Readers looking for something a little out of the ordinary may be interested to know that this week I have been reviewing a rather odd title. It's syndicated air hockey set in the near future with a Gothic theme. Players will battle it out for supremacy in the Death Puck League versus thematically stylised opponents. Throughout the game, wordplay on the noun "puck" and a certain profanity is as subtle as a train smash, and one wonders if the developers have chosen air hockey simply so that they can run with this above all other aspects of gameplay. For example: there's Raven, the sexy socialite millionaire who loves to puck, and over there's Stalin, a dictatorial and aggressive pucker...well, you get the drift.
So, if you've never played air hockey before get ready for a learning curve that will take about 10 seconds to climb. Both players, using a paddle, attempt to score goals off each other by smacking the living daylights out of a puck on top of a bordered table with goals at opposing ends. That's about it really, but I should mention that the Death Puck League sets itself apart from traditional air hockey by including panes of brittle glass between the players and the table which are smashed when a player is scored on, raining shards of glass down on the unlucky pucker (sorry, couldn't resist...) In fact, you never actually see the glass panes, nor the carnage when a goal is scored, and I dare say that this might have added something to the game to rescue it from the indie wasteland of mediocrity that it finds itself in. Then again, perhaps not.
Control input is via the mouse. Just by moving the mouse, the player moves his paddle, and by making various combinations of left/right mouse buttons, special moves can be performed once the "specialometer" (I'm not kidding) has filled to 100%.
Four game modes await the player, which are all much the same in effect. Survival mode sees the player attempt to defeat as many opponents in a row as they can with only 15 points in hand, while Streak mode is exactly the same, only the 15 point limitation is removed. Tournament mode is the standard affair that pits you against 8 opponents in a row before facing the grand champion for ultimate victory. After beating the game, there is no celebration scene, no cool cut scene - nothing. The player is simply dumped back at the main menu. There is no difficulty selection (the default being quite easy), and so very little replay value.
Bugs and glitches as well as glaring gameplay flaws are apparent. I won't list them all but some of the more annoying ones include the paddle randomly passing right through the puck when the player has the serve, only being allowed one hit on the puck per turn (meaning that if you nudge the puck backwards, there's no way to prevent an own goal), and a very weird glitch that sees the puck hit harder if you actually slowly move the paddle in the opposite direction to the way in which you want to hit. Most of the special moves are ridiculously overpowered, from the blackout that lasts until somebody scores, to the insta-goal of the Executioner. You are given one code in the instructions for a power-up move and one more can easily be deduced. In reality you will not need any others since one of those two will remove the opponents paddle from the table until you score (shouldn't be too hard, trust me on this one).
I don't really like the way that the entire end of the table is the goal-line. It results in very short rallies and scores mounting up rather quickly. Instead of 15 points, maybe 7 would have been a better choice for a match in combination with more realistically sized goals. Also a round paddle instead of the rectangular one would make it easier to judge the angle that the puck shoots off at when struck.
The game looks fairly good. Character portraits are well chosen, good use of colours with lots of black and reds to fit the theme and a great creepy looking font for all the menus. The animation is quite smooth, which is most important for an action title, and saves the game from disaster.
Sounds are a bit repetitive, and after the 100th time of hearing "In our country we call it ownage!", I just played with winamp in the background. Interestingly, that made the game significantly more difficult as I was amazed at just how much I was subconsciously using the sound effects to time my shots. If you choose to play with sound, you will be entertained by 3 different techno style background tracks.
I really can't see too much of a market for Death Puck. Mind you, at just $5 the asking price is pocket change. With a "two players at the same PC" multiplayer mode it might be a little more attractive, but alas not this nor network multiplayer are implemented. In order for the single player experience to be satisfactory, the AI needs to be more varied between characters, the physics model needs improvement, and the overall difficulty level needs to scale higher towards the end of the tournament.
Keywords: death puck review, lucifer game studio reviews, lucifer game studio games, death puck scores, pc game reviews, indie game reviews, independent gaming.