By Terris Harned (NWOrpheus)
I remember a while back the big fad was rubbing all manner of meat with coffee. You could find coffee rubbed ribeye, coffee rubbed pork chops, mocha rubbed chicken breasts, and even coffee rubbed whole roasted chicken. Some of these recipes were pretty darn tasty.
Today my boss today was telling me about a time she reviewed a recipe that involved pork chops and wet, used coffee grounds. This seems to be a case of someone seeing the success of others and thinking, “Hey, this looks easy. I could do this,” and being utterly wrong. Blood Bowl: Death Zone is the video game equivalent of that recipe.
The title Blood Bowl: Death Zone (Death Zone hence) is based incredibly loosely on the turn-based tabletop miniatures game, Blood Bowl, by Games Workshop. There are also a pair of recent video games developed by the same game developer, Cyanide Studios, Blood Bowl and Blood Bowl 2. These latter two games were published by Focus Home Interactive, however, as opposed to Death Zone which was published by Bigben Interactive.
I cannot help but wonder if it was the influence of the publisher that turned Death Zone into the pixelated equivalent of a culinary disaster, given their recent release of the utter dumpster fire that was Warhammer: Chaosbane (You can see my preview of that monstrosity, or Jason’s moderately more forgiving review here).
Suffice to say, it’s pretty clear that Bigben picked up some licensing rights to the Warhammer franchises along the way and decided to treat the IP like the girlfriend that left them with a Dear John letter after stealing their favorite dog and filling their car with shaving cream.
I’ll admit, not everything is bad about Death Zone. The graphics are decent enough in some places. And then there’s… Well I did like… Okay okay, but the premise was good. The idea behind Death Zone is that a “Star Player,” a powerful MVP type character, leads a group of amateur players in a pre-game event, sponsored by various fictional corporate entities from within the Blood Bowl universe, such as Orcidas and Spike Magazine.
Honestly, I have no idea what most of the sponsors sell, especially Orcidas. I think McMurty’s was a booze of some sort? I really couldn’t be bothered to care. The choice of sponsor does have some relevance, though, as it determines one of your four special abilities you can use on the pitch.
Frankly, I object to the name Blood Bowl even being slapped on this title, despite the fact that it’s set in the same universe as the actual game. It would be like calling a rousing game of greased pig riding football. No, really. The entire point of Death Zone is to chase down a “squig”. A sort of small demonic entity that’s something like a cross between a squid and a pig, I guess? Anyway, you have to chase it down, pick it up, and carry it into the opposing end zone.
Either team in Death Zone is comprised of four players. Different players have different roles, as well as different strengths and weaknesses. Some move quickly, some can throw or catch a ball better, some can hit like a ton of bricks. There’s no real tutorial on the stats, but if you mouse over various parts of team icons in the profile screen, you can probably figure out what does what.
While you’re at it, make sure to pay attention to contradictory stats, like the Power Roller type character who has both a trait that prevents them from holding or catching the squig, and a boost for when they pick up or catch the squig. Makes about as much sense as using wet used coffee grounds to marinade your pork chops in. Which is just gross. Seriously, who would even do that?!
Like I said, fundamentally Death Zone isn’t terrible. What is terrible is the execution. The controls aren’t intuitive at all. You constantly have to jump back and forth between your four different characters, trying to give them directions to keep up with the situation at hand. The animations are ridiculous and nonsensical. When you’re fighting an enemy’s unit, the units are standing their doing their thing, like throwing drop kicks, and the other unit is doing their thing, but those two things have nothing to do with each other. It’s like a mime-off, and the one that runs out of energy first loses.
The sound quality itself is okay, but the music gets quite repetitive, very quickly. The usage of the sounds are also very meh. Lots of grunting and whistle blowing and shouting, but most of it doesn’t feel very relevant.
The original Blood Bowl games are turn based, and Death Zone is real time. I really think that was the biggest mistake. If anything I think the turns should have been resolved at the same time, but planned during a game pause. Or perhaps this game would have made a better auto-chess style setup.
As it stands, it really just feels like a bunch of Blood Bowl assets used to slap together a dish that I wouldn’t feed to my dog. Oh, and it crashes a lot. I give Blood Bowl: Death Zone 1 out of 5 coffee beans. I’m pretty sure that I’d rather use a sweaty gym sock to steep tea in than to ever play it again.
Note: A game key was provided for review purposes.