen as something of a welcome overhaul.
Forgoing the turn based system and dice rolling from Games Workshops setup, Digital Jesters have produced a sports simulation using a real-time strategy (RTS) mode to convey the action in a 3-D environment. A match lasts 10 minutes and in normal RTS mode, as a beginner, the game is fast and frenetic as you systematically try to command all nine men in your squad to tackle and block opposition players, intercept the ball, pick up the ball, throw the ball and run into open spaces, all at once. This takes a little bit of getting used to, so in order to understand the game logistics easily, the programmers have also included a turn based system of play (for the woefully inept) and a superior active-mode system to get to grips with the functionality of your players. The active-mode is similar to Baldurs Gate's fighting system. By simply pressing the space-bar, the game pauses so that you can then "order" your men individually where to run, what play to attempt and which opponents head to stamp into the ground. It's a very-user friendly system to get to grips with the games engine before attempting to kick-ass in full RTS mode.
This is Chaos League in its base components, but there are many more aspects to ensure the game is not devoid of difficulty. For one you need to keep an eye on your players health or risk having your star quarterback ending up in casualty, or worse yet, the morgue!! You also need to keep an eye on your players' "breath." Breath determines the amount of energy a player has and, depending on the actions taken by a player, will decrease appropriately. A player can use excessive amounts of breath reserve by trying to pulverise an opponent into the ground rather than making a normal block, by sprinting, rejuvenating energy or using any magical attributes they may have. Depending on your players' skills and stats the breath and health parameters will fluctuate from one player to the next. No one player is likely to be the same adding fresh strategy to the tactics you employ on the field.
So you've limbered up by playing through the tutorial and a few exhibition matches and are now ready to take on the teams of the Chaos League. So which team do you want to play as? With ten races to choose from you are pretty much spoilt for choice. All teams have the atypical pros and cons and depending on your own "style " of play its essential to choose the right team for you. High Elves and Dark Elves ensure a fast paced throwing/catching game and can dodge out of opposition tackles much more effectively, yet due to a lack of strength and little armour, are more likely to get pounded into the ground if engaged in a stand-up fight. On the contrary, the Undead, Dwarf and Orc teams are more effective in ripping opponents to shreds, but are about as useful as a chocolate fireguard when it comes to the running and passing game. Each player within the team, depending on the position they are playing, also have their own bonuses and special skills and varying degrees of speed, savagery, dexterity and armour value to determine where on the pitch they will be best suited. Obviously, a player with the "Strong Arm" skill should be kept at the back of the field seeing as he can throw the ball, whereas a player with "Suede Gloves" should be bombing up the field to catch the pass. Successful player passes, receptions and interceptions along with touchdowns scored, the crippling of the opposition and Most Valuable Player awards, results in a player gaining experience points which can be used to purchase new player skills.
With your team chosen, a few handy resuscitation creams in the medical bag, a few players dosed to the eyeballs on steroids and a couple of cheerleaders to boost your teams support, its time to scale the heights of Division 3, on your journey towards the Premier League... and this is where problems begin to surface within Chaos League, at least within single player mode. The carnage and fun is essentially flawless, as its always great to see someone explode in a pool of blood as they hit the turf. Yet even this sense of maligned fun is undermined by the lack of a challenge Chaos League represents. Average AI controlled opposition make games strategically redundant, as even with the weakest of teams its still possible to score outright by bashing the crap out of everyone. This puts paid to the wonderfully designed High Elves and Dark Elves squads whose main abilities play second fiddle to the steam-roller tactic of ploughing straight down the middle of the field. Which is a shame, as the distinct catching and passing style of the game is made tactically redundant! It's not out-and-out easy. Encountering star-players in the higher echelons of the league does provide some elements of strategy, but even on the highest difficulty setting its still rare for the player to suffer from an excruciating defeat. What made Speedball 2 such a fantastic game was the fact that the computer controlled Super Nashwan were nigh on impossible to defeat. I can't help thinking that without such a team in Chaos League the game will undoubtedly suffer in its longevity, as you'll be winning the Premiership within only a few weeks of play.
But as I said, that's only in single player mode. Game patches have already been released by Digital Jesters in an attempt to resolve game balancing issues, to make Chaos League a much more challenging endeavour and, as with most games of this style, the ultimate challenge is really against human controlled opposition online.
