System: X-Box
Publisher: Ubi Soft  
Developer: Southend Interactive
Released: October 2002
Genre: Futuristic Action Sports
Capabilities: Memory Unit, System Link Cable

Review Written: December 8, 2002

I remember when I first heard about Deathrow. I was told this was focused around a futuristic sports game which combines elements mostly from basketball and soccer, with a little Tekken thrown in on the side. Immediately, memories of the horrendous movie, Rollerball came to mind. It had Paul Heyman in it, but Chris Klein can kiss my ass! So I was assuming Deathrow to be an even worse Rollerball rip off, let’s see if it can surpass my expectations.

The only background for Deathrow is that it was a sport that was created just under 200 years from now in efforts of ways to recruit new gang members. It got popular rather fast, and network television caught this latest craze and made it a national sport about twenty years later. Now, it’s the most popular thing in the galaxy. That’s about it, not the most exciting storyline in the world, but it lays down the ground work for the game.

As I said above, Deathrow plays out as an odd mix of basketball and soccer. Two teams of four start out in an arena chasing this Frisbee type “disc.” Whenever you have control of the disc, you can pass it to a teammate or try to throw it into the goal. Things get a bit tricky when you have the disc because that’s when all the opponents decide to go Bruce Lee on your ass. Deathrow throws in a basic fighting system where you can punch, kick, and do a few different types of throw moves. The thing I love the most are the running attacks you can do that’ll completely catch you off guard most of the time. You can perform some kind of slide attack, or throw your body headfirst in a spear-like tackle, Goldberg-style. If you didn’t grasp this that well, then there’s a tutorial mode included that’ll get you familiar with the controls in no time.

The main mode of play is conquest. In this mode you progress your way through the ranks beating one division of teams after another. You earn “unlock credits” after you win each contest that you can use to train your players, test out new drugs that may help or hurt the team, and purchase the other teams and venues to use in regular play in a Capcom “Secret Shop” kind of way. You also have a message center that you can check out to find out about recruiting new team members, or accepting challenges from unofficial teams such as a tough-as-nails android team.

After you’re done with conquest, you can play in exhibition mode where up to four players can play at once through split screen, or up to a total of eight via X-Box System Link. The multi player is where the game shines. I spent hours on end playing this game with my friends, especially with all of us teaming up through conquest mode.

I wasn’t too impressed with the visuals at first. They appear like they can be pulled off on the Nintendo 64 with ease, but with an X-Box caliber polish to them. The graphics still manage to hold their own, even on this powerful system. The character models look tremendous in the cut scenes before each game, but during game play they don’t appear the same and are most likely toned down a notch so the frame rate could remain solid with the frantic game play. The ninjas, commandos, and androids you compete against all have their own distinctive appearance to them.

While the characters aren’t the most visually impressive things in the game, I did cater towards the arenas in the game. All the venues you compete in have a great amount of variety, and the textures used have a sharp presentation to them. It’s pleasant to know the developers at Southend managed to keep a fast frame rate during game play. If things were to get choppy at any point for this kind of game, the result could have been disastrous.

I was petrified when I first booted up Deathrow and ran into the several loading times it took me to get to the main menu alone. I was thinking it’d be the same way for loading times for the actual game play, but thankfully you only get one that’s several seconds long. And during that loading screen you view some of the most comical “publicity ads” I’ve seen. “Got a problem with someone? Call 1-800-We-Nuke!” Hilarity ensues.

The audio effects for all the grunts and moves you perform are among your standard fare. It’s not the best of the bunch, but certainly not the worst either. The futuristic themed tunes for game play mix in well with the fast paced game play. You also have the option of using your own ripped soundtracks for background music if you desire. There’s one aspect I want to touch on in the audio front. That’s the rather adult-oriented taunts the players yell at each other during game play. When I first heard “Eat S***” and “Get out of my way, mother****er” I was ecstatic. And the character weren’t cussing in cheesy South Park “screw you guys” way, but in a “Stone Cold” Steve Austin “I’m gonna wup your ass!” kind of way. This is the first console game ever to drop the “F” and “S” bombs during game play. This happens quite often, and while it doesn’t essentially make or break the game, it does help immerse you in the atmosphere of game play. It’s about damn time developers start to do this, if they can frequently allow that swearing in R-rated movies they certainly can do it in M-rated games. No wonder this game was released so quietly by Ubi Soft.

The conquest mode will take a while to fully complete, and you’ll want to make sure to earn enough credits so you can purchase all the extra characters and venues. Once you’re all done with that, you’ll most likely be spending all the time in multi player. Four players split screen is a blast, but if you get up to eight through a system link or even through a network such as Gamespy, that is when you’ll be in a serious party. One thing that did baffle me was that there was no X-Box Live support, it would’ve been perfect for this game and it’s a shame it isn’t included.


Graphics: 8.2
Sound: 9.0
Game play: 9.2
Replay Value: 8.5

Overall: 8.7

Deathrow was released out of nowhere, I never read a single preview or press release about it until the game was already out for sale. I can see why Ubi Soft released this game so quietly now, it perfectly fits the older demo graph the X-Box is known for. Underneath the mature atmosphere, Deathrow is actually one hell of a game, and is highly recommended for anyone.

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