Game Over Online ~ Deathrow

GameOver Game Reviews - Deathrow (c) Ubi Soft, Reviewed by - Fwiffo

Game & Publisher Deathrow (c) Ubi Soft
System Requirements Xbox
Overall Rating 90%
Date Published Monday, November 18th, 2002 at 05:24 PM

Divider Left By: Fwiffo Divider Right

Quite simply, Deathrow is a hodge-podge combination of current sports events put through an action-packed, glitzy, foul-mouthed makeover for the television screen. Never mind that most of these transformations never work. The (cough, cough) ill-fated XFL comes to mind. But on a gaming level, Deathrow succeeded beyond my wildest dreams to create a fast-paced indoors arena sport that is easy to learn and fun to play; the two most important elements when you deal with fantasy sports.

Whether the developers were knowingly conscious of it or not, the mechanics and inspiration for Deathrow appear lifted straight out of the British classic, Speedball. The basic objective of Deathrow, in a game called Blitz, is not unlike most sports games. There is a goal at either side of rectangular arena. The 'ball' in play is a disc that must be thrown through a hoop suspended over the top of the goalie. Like most futuristic sports, violence is not only allowed but encouraged. So you'll have plenty of freedom to try to knock down your opponents, cause injuries, regardless of whether they have the disc or not. In fact, there's even an option to use the disc as a weapon against the goalie.

For me, Deathrow seemed eerily like the Bombing Run mode in Unreal Tournament 2003 (Unreal Championship on the Xbox). Both featured a hoop you're supposed to shoot through, although in the latter, you were allowed to run through it for a score of seven; the North American football influence. Deathrow, however, is a game on its own. How, people may ask, would it stand up as a full-priced title against something like Unreal?

By including an in-depth campaign option called Conquest, Deathrow allows you to guide an up and coming team towards winning its first league championship. After you win in the initial league, you move on to a tougher division. Along the way, you'll deal with the usual assortment of injuries and players. Management comes in between matches where some franchise events can happen. For example, if you have the money you can hire better players. Drugs (with uncertain side effects) are also offered, providing a price can be paid. The events are fun, spicing up the franchise with some unexpected results but the overall training aspect of the game enables you to create an attachment to your players and your team; effectively equaling what was offered in Speedball and in the franchise modes of today's sports games. It's also what gives Deathrow the necessary depth to overcome being merely a niche sub-game in other titles.

Deathrow takes place in a variety of rectangular and in-door arenas. On first glance, they seem like replicas of one another. However, upon playing them, there are subtle nuances about each one and learning them can often determine the winners and losers in the end game. Each team also has a home court and an arena that uniquely reflects them. So the different arenas do, in the end, play a thematic role in Deathrow.

The teamplay is what truly makes Deathrow so interesting. The artificial intelligence, no matter what division or motley crew you're facing, always puts up a good and more importantly, a fair fight. There's no element of inhuman cheating here. Deathrow, despite its cramped quarters, does involve some tactics and using the direction pad, you're allowed to issue some general team strategies. The element of training and growth also plays a factor here. If you end up being a disc hog, that's exactly what your team will evolve into; people who just wait around hoping the marquee player will do everything and make plays. However, the general play calling isn't as sophisticated as say, a game of football. It will, if used in an appropriate fashion, let you gain an edge over your opponents.

The announcer's terms, like interception, appear drawn from everyone's favorite pigskin game. And this goes to highlight the audio part of Deathrow, which is excellent by any game's account. There's good use of digital surround by the developers. Moreover, the enclosed arena and fast paced action zipping back and forth gives Deathrow plenty of opportunity to shine on your home theater set. Riding along the crest of in-game violence is a litany of profanities used by the characters in-game; adjusted for their various backgrounds. The crowd interested in this type of material certainly won't mind the trash-talking smash-mouth spectator sports.

The trash-talking makes up for one omission in Deathrow. The lack of support for Xbox Live is regretfully, something that might hurt the longevity of the title down the line. Some online league play, customized team matches and plain scrimmages would definitely be a welcome addition to the game. In the meantime, you're given gratuitous options in playing the conquest mode with other people in front of the same Xbox. System Link, for up to eight Xbox machines is also supported, so you might be able to squeak by with some non-Live play.

Graphically, Deathrow doesn't disappoint either. The framerate never fails to convey a sense of speed and urgency. Therein lies the trick to creating the fast-paced gameplay. The visuals, however, are only appreciable in the third person mode. While there's a more conservative top-down perspective, which can aid players because you get a 360-degree view around your character, the true feeling of Deathrow will be heard and felt in the third person mode.

It can't be denied that Deathrow is a simple game. That's actually part of its charm, especially when it is based on a sport that doesn't even exist. In such a narrow scope and vacuum, the developers have polished Deathrow into a razor sharp edge, adding depth to the game to make it an interesting product in its own right. While it comes at a time when heavyweight titles are hitting the store shelves for the holiday season, its fast pace and stylish presentation makes it a superb Xbox game. But its release may be just as opportune, as the exciting multiplayer action will be available in time for friends and family coming over for the holiday season. Deathrow's disc-wielding Blitz game does not disappoint.


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