Review by: Mike Laidlaw
Published: November 10, 2000
Many players who pick up Speedball 2100 will be unaware of the lineage of this title. The first in the series appeared on the Atari ST in the late 1980′s and was considered one of the best two player games available for the system. The title was quickly ported to other platforms, including the Commodore 64, Sega Genesis, Gameboy and later the Amiga with the subtitle Brutal Deluxe. Fans of those early versions will find themselves on familiar ground with the PlayStation release, as most of the gameplay and story conventions have been faithfully preserved for the update.
For fans of science fiction, it’s not too hard to imagine a world run by corporations or a Utopia with no wars. Both of these concepts have been explored countless times and in countless ways but they are rarely presented together, except as a satire on absolute authority. Speedball 2100‘s interesting, but thin, backstory is no exception to this trend: it presents a world that has given up warfare and replaced it with corporately controlled gladiatorial matches. The irony lies in the setting’s power structure: the corporations control the world, and since the violent blood sport’s outcome determines each corporation’s status among its peers, violence ultimately controls all of society. Ultimately, though, this philosophical satire is secondary to the gameplay, as Speedball 2100 casts the player in the role of a general manager recently hired with a mandate to pull his team out of their extended slump and back to the top of their division.
As a sport, Speedball falls somewhere between hockey and the kind of deathmatch one would find in post-apocalyptic films such as Road Warrior. Played in a rectangular, steel sided arena, the basic objective is to move a solid metal ball down field and into the opposition’s goal. Each team has twelve players and four lines known as offense, midfield, defense and substitutes with which to achieve this, though the substitutes only participate in the case of injury. The ball is either carried in a running game or passed from player to player, and there are no limitations or rules to govern either method of play such as those found in football. Regardless of the offensive tactic chosen, it’s usual to expect that the defense will rely on sheer brutality to reverse the rush. While it is technically possible, and probably wise to try and intercept a pass, it is often easier to simply slam the receiver to the ground repeatedly and take steel sphere from their twitching hands. In truth, actually acquiring the ball is something of a bonus in Speedball, as the satisfying crunch of breaking bones is often reward enough, and tackling someone other than the ball carrier is considered part of a long-term strategy; is heartily cheered on by the crowd and officials alike.
Beyond upon the basic goal, there are a variety of alternate ways to score points in Speedball 2100. The most basic method is to simply injure an opponent with repeated hits; each blow from one of your players lowers the target’s overall statistics by a small amount, and enough damage will eventually remove them from the match altogether. Predictably in tune with the vicious nature of the sport, injuries are rewarded the same amount of points as scoring a goal. For those less violently inclined coaches, there are two team-specific collections of star-shaped targets that light up whenever the ball impacts with them. Individually they are worth two points, but lighting all five results in a ten-point bonus for a total of twenty, the equivalent of two goals or injuries. Of course, the other team may use the same technique to extinguish lit stars, making the full set very difficult to acquire. There are also two “bounce domes” on the pitch that reflect a thrown ball, but offer up two points each time they are struck in the same manner as a pinball bumper.