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Deathrow (Xbox) artwork

Deathrow (Xbox) review

"I feel itís unfair for creatively good games to not be advertised in anyway or be released with over shadowing big name competitors. This usually causes unknown games to fall in between the cracks of genre rivals and its own obscure world. In the end, these games don't receive the attention they deserve nor does it normally give the game's fans a worthy sequel to look forward to. I believe Deathrow can be classified in this way. It features fighting/beat 'em up action combined with an innovative..."

I feel itís unfair for creatively good games to not be advertised in anyway or be released with over shadowing big name competitors. This usually causes unknown games to fall in between the cracks of genre rivals and its own obscure world. In the end, these games don't receive the attention they deserve nor does it normally give the game's fans a worthy sequel to look forward to. I believe Deathrow can be classified in this way. It features fighting/beat 'em up action combined with an innovative rendition of a fictional sport, yet some gamers hadn't even heard of the game until it was released and many still don't know this game even exists. This might be for Deathrow's mature nature (adult language, blood, etc.), however, let it be known Deathrow is much more than a mature casing but rather it is a hybrid of genres that should be enjoyed by anyone with an interest in sports or action titles.

Deathrow is about a futuristic sport named Blitz. Blitz pits two teams of four players against each other in an arena with two circular goals on each end. Before the face off, a hover disc thing comes to the center court. The point, if not obvious, is to send the hovering disc through the goal as many times possible or by knocking out all of the opposing players. A match consists of four periods of between one to four minutes each.

The main modes of play are Single Match and Conquest. Single match is pretty self explanatory, while Conquest is really just a glorification of single match. In it every opposing team is played in a season type atmosphere. Credits are rewarded through match performance, endorsement deals and team challenges. Credits are used for several matters such as healing/training players, buying new players as the opportunity presents itself, or buying steroid type drugs to improve the performance of players.

Before playing in a match, two camera options are presented; sports view and action view. The sports view places the camera above the selected player, as seen in many football games of today. However, this lowers the arena selection to basic arenas with nothing more then two goals and the boundaries separating the game from the crowd. In action view the camera zooms in on the selected player such as it would in third person action titles and allows all the arenas to be selected. This view can be difficult for newcomers or anyone accustomed to most third person controls. This is mainly because the user canít directly control the camera. Fortunately, this nuisance is easily overcome giving the user an up close and personal view of the action.

A brief loading screen will appear and then the match takes place. From here the gameplay really begins to shine. The match begins with the teams on opposing ends of the arena with the disc appearing in between. It now becomes a contest to get the first possession of the disc. With the disc in possession, strategies can be similar to basketball. Passing the disc from player to player to create an open shot is viable option as is running right at the goal hoping to score before the goalkeeper can block the shot. However, these strategies alone can't score goals, the use of Deathrow's different gameplay mechanics is critical to scoring.

One such mechanic is team play. Team play is important to creating successful scoring opportunities and having everyone on the same page is key. This is where team strategy becomes vital and it can be selected by pressing up or down on the D-pad. The feature has five settings, ranging from pure defense (All computer controlled players fall back to defend the goal) to aggressive offense (causing every player but the goalkeeper to attack the opposing goal). Momentum is another aspect of team play in its use and execution and is indicated by a bar on the lower right of the screen. Momentum is built up several ways such as successfully passing the disc to create goals, attacking and injuring opponents (more on this later), or intercepting the disc from an opposing player. When the momentum bar is full all players receive a boost in all attributes much like being on ''fire'' in Midway's arcade sport titles. Both these features allow Deathrow's A.I. to effectively react to the player and the opposing team.

Complimenting team play is the ability for a single player to move and create their own offense. By holding down the B button the player can charge up the disc to perform a ďdeathrowĒ attack. This attack can be used in a couple of ways. For starters, releasing the B button after charging the disc causes the disc to explode on contact with what ever it comes in contact with, allowing the player to clear the goalie out of the way or simply injure the opposing player. The attack can also be used to protect against opponents that are closing in. By not letting go of the B button the disc will charge to a point and then be drop behind the selected player. This becomes quite useful against close followers for the disc will discharge on anyone who comes in contact with it. All these uses of this one attack add to the strategic depth of the game.