Graphically, Chaos League is excellent, using the 3-D environment well. If there's any real problem its that there are only three different arenas in which matches are played in. I'm sure an arena for each of the 10 races involved is achievable and it just smacks of laziness that additional landscapes were not included. But this is more than made up for in the graphical effects of characters and spell-casting, which are exquisite. There's also some fun to be had in the in-game commentary which is banal and slightly leftfield at first. Although the lack of dialogue and eventual repetition of the same touchdown scoring crescendos begin to grate and get a little tiresome after a short while, the commentators do their job admirably in getting your teams psyched up to rip out the spine of an on-coming human receiver. Its likely that such oversights will be bettered in later patches and even in some expansion packs that are supposedly in development. Time will tell.
Overall - In its current form, Chaos League is far from perfect. AI issues and the lack of a suitable challenge aside, this is still great fun and hugely playable, especially when your Treeman stamps a Goblin player to death (the word "splat" springs to mind). With an online ladder/league to join when you are confident enough, it certainly has lasting value. And if that is still not enough to persuade you - its Bloodbowl for crying out loud. Games Workshops best table-top game on the PC? Oh yes!! Are you going to play anything like this elsewhere? Not a chance!!
Retail Price £29.99
Rating: 12+ (for scenes relating to gore)
Pentium 800 Mhz
128 MB RAM
32 MB Nvidia Geforce / ATI Radeon graphics gard
1GB Free Space
DirectX 9.0 compatible Sound Card
Main Features of Chaos League:
- 10 races covering 70 different types of players, including monsters and star players. Each race has its own style of play and its own strategy for moving up the championship ladder. Each match takes place on different pitches with their own special atmosphere.
- 170 spells and skills to improve your players or to unsettle the opposing team during a match.
- A slightly unusual atmosphere with doping, corruption, pre-match hooliganism, trap-setting and working the spectators during a match.
- A solo mode with tutorials and a Quick Match mode with 80 teams.
- A career mode which implies, over and above playing matches, the creation and management of a team during a championship or a cup. Beyond the classic game-play of trading players, hiring star players, pop-pom girls or a physio, the successful management of a team hinges on the individual progress of a player through the aggregation of his various experience.
- A multi-player mode via LAN or Internet. Possibility for one-off matches, knock-out competitions or League Tables.
- A replay mode that allows you to go over your matches whenever you want to analyse the relative strengths and weaknesses of your opponents.
- Some skills and magic require a certain amount of experience by the on-screen creature before they are fully effective. This means that their success rate depends on how competent it is.
- Skills work in passive mode. That is to say they are used automatically. They can bring certain advantages in such areas as combat, player physique, etc.
- Magic must be applied actively during a game. Requiring more micro-management than for skills, it sometimes procures a decisive advantage.
- Each spell has a precise use, power and time-limit. Some magic is defensive, designed to protect your players. Other spells are designed for attack and can be used to destroy opponents.
© Clownfoot, October 2004. This is a re-posting of my Chaos League review from the Ciao website!
Chaos League is a unique blend of heroic fantasy, sport and real-time strategy. The three are combined to create a new genre which, along with a liberal dose of humour, have guaranteed the success of the game. The sport side of Chaos League looks similar to rugby or American football, but the teams of Elves, Orcs and Dwarves, .... (all of whom use varying degrees of violence and magic) ensure that the experience is closer to war than something than can be experienced at Twickenham or Mile High Stadium. A vibrant community has quickly evolved and the Cyanide GameCenter resounds to grunts and groans as gamers across the globe send forth their customised teams to battle it out on a Chaos League tournament. The survivors have learnt that the key to victory is a well-honed strategy and a timely choice of player tactics. However, some losers would put their defeat down to the opposition use of performance enhancing drugs, hooligans and bribery of match officials. Both outlooks may be valid! On-line gaming is a major part of Chaos League's success. It is possible for 6 players to go head-tohead (3 on each side), but nothing can beat the joy of battling it out, one-on-one, in a custom team tournament. To reinforce the personal nature of a team, it is easy to create or modify existing player skins. Should a gamer lack the necessary artistic skills then there are plenty of people who seem to gain as much fun from redesigning as many aspects of the game as possible (players, cheerleaders, referee and ball) as playing it. In true community fashion, most of the work is made available on-line with installation details. This shows that if the Chaos League characters are not very civil, at least the on-line gamers are!