I'd heard little about Choas League when it fell in to my lap, I had a rough idea of the games premise, but had heard little detail. From the screenshots and press releases I found myself thinking of two games from yesteryear, Brutal Sports Football and Speedball 2. This really wet my appetite for the game. Chaos league is a sports game with a few differences, such as, the sport doesn't exist in the real world, the game is set in a fantasy world, the game is remarkably brutal and makes the most dangerous of sports look like a walk in the park. Imagine American Football meets Warhammer and you'll be in the right region.
So, I installed the game, whilst the progress bar was ticking along I read the handy guide that the publishers had sent me. This is where the surprises began. The guide had three very important letters splashed through the various quick start lessons, RTS. "Surely not, this is a sports game, not a real time strategy", I shouted. Once I had fired the game up I realised it was true. I had expected a full on action sports game, instead it was more like "Warcraft: The NFL years". I played through the games tutorials and was reasonably impressed by the graphics, sound and overall style of the game. It maintains a tongue in cheek approach throughout, from the constant sarcasm of the well put together commentary, to the orcish cheerleaders. All of this put a smile on my face, but something initially troubled me, the gameplay.
The game puts you in command of a Chaos League team, you control your players from a top down view and give them various play commands.These commands stretch from simple actions like pick up ball or pas through to casting spells or dropping smoke bombs. The idea behind the game is simple, get the ball across your opponents touchdown line and you get a point. As far as rules go, there aren't many, the only real rule is no trampling players when they are on the floor, if a player is injured or dies when playing, the game just continues and no-one is penalised, wanna set three of your defenders to beat up their star player, then go for it, it really is that simple. As in most sports games, your players will have different skills suited to their general postion of play. Your defenders are slow but very strong, your wingers are fast but can be taken down by the simplest of foes, and your hero player excells in all fields. One thing that you must be certain to do is return your players to their correct positions. This isn't like most sports games where defenders will automatically retreat and you will always have a man up field for a counter attack, you must control all of the movement of every single player, this can be overwhelming,and it can be difficult to keep up with the pace of play. It does allow for real strategies to be carried out though and you will be in control of the bigger picture. After my first few games, I started to take a disliking to the game. It seemed shallow, frustratingly difficult and a nightmare to control, I was becoming extremely dissapointed with such a promising game. Then fellow reviewer Barnes pointed out that the game can be played semi turn based. I tried it and I loved it. Instead of the game running realtime you get 10 seconds to give commands to your players and then for the next 10 seconds your players carry out the commands. This is a great way to get to grips with the game and become familiar with the various tactics required. After a few games in this mode the realtime version became way easier.
The games teams are varied to say the least. There is a great range of different player types, humans, orcs, dwarves and undead to name a few. You can construct your own team or go with one of the pre-made ones. You also have access to a wide variety of spells that can really effect the course of a game, from the more offensive fireballs and lightning strikes to spells that boosts your caharacters abilities. All abilities in the game require 'Breath'. Under each character is a blue bar indicating how much breath they have left, breath is used up merely by moving around the pitch, you can expend your breath to use an ability but this will limit your ability to sprint to your enemies or use power attacks. Fortunately some of these abilities can be automated, for example you can set your defenders to drop smoke bombs when their breath bar fills, or even to get the crowd cheering for you (which gives access to more special abilities). The one thing that annoyed me is that I found myself relying on the same tactics again and again, because new tactics just wouldn't work, quite often a good tactic can be used in every game for a remarkably high chance of success. This isn't saying that the AI is poor, it's actually quite good, but the way the game has been put together can limit tactical options.
Graphically the game is quite nice. Player models are varied and well put together, there are a range of stadiums available and the game moves at a nice frame rate. My machine had a few issues with loosing some textures but that may have been a conflict with my hardware. Some of the spells have some nice effects. Overall, the graphics really suit the game but they aren't the best out there.
The games sounds are also pretty decent. There are the grunts and crunches you'd expect. The area of sound that really stands out is the use of voices for commentary. This has obviously received a high level of attention as it fits together seamlessly. Granted, it's less of a challenge than with football games where commentators must speak the name of every single player in the game, but it works so well and I have no complaint with it at all. Like the rest of the game the commentary is very much tongue in cheek, and some of the comments made really had me chuckling (though a few made me cringe). It's nice to see a company get this aspect of a game just right.
Overall the game is nicely put together, it wasn't what I expected but thats not a bad thing. My main issue with the game is that it feels limited in some ways. Most matches play out in a similar fashion and you get to a point where you feel your skills are not progressing any further, this really did limit the games appeal. The steep learning curve associated with the real time play could also put off a very large section of gamers. The potential market will be limited further as the game is mostly suitable for real time strategy gamers who enjoy sports games. Having said that there is still a lot of fun to be had with the game and those who are willing to put in the effort will have a pretty good, if not unique, gaming experience.