Speedball 2
Copyright/Publisher: Mirrorsoft/Image Works/Bitmap Brothers, Graphics By:
Alan Tomkins, Programmed By: Carl Muller, Music By: Martin Walker,
Release Year: 1991, Genre: Weird Sports, Number Of Players: 1 or 2

It's 2100 AD and the world has gone to hell. Civilization has collapsed to the point where the pinnacle of sporting entertainment is a ritualized form of gang warfare, a 'free-for-all ball-throwing brawl'. Disembowelments and decapitations are applauded - in a society gone mad, violence is the only solution. Stuart Wynne investigates the ultimate blood sport!

This ten-men-a-side futuresport, with goals at either end, may suggest real sports like football or ice hockey, but it uses the freedom of computer games to pack in a great many special features - plus incredible violence.

Each match consists of two games - home and away presumably, although unlike Speedball 1 all the pitches are identical. Games are played over two halves, each lasting ninety seconds, with teams swapping ends at half-time.

You always control your team member closest the ball. If you have the ball you can throw it in whichever of the eight directions you're facing, holding down fire to select the height at which it's thrown.

If you don't have the ball you might try to catch it: pressing fire makes you leap up in the air for high balls, or by pressing fire and a direction you can make a sliding tackle. To successfully floor your opponent you need good timing and speed, while good stats help.

But unlike the original game it's not simply a case of scoring goals - points can be earned in a wide variety of ways (see box). This makes for a much more sophisticated game than either footie of Speedball 1.

As you pass the ball around your players there's a wide variety of special features to go for, it's not just a relentless attack on the goal. On the whole this works very well, but there are flaws. The importance of the Score Multiplier means whole matches can be passed in boring, repetitive brawls besides the Multiplier, with each team refusing to go for goal until the Multiplier is either off or turned to their advantage.

The Multiplier also increases the effectiveness of the Electroball - on the Amiga it became absolutely lethal, lasting ages and able to tackle lots of players. Here the Electroball isn't so effective to begin with, and its Multiplier improvement isn't so diabolical. The flaw remains, but is a great deal less serious thankfully.

A somewhat less sophisticated dimension to the game are tokens which appear randonly on the pitch, each has its own design signifying what effect it'll have. Collect the right one and you can briefly freeze opposing players, reverse your opponent's joystick control, teleport the ball to one of your attacking players etc.

These tokens are initially a little confusing, but you soon learn to recognize the one that zaps all the surrounding enemy players, knocking them off their feet!

All these various elements need to be mastered if you're to really succeed with this game, which besides one or two-player matches (best of one, three of five matches) has a Knockout tournament (where you keeping playing until you lose), a 14-week League (consisting of two divisions, each with eight teams) and a four-round knockout Cup.

Thankfully the game can be saved after each match, but there's no option for a multi-player league if friends want to join in. The long-term contests are especially interesting beacuse they give the chance to really develop a team.

Money collected during the matches can be spent to tailor the team to your playing tactics, plus there's a trade option where you can get rid of poor players in favour of new ones (if you can afford the transfer fees!).

In fact you can turn off participation in matches, letting your team get on with it while you concentraye on management (although you still have to watch the matches in full).

A somewaht more serious flaw lies with the graphics. Their relative lack of detail and smallness makes for an even faster game than the Amiga, the pitch feels massive and there's always lots of player whizzing around.

However, the tiny icon which indicates who's got the ball can, in hectic scrums, be a bit too hard to spot leading to irratating moments of confusion. The speed also makes goalkeeping a bit problematic, if you beat the defence then the goalkeeper is likely to be too confused to provide much challenge.

As one-time Amiga Speedball 2 addicts, of course, we understand all the plus and minus points of the game much more than we would if it were completely new. From that perspective it's amazing how gameplay has not only been so well recreated, with all the features crammed in, but it's also been improved and speeded up.

Although we now see the odd flaw in 2, this is an astounding conversion, a great game in its own right and one of the best sports sims around. Rapid-fire action and a good management element make this highlt recommended.

CASH 'N' STATS
Each player has eight individual attributes, from aggression to intelligence to attacking power. At the start of each game you can spend any money you've collected off the pitch on raising individual player attributes.

If you've got lots of cash you improve the team's attributes as a whole, or in groups; attack, defence, midfield. One important attribute is stamina: this is reduced by hits and if it falls to zero, the player is stretchered off, a substitution is made and the other team gets ten points!

