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BLOOD BOWL (PSP)
A few years back a title was released on the PC named Chaos League. This was just a tiny bit reminiscent of Games Workshop's specialist table top fantasy American football board game, Blood Bowl. The team rosters were remarkably similar; the player stats showed no real difference; the experience system and player skills were incredibly familiar; and although the gameplay in Chaos League was based on a real-time strategy simulation, rather than a turn based mechanic, you were effectively playing Blood Bowl in all but name. Ace for the casual gamer-cum-geek, not so much for Games Workshop's wallet! Cyanide Studio's were subsequently taken to Chinatown for breach of intellectual property.
However, instead of properly slamming these French tea-leaves against the wall and demanding they play find the soap in the showers of the local clink, the nefarious money-making demons at Games Workshop struck upon a novel idea. Cyanide had the coding for a Blood Bowl themed game at-hand; why not get them to actually make an official Blood Bowl game using the Chaos League template? Finally one of Games Workshop's most fondly remembered and much loved titles could hit the video gaming scene (the 1995 PC version doesn't count on account of it being shit). Ingenious! Or so you would think. After the marvellous Chaos League beforehand, it comes as something of a surprise to find that Cyanide have spectacularly goofed up with the PSP version and, in a hideous amount of irony, dropped the ball...
So, before all that, you're new to Blood Bowl - what exactly is it? As an idea, Blood Bowl is refreshingly simple. Take American Football, add Warhammer races such as dwarfs, elves, orcs and skaven for the teams, provide racial stats for each (dwarfs are notoriously slow, but rather powerful, compared to elves who are lightning quick, but more fragile than a Jamie Oliver soufflé) along with certain skills for positional players, then attempt to score more touchdowns than your opponent in two half's of eight turns whilst avoiding tackles of gratuitous uber-violence from the opposition (injury and death are commonplace on the Blood Bowl field). In practice, however, the rules are fairly complex and player actions such as picking up the ball, throwing the ball, blocking a player, dodging out of tackle zones, etc. are governed by the role of a dice. So whilst the game is constantly at the whim and mercy of lady luck, a good deal of strategy is required to keep the player with the ball protected as your team marches down the field to score. It's not a simple game to pick up or immediately playable for newbies, and in that sense can provide quite a considerable challenge.
Ideally, the PSP version of Blood Bowl only features this turn-based method of play - the real-time strategy chugs enough on a PC so was obviously deemed as unsuitable for the handheld format. This is no bad thing, as it means you're due to play the wonderful game the way it's meant to be played. And at first all seems well. The four introduction videos (a different one plays on each load of the game) are jaw-droppingly gorgeous, even on a PSP, and really fire you up for the carnage that should follow. The tutorial and the inclusion of an in-depth rules encyclopedia ensure the controls and the complexity of the Blood Bowl client used are fairly intuitive to understand. The turn-based mechanics, therefore, work effectively and are easy to pick up. This includes the playing field being split into individual squares, much like the board-game, so one can visualize and calculate how far a player can move or throw the ball. Very handy! Finally, the in-game graphics of the playing field and the three-dimensional modeling of the players are neat and tidy, with the ability to view the action from a range of views and perspectives. Although some of the character designs look a little garish and pixilated close up, they're functional and that's all they really need to be.
So what's the big problem then? Well, first there are the real picky things that will irritate the hell out of hugely biased Blood Bowl geeks that are shifting from the board game to the handheld format. What do you mean there are only eight races available to play? The last time I looked, Blood Bowl consisted of 21 different races. Not only this but where are the really fun teams like Dark Elves, Undead, Vampires, Necromantic, High Elves? Oh great, Humans, Orcs, Dwarfs and Lizardmen are included in the eight - how sodding dull! Secondly, one of the best things about the board game is the recording of player stats, such as how many touchdowns a player has scored during their career. Everything on the PSP version seems fine at first, with casualties, touchdowns, passes and interceptions totting up nicely. However, when it comes to the end of a tournament in the season or campaign modes Blood Bowl pros will likely be tearing their hair out at the stupidly daft decision to re-set all stats to zero, bar the players overall star player point count. Why in the blue hell would Cyanide do this (especially as it didn't happen in Chaos League)? The limitation of player histories won't bother many, but it will certainly incense those that like to fluff-up there team unnecessarily (erm... guilty, your honour!)
Yet this all pales into insignificance in the face of the computer AI. The real problem with the PSP version is the lack of any challenge whatsoever in the game for the experienced pro. The AI, to be brutally honest, is absolutely fecking clueless! Like a monkey trying to take a piss at a urinal and ending up spraying his bladder everywhere but the urinal, this just will not do. So, a dwarf longbeard who's about as agile as a sloth suddenly thinks he's an Elf and attempts to dodge out of three tackle zones as the computer players first move action. Okay! That will likely result in an immediate turnover - lovely! Computer players finish their movement on the edge of the playing field. Joy! That's an easy crowd push and the computer team down a player for this drive. Plus, it's hugely criminal to programme a bashing team like Orcs so they very rarely bash. Or, more importantly, foul. Then the skill choices the computer AI makes are utterly laughable making certain victory even more absolute. And this, all this, happens on the most difficult game setting!!! Agggrrrraaaaggggghhh! When will this madness end?
Unfortunately, it will only end when you're tediously bored of constantly winning. Unless you're into building an indestructible super team to make up for your lack of ability against real-life Blood Bowl opponents, this comes along all too soon. Okay, maybe suggesting the AI has been programmed by a recent winner of the Darwin Awards is a little harsh, as perhaps experienced Blood Bowl players aren't the target audience for this particular title. Looking at it a little less cynically, perhaps Cyanide's scope was to bring Games Workshop's specialist game to a new, much wider audience; therefore it needs to be easy to get into. The learning curve for new players is great and, at first, the unremittingly stupid AI probably seems like a challenge, especially when you have only four minutes to think about and move all your players. However, even with this in mind you can't help but think Cyanide ignored the key word that this is a 'specialist' game generally played by a minority audience and have subsequently failed to cater for them...
Yes, lazy programming, inept decision making and a lack of consultation with real Blood Bowl players (who can point out to the programmers what a stupid move that would be for the computer AI to make) are at fault here. Cyanide, from a position of wowzer with Chaos League, have properly ballsed up the PSP conversion of the turn-based format like bunch of completely clueless gibbons. And that's without going into the whole buggy original release of the title where the game would crash at the end of or in the middle of game, which is unbelievably frustrating when it takes a good 40 minutes to complete each match (a patch from the PS3 network is available to sort such things out though).
This is a real shame as Blood Bowl on the PSP had so much potential. For at least the first half hour of play, it really is like playing your favourite board game on the handheld format. Such a joyous feeling! Yet, once you get into the campaign mode or start a league, the constant lack of challenge is so noticeable that tedium soon sets in. The lack of variety in opponents and playing style (bashers don't bash, elfballers don't play elfball - the AI does the same thing no matter the racial characteristics of a team) makes it hugely obvious the programmers have never even played Blood Bowl before. Unless you can find another human player with which to play the two player mode (but you might as well just play the table-top version if that's the case) this is a massive opportunity wasted and a hugely disappointing release for fans of Blood Bowl, especially following on from the quality of Chaos League. Colour me completely unimpressed...
Overall - If new to Blood Bowl you might just enjoy this. If an old-hand at the game it's utter shit, avoid!
RRP £29.99 although you can get it from Amazon for the unbelievable rip-off price of £22.99!