Professional Underground League of Pain by Psygnosis represents video gaming's latest trend: beautifully shaded graphics and lush stereo sound contrasted with poor game play. It's a sad trend in video games today; the output improves at an incredible rate while the input stagnates. In other words, you can see millions of colors and hear incredible music, but the gameplay is limited to pressing a couple of buttons.
The story goes like this: It's late in the 21st century and the sporting industries of basketball, hockey, and boxing have collapsed (I don't care what happens, hockey will only disappear over my dead, national- sport-playing, Canadian body!). The athletes now compete in the "Professional Underground League of Pain," or PULP, where the games consist of two teams competing to throw a plasma ball into a hoop above the court's center. Before scoring, however, players must charge the plasma ball. This wouldn't be so difficult, except that each team's charger is centrally located deep in the opponent's territory. Think basketball meets Blast Chamber on steroids! There's little doubt that this game could have been fun .
League of Pain boasts myriad camera angles; unfortunately, most of them are ineffective. In fact, I found the game very difficult to play until I started using one of the (significantly less attractive) overhead views. If you stick with the default camera setting you'll get the snot kicked out of you while you're figuring out what's going on (as I did the first few times through). Adding to that confusion, it's very hard to tell your teammates from your opponents - each player is silver, and only team color accents differentiate them.
PULP's main problem, however, lies in the translation of its premise into play mechanics. A no-holds-barred futuristic sports game with lots of punching and kicking sounds inviting - only that's not really what League of Pain is. In reality the game is reminiscent of Activision's Blast Chamber with the addition of teammates. But where Blast Chamber's simplicity made it amusing (you essentially blew up your opponents), it never claimed to be more than it was. League of Pain erroneously boasts that you can punch, kick, and claw the ball away from an opponent - had they been honest and just said "shove" , then the game probably wouldn't be as disappointing as it is. And regarding the "no rules" futuristic sports category - when did having rules make a game bad? Would baseball be any fun if there were no outs? Would hockey be worth watching if the players were allowed to fight? (OK, bad example).
League of Pain falls short of Psygnosis' track record. Although the game offers several modes of play (League, Tournament, and Exhibition) and management features (player trading, etc.) you're hard pressed to play it for any length of time. If the future of sporting events lies with the Professional Underground League of Pain, I think I'll stick to more traditional pastimes.