Blood Bowl is based on the tabletop game of the same name. The concept was invented over 20 years ago as sort of a fantasy football type of board game that included character resembling those found in the Warhammer universe. Cyanide studios released a PC iteration of the game last year and now it has finally arrived on Xbox 360 with much anticipation. Don’t be fooled by the cover though; this game may look and sound like the classic Mutant League Football in appearance, but it feels more akin to the source material. Long-time fans of the series will likely be happy that the game is finally coming to consoles, but a few technical hiccups make it hard to recommend this version over the PC outing released nearly a year ago.
When I first booted the game up I admit, I was confused. Nothing can prepare you for the different rules and gameplay mechanics if you have never touched the tabletop game. Fans of American football will likely be scratching their heads at the different rules. The object is still the same: scoring a touchdown is the main goal, but everything else is nearly unrecognizable. More than one player can pass the ball, you can injure players at will, and it is encouraged.
The standard mode is turn-based, but you can opt for a real-time mode if you prefer though it ends up being more turn-based than you want because of the complexity of most moves. Taking a trip through the tutorials might aid your cause a little, even if they are rudimentary in design. I actually felt more confused after going through them than if I had just played a few practice games to get the hang of it.
This leads me to my biggest concern about Blood Bowl. The concept is ripe for good times, and even gives fans of both ideas a chance to mesh the two for an entirely new experience. Unfortunately the game falls short in key areas that make it difficult to enjoy at times. The menu system is anything but user-friendly. Simple tasks such as spending funds and controlling straightforward actions are convoluted by poor design choices. The abysmal tutorial also doesn’t help get newcomers into the game. The first impression you get is that this is a mess of a game that was thrown together. If you can find the time to dedicate to learning the intricacies of the system there is enjoyment to be had however, if you lack patience, you are likely to give up before ever getting started.
The main course of the game is campaign mode and here you get to carry your team through various games. This is where you can level up your team and earn new special abilities to max out your chances for success. One of the biggest disappointments though is lack of customization. The original tabletop and even PC iterations of the game relied heavily on this aspect to create unique teams. The 360 version gives you some options, but they are so limited that you will likely see a lot of similar looking teams online. That is if you can find anyone to play with.
The online mode is much appreciated and should keep fans happy if they have regular friends to play with, but as a whole the online mode is nearly vacant. Finding a match during off-hours can be a chore. Thankfully once you get into one things run smoothly enough that lag is rarely an issue. The other addition worth noting is the option to play in real-time as opposed to turn-based. As I mentioned earlier this actually ends up being more of a hindrance than a blessing. The game was not designed to be experienced this way, which ends up with you hitting the concentration mode button. Basically this slows down time to allow you to make a move, which ironically makes the game more turn-based than the name suggests.
Playing Blood Bowl offline is really only a training ground before challenging other players, and unless you are planning to dedicate yourself to the cause I wouldn’t bother going online. With only ranked matches available the online mode is likely to be filled with professional players as opposed to casual fans. The online league play from the PC version has also been circumvented from this version making 360 owners feel really left out when it comes to features. It feels like this port was stripped of most of the things that fans would have wanted to see, making it extremely hard to recommend if the PC version is an option for you.
Visually the game doesn’t do itself any favors. The muddy visuals lack the detail found in current generation games, not to mention not even being as sharp as last year’s PC version. The aforementioned lack of customization also makes every game feel very similar and gives each team very little distinction both online and off. The entire package just feels like a shadow of what it could have been. Sloppy animations and unexplainable slowdown plague an otherwise solid offering. The stadiums are the highlight of the game with a nice distinction between each one. The sound is mediocre at best but the announcers in the game really drag it down. Their dull one-liners and useless play-calling could have been omitted entirely.
Blood Bowl is an interesting concept that is just poorly executed. Fans of the tabletop game are better off checking out the PC version if they can. If you don’t have any other option there is fun to be had here but you have to commit yourself to dealing with the shortcomings of this version. No online leagues, customization and a sever lack of user-friendliness. If you are a fan of the tabletop game and do not have a gaming PC capable of playing the game I recommend giving this a go. Even with its inadequacies there is still an ample amount of enjoyment to be had.
Review copy provided by publisher.