N.N.
What a brilli conversion this is. Not only have all the Amiga's features been included, but incredibly they've been crammed into a single load. Even better, one of the main faults of the Amiga game has been corrected.

In that version, the hotball was overpowerful - once you'd got it you were virtually unstoppable, especially if its power was doubled with the Score Multiplier. In the C64 game it can only be used to tackle one opponent before running out, so it ceases to be so important.

Thus other pitch features, such as stars and bounce domes, get increased attention, making for more varied matches. Another nice new touch is the different colours for the league teams.

SPECIAL FEATURES
A standard goal earns a neat 10 points, but there's lots of other ways of getting points and multiplying their value too. Two points can be earned by hitting one of the two Bounce Domes or Point Starts - five per team, and if you get them all there's a ten point bonus.

The most important special feature is undoubtedly the Score Multiplier: fire a b all up one of these two steel loopt to increase the avlue of each point you score by 50%. Hit the Multiplier again and scoring is increased 100%, hitting a Star now gets you four points!

This can be turned around by the other player hitting the Multiplier, two hits returning it to normal with a further two hits giving him (or her) 100% improved point-scoring.

Other special features include four Warp Gates, which teleport the ball between them, and Electrobounces. These electrify the ball so it knocks over the next enemy player it hits, perfect for getting past the goalie (or clocking up the Multiplier).

SPORTING HISTORY
Speedball's roots like fairly obviously with the 1975 movie Rollerball. This humourless Norman Jewison move featured armoured players rollerskating around a track, trying to scroe goals with a heavy steel ball (also used as a weapon).

The teams represent various corporations who keep the game running as a way of distracting the masses from their utter powerlessness. This hi-tech bread-and-circuses is designed to crush individuality in a welter of blood, hence the concern when Jonathan E (played by James Caan) begins winning match after match.

To destroy any notion that a normal individual can achieve power and success, the corporations change the game's rules to increase the violence and the chances of Jonathan being killed.

The film has numerous, highly impressive scenes of violence but the accompanying storyline is too dry and uninvolving. The original short story by William Harrison is much better.

The actual rules of the game aren't that fully explained, but feature motorbikes for players to grab hold of so as to gain speed. Speedball lacks the bikes, and the original game was a somewhat repetitive mixture of combat and goalscoring within a tightly confined pitch where finding the right angole for a goal attempt is critical.

The sequel opens the game up with a far bigger pitch and lots of extra features. In both the emphasis on violence, the spiked gloves and brutal atmosphere all suggest Rollerball. However the Speedball scenario takes a much less serious tone, pushing the violence to hilarious extremes in the style of 2000 AD.

Indeed that comic ran its own version of Rollerball called 'Mean Arena' in the mid-Eighties, although the endless violence got a bit dull for storytelling purposes.

It's appropriate then that Speedball's official history sets its start point in the year 2000 AD, when a teenager stumbles on a heavy steel ball bearing and throws it at a 'frail old man'. A brawl begins with numerous bones broken, but later everyone agrees they had a 'good time'.

Over time the sport develops, with the addition of body-armour and some basic rules. Initially governments try to suppress it, but when that fails it's legalized and becomes professional in 2018.

In 2099 the pitch is enlarged for Speedball 2 and the free souvenir programme covers this and other incidents in an amusing 2000 AD/RoboCop style with ads for a boardgame where 'random dice throws can mean the difference between a league title and a prematurely-ended career' wshile finger-removing buzz-saws come in handy 'kiddies versions'.

Speedball may not match the depth of Rollerball, but it's certainly one of the best (and funniest) computer game scenarios around.


INTRO SCREEN

PRESENTATION 84%
Intro load sets scene with reasonable static screens, nice revolving '2' and scrolling text. Pressing fire loads in the game proper which is a single load. Nevertheless there's some nice static screens for when you win or lose matches. Good manual and humorous match programme.
GRAPHICS 76%
Simplistic but fast sprites, and the plain backdrops scroll very smoothly.
SOUND 78%
Good intro tune, but basic in-game spot FX.
HOOKABILITY 91%
Ultra-violence and the basic simplicity of just scoring goals (to begin with), make this instantly addictive.
LASTABILITY 90%
Comprehensive League, Cup and Knockout options with save/load, team enhancement and player trading add up to a great long-term challenge.
OVERALL 90%
A stunning conversion, superior in some ways to the Amiga game, and overall one of the most playable one- or two player games about.


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