The genre of fantasy style sports has long been buried in the cemetery of the gaming world, various budget titles of this sort have come out since the glory days of 2D blood sports but no one title seemed to recapture the same unique experience featured in such games as Mutant League Football when transitioning into the world of 3D gaming. Cyanide, however, plan to change all this with the introduction of Chaos League, one of the first in this genre to make its way to the PC, but does it have what it takes to go down in the books as one of the greats?
Chaos League combines the basic elements of RPG, RTS and Sports and creates what has to be one of the most uniquely presented titles of 2004 so far. In fact, the game can even be played in a turn based mode, which doesn't do wonders for the action factor, but it is a nice addition which allows Chaos League to suit almost any gaming style. The RTS style of play is the most recommended, as not only will it require strategic thinking, it will require it damn quickly!
Featured in the game are 3 basic modes of play - Solo mode, Career mode and Multiplayer. Solo is the 'exhibition' style of play where you simply select one of the 80 teams and start cracking skulls instantly. Multiplayer is self explanatory, where as tournament and leagues are available to compete in which certainly add a new dimension for the more hardcore players wishing to take their skills online or over a LAN against other human players. Career mode is the main mode of play in Chaos League. This is where you pick a race from the 10 included, fill you team with its desired players and fight your way to glory, similar to the 'franchise' modes seen in most sporting titles these days. Unfortunately there is little in the way of management in Career Mode, it is basically just a structured Solo mode with leagues and seasons, which is a shame because some general manager aspects would have enhanced the replay value of the game considerably.
As mentioned there are 10 races available, including the usual suspects such as Undead, Humans, Barbarians, Elves etc, however each race is so different, you'll practically have to start from scratch when using each one. The reason being is each race has a certain amount of strengths and weaknesses, and these aren't just humble suggestions, these are guidelines you'll certainly want to acknowledge should you ever want to win. For example, the humans are all round players that are unpredictable, so you must mix up your play style for success, whilst barbarians are far more brutal and a combination of physical defense and powerful offensive running will prove more successful for them. On top of this, each individual player has his/her own set of attributes that defines their on field performance, although generally speaking they will atleast loosely follow their racial traits. The game probably doesn't do a good enough job emphasising the importance of race differences because you will literally want to dedicate yourself to one race and learn them in and out if you are serious about winning, this is not a 'pick up and play' game by any means.
What this does do is add a very strategic stroke to the game that strategy buffs will love. When playing in the RTS mode, there is not one second of the in-game action that isn't spent plotting your next move. As the ball makes its way through the hands of the warriors and the trampled ground below you must anticipate the changing surroundings and react accordingly, there is absolutely no time for relaxing, and since the ball is turned over more often than not, you'll have to cater for offensive and defensive strategies at the same time, whilst not also forgetting the traits of the race you selected and the weapons you may have at your disposal (such as spells). Before the game you are also allowed to bribe the referee, pump your players with drugs and order doping tests for your opponents further adding to the ruthless nature of this game. Unlike many other fantasy gridiron games, Chaos League isn't based on first downs or playbooks with routes etc, this is no holds barred real time gameplay under your command only loosely following the basics of the real world sport, which adds a much higher level of control not previously seen by this genre.
So, as you can see, there is no doubt that Chaos League is indepth, however its downfall is that the amount of knowledge and understanding needed for success is far too high. Even on the easiest setting it is incredibly hard to mount offensive attacks and rock hard defensive stances without first dedicating atleast a few hours to training and reading up. If you are dedicated enough though, the game features a few in-game tutorials to try out, however these are not ideal as they generally don't explain some aspects well enough and can also rush through some of the more complicated features which I'm sure most gamers won't appreciate. No matter how hard you try to learn the functions of Chaos League, you always feel as if there is something else to learn.
On top of this, the menu system outside and inside the game is confusing to say the least, further adding to the rather hefty learning curve. Again, it isn't impossible but it will take quite a lot of getting use to, although unfortunately this won't do for many gamers, who may find Chaos League in general to be far too overwhelming. The problem with the menu's besides some basic structure flaws is they are highly themed to the world of Chaos League, and it is hard to become comfortable with that when many parts of the game itself may not be clear. I'm sure once mastered the in-game menus, for example, would prove to be very powerful, but that is easier said than done and I highly doubt most casual gamers will be whiling to devote enough time to do so. With even the easiest setting somewhat difficult, it is hard not to see most gamers becoming discouraged by the complexity of this game.
Visually Chaos League doesn't necessarily excel, but it does provide the reasonably good degree of eye candy you'd expect from a title of this nature. The most impressive aspect of the visuals are the environments and surroundings, which are rendered with pretty high detail, however the textures and models of the creatures and humans aren't anything to write home about. Overall though, the visuals don't detract from the game, which is really all that matters in this genre where gameplay is certainly king.
When it comes down to it, Chaos League is the best of its kind, because it is the only of its kind in existence in the modern gaming world of today. Many games in the past captured the essence of brutal fantasy gridiron nicely, but none could have dreamed up this much depth and detail. Whilst it is not without its problems, Chaos League is in a league of its own, and any fans of this neglected genre or anyone in general looking for some killer strategy action with a tiny bit of sport in the mix should definitely not pass on it. General PC gamers, however, may find the amount of effort and dedication needed to truly master this game is too demanding and may lose interest quickly, and unfortunately for Digital Jesters and Cyanide, with the neglected fanbase of this genre, this could represent the majority of the audience.