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PC Preview - 'Speedball 2: Tournament'

by Tim McDonald on Dec. 5, 2007 @ 7:25 a.m. PST

Speedball 2 transforms the futuristic game setting into a high-speed online sports spectacle. Offering international leagues, a large-scale ranking system and a virtual marketplace, Speedball 2 pulls out all the stops in modern multiplayer gaming action.

Genre: Sports
Publisher: Valve/Frogster
Developer: Kylotonn Entertainment
Release Date: TBA

Speedball 2 has had a bit of resurgence lately — deservedly so, in my book, but this is the second release it's had in a while. The first is, of course, the recent conversion of the original game to Xbox Live Arcade, albeit with some shiny new graphics, but where that was pretty much a composite of the Amiga and Atari ST releases, Speedball 2: Tournament by Kylotonn is more of an update. Speedball 2 holds a special place in my heart, being one of the first games I truly loved, and so any possible "sequel" is equally likely to cause either adoration or incense. The most recent sequel was Speedball 2100 on the original PlayStation, and it was unfortunately a bit of a disappointment, so hopes weren't exactly high.

Nostalgia aside, Speedball 2 is an amusingly violent future sports game which I'd simply describe as a fight with a ball, if that weren't an equally valid description of Australian Rules football. The essence of it is that two teams of nine face off in an arena and use a hefty steel ball in an attempt to score goals. The specifics are that just about anything goes. Players show up at the matches dressed in body armor and are free — positively encouraged, even — to punch, kick and otherwise wound in order to get the ball. Points are awarded for injuring an opponent so extensively that he will have to be sent off.

Thrown into this mix are a number of modifiers and power-ups. Around the side of the arena are ramps that will multiply any further points scored, targets that can be hit with the ball to gain points, portals that warp the ball from one side of the arena to another and a particularly nasty device that electrifies that ball so that that next opponent to touch it goes flying. Naturally, that's useful when you're trying to score but the goalie just keeps getting in the way. In addition, a number of one-off items spawn around the arena, ranging from freezing the entire opposing team in place for a few seconds, to temporarily boosting your own team's stats to superhuman levels, and coins that allow you to boost your team's stats in between matches, or buy star players. As such, Speedball 2 was, and indeed is, a chaotic, brutal and hilarious game.

Happily, Speedball 2: Tournament retains all of this, as well as the tournament options that were featured in the original: cups, full leagues and knockout tournaments. The first noticeable difference is the addition of the third axis, both in terms of graphics and play-space. Players can now jump, making the savage beatings and slide tackles that were common in the original a little trickier to successfully perform, as some can be jumped over, and jump shots have a nasty tendency of being a lot more powerful than a regular throw. In the same vein as several more recent sports games, the game now has different buttons for different types of throws, in addition to a sprint button for those moments when an extra burst of speed is essential. As a result, it feels a little less arcade-like than the original, and more like a sports game, but the Speedball feel definitely remains.

Customization is also now a large part of the game. The thrust is that Brutal Deluxe — the team that was the bottom of the league in the original Speedball 2, who players took to the top — are now up in League One and are largely unchallenged. Players of Speedball 2: Tournament create their own team and try to rise up the league to dethrone Brutal Deluxe. Where there were once two divisions, there are now four, and as such, extra teams have been added. It's hard to say that the names of the new teams are quite as interesting as the originals (Revolver, Super Nashwan, Steel Fury, Violent Desire, etc., have now been joined by teams like "The Sharks"), but four divisions will hopefully balance out the game's difficulty a little better, as the jump from the second division to the first in the original game precipitated a monstrous leap of difficulty.

But, yes, customization. Upon creating your own team, you're free to choose a number of different skins for them, as well as a name and color scheme. One major advantage of this game is that it's a lot easier to tell teams apart; while in Speedball 2 the only difference was the color of the helmet, the myriad colors allowed here mean that no two teams will look exactly the same. It's a minor touch, but a nice one. Teams are now also comprised of three different "classes" of character, following the usual gender stereotypes of games — "Men" are strong and slow, "Women" are fast and weak, and "Droids" are the jack of all trades. Incidentally, "Droid" isn't nearly a good enough name to describe a class comprised of what look like hulking, eight-foot robotic monstrosities.

The real major addition for Speedball 2: Tournament is the online functionality, though. Players will be able to take their teams online and compete in multiplayer matches, complete with worldwide rankings and online leagues, as well as some more mundane features, like clans. Multiplayer, both online and offline (whether LAN, or single computer) has been upgraded a little to allow up to four players to take part in 1v1, 1v2 or 2v2 games. If this pans out as planned, it could be a phenomenal addition to the game, and something that fans have been dreaming of for years.

The real question now is whether the game can be polished up sufficiently in time for the imminent release. As it is, Speedball 2:Tournament has a lot of promise, but it's still not quite at the stage it really needs to be at, whether to quell the rumbling masses of old-school players fearful of another terrible update, or to draw the crowds of new players away from the more traditional sports and action games. Even at this point, though, there's reason to be hopeful.

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