Scoring goals isn't the only way to win. Fighting is also an option. Punching and kicking both look generic, fortunately, the reaction from these attacks is for the most part dead on. No matter if the opponent's head is ripped back by a punch in the face or violently tripped by a sliding kick, every reaction to an attack looks painful and is fun to watch. Also the throw and grab moves are easily the most enjoyable aspect of combat. When executing one of these moves the camera zooms in and does a matrix-like pause and pan around move. This presentation gives a cool effect to the different throw and grab moves, while still showing off the computer's great reaction to the move.

The arenas of Deathrow add their own twist to the flow of a match. First, the arenas aren't based on a single floor design. Many have a second level as well as ramps, catwalks, and tunnels that can serve as choke points and other strategic uses for the defending team. Air vents on the ground create a super jump when jumped over, giving the player the option to possibly take on the entire opposing team with the straight on approach or use an air vent to jump to the second level and take the long way to the goal. Giving the player many choices, arena design adds a whole new element to the initial gameplay.

At the end of each period of play credits are rewarded for different statistics ranging from goals made to how many players on the other team that have been knocked out. With these credits player's injuries can be directly healed. This presents a dilemma in conquest mode, healing players allows for the full use of an individual player, however it can deplete oneís funds quickly. With a lack of funds, the ability to buy bigger better players is gone, leaving a team at a disadvantage against the stronger teams later in the mode. As an alternative to healing, substituting additional players that are already with the team can help solve these woes.

Unlock credits (UCR) are also awarded for wins and are based on the difficulty the user plays matches on. UCRs are able to unlock a variety of extras for the game with each extra having its own UCR value. There are many of the teams, all but one arena, and other miscellaneous extras to unlock. One notable extra is the multi-disc mode, which puts three discs in a match instead of one. All these unlockables add up and, depending on the difficulty level, could take up to 15 hours to complete.

Multiplayer action is also a great addition to this game. Just like sports titles, multiplayer adds excitement and more strategies to the mechanics already in place. Unfortunately, Xbox Live isn't an option but anyone with a friend who owns the game can play system link for up to eight players.

Personality is a large part of the game and the team's different looks account for good portion of it. Each team has its own theme of detail. From ninjas to convicts to futuristic beasts, no two teams look alike. Every individual player can also support this claim. Looking close enough, one will notice different hairstyles, facial features, other little accessories that give unique appearances to every player. The level of detail is fascinating.

The disc itself has its own greatness, glowing off of players and the different surfaces creating a realistic and stunning effect. However, other then the disc no special lighting effects or bump mapping techniques are use. This is unfortunate because these techniques could have added a polish to Deathrow's graphics that seems to be missing. However, the frame rate does make up for the lack of polish. This game never skips a frame, which is quite an accomplishment for the level of character detail and the type of game this is.

Much of Deathrow's music is both heavy and generic. Though, this suits the game very nicely, the music's generic nature can get rather repetitive. Luckily, custom sound tracks can be used for the in-game music. The true attitude for this game, however, comes from the excessive taunting by the players. Most of these taunts come in the form of rude/vulgar back talk between the players and creates a gritty atmosphere for the game. Sadly, these taunts can be difficult to hear over the in-game music causing some to possibly not even realize the taunts exist.

Deathrow's fusion of both sport and combat gameplay creates a fairly new gameplay experience that anyone interested in sports or action titles would certainly enjoy. It's mature nature and reference to drugs will most definitely turn many gamers away, but the gameplay proves that this game isn't another bust game with illicit content. For those still skeptical, renting Deathrow is a viable option but it's hard to argue with its now twenty-dollar (if not lower) budget price. Deathrow could easily please the masses; unfortunately, it's probably one of the biggest sleeper hits for the Xbox to date and wonít receive the attention it deserves.

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Community review by evilpoptart937 (September 05, 2004)

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