Warlords for the Xbox Live Arcade: a QJ.NET Review

THUMB - Image 1As avid retrogamers, we here at QJ.NET are rather wary of “re-imagined” classics. However, when Atari revealed that they were coming out with Warlords on the XBLA, we put these fears aside and decided to check it out. Is it worth the 400 Microsoft points it’s being sold for? Well, check out the full article to find out.

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I think I’m getting old. That’s pretty much the impression I first got while playing Atari‘s Warlords for the Xbox 360. To say this game requires a steady hand and quick reflexes is an understatement, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Warlords original poster - Image 1For those who aren’t too familiar with this game, Warlords is a remake of the four-player arcade game (original poster pictured at right) which played like a weird combination of Breakout (Arkanoid for you NES and DS players) and QuadraPong.

In Warlords, four players have to defend their base or castle (located in one of the four corners of the screen) from a bouncing ball using a single flipper or shield.

Each player’s base is surrounded by bricks which can only take so many hits from the ball before it disappears. Once these bricks are gone, the center of the castle becomes exposed. One hit to the center and, to quote Hudson from the 1986 classic Aliens, “that’s it man, game over man, game over.”

Players aren’t limited to simply bouncing the ball off their shield and hoping it hits an opponent’s fort. Each person also has the ability to grab onto a ball using their paddle, take aim, and fire with the A button.

While this offers players an opportunity to mount an offensive, it comes with a drawback. Each second that someone grabs on to a ball, the bricks right behind the shield slowly degrade. This ability alone makes the game more complex than one would imagine.

To keep things interesting, new balls are introduced at regular intervals. The longer the game keeps going, the more balls you (and your opponents) have to defend against. Soon, it becomes a game of simply outlasting your foes and hoping they die before you do.

Atari's Warlords Xbox 360 - Image 1 Atari's Warlords Xbox 360 - Image 2 

Warlords offers two game modes. The first is the Evolved mode which features some futuristic graphics and a clearer representation of the bricks surrounding each fort. Old school gamers looking to relive “the good old days” will probably head straight for classic mode though, which features the same graphics as the old arcade game.

Both game modes get the two speed options, normal mode and throttle mode. Normal mode, as the name implies, is the game running on a speed playable by almost everyone while throttle mode is how the game would play if you force fed it coffee and shoved a flaming monkey into its pants (yes, it moves that fast).

That said, it seems that the stage is set for an awesome game on the Xbox 360. While the game does have it’s moments, all is not well in paradise. The game has a number of problems that keep the game from being held in the same high esteem as its predecessor.

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Let’s start with the Evolved mode at Normal speed.

Picking up the game is easy enough. After a couple of playthoughs, I didn’t have any problem taking down my computer opponents from the first to the fourth levels. After that, it became a question of how quickly I could destroy each of the opponent’s defenses using charged shots while defending against the multitude of balls rebounding around the screen.
This is where the first of the problems become apparent. The AI seemed to be ganging up on me as I played the game. While this isn’t a problem in the lower levels, the faster speed in later stages makes it just too darn tough to hold your own against three opponents.

Now, this could be just my imagination, but I’ve had to defend my fort against four balls coming at me all at the same time, multiple times, in the course of one level. I’m pretty sure some of you gamers would probably tell me to stop whining just because I can’t handle the pressure so I can probably let this one slide. However…

Another problem Warlords has is the finicky controls. Using the analog stick to position your shield accurately is an exercise in futility. In the end, it seems that you’re just directing the paddle towards the general direction of where the ball is heading and hoping for the best. This could just be my gamer skills decaying, so once again this can probably be excused. Still, this leaves one last problem.

The last problem, and perhaps the biggest one the game has, is slow down and freezing. I noticed that when the action becomes really hectic, the game suffered from the aforementioned conditions. I mean, theoretically, the Xbox 360 should be able to run this game with no problem whatsoever. I mean ,come on, the console runs Gears of freaking War with nary a hiccup.

While we were able to generally play Evolved Mode at normal speed, Throttle mode is just insane. While it’s good for a laugh, we here at QJ.NET don’t know who can actually play it at this pace and be good at it. Overall, we just found this to be unplayable.

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Moving on to the Classic mode of the game, I found this mode to be a test of one’s patience. Maybe my memory is a bit hazy as to what the original game played like but I could never recall being as hard-pressed to simply bounce the ball back, much less hold on to it and aim it properly.

The game seems to suffer from most of the problems in Evolved mode with the exception of slowdown which I didn’t experience. However, the game seems to make up for this by having a more brutal A.I. which can pull off ultra-accurate shots and is able to defend their castles with unerring precision.

Classic mode play at Throttle level speed was at least playable (you can actually see the fireballs) and should provide gamers with a bit of a challenge. Still, the finicky controls will give anyone who doesn’t have the precise hands of a trained sniper some problems (and even if you do, we have our doubts).

For all its faults, the game had one major saving grace. Multiplayer mode. Yes folks, if you can get four human players in a local game then this game is worth every penny. While the slow-down is still there, playing against other humans seems to even out the playing field and allows for some awesome matches.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to try the online multiplayer mode of the game (which is said to support the Xbox Live Cam peripheral) since the quickmatch and ranked matches didn’t seem to be coming up with any matches for our profile. A shame because if it is anything like the local multiplayer games, then it would have probably been pretty sweet.

Atari's Warlords Xbox 360 - Image 1 Atari's Warlords Xbox 360 - Image 2 

So this brings us to the question that you’ve been asking ever since you started reading this review: is it worth my 400 Microsoft Points (US$ 5)? The answer depends on what you’re looking for.

If you’re looking for a great multiplayer game for you and your buddies to play when they come over, then you’ve found the perfect game for you. However, if you’re looking for a game that you will be playing alone, then you might want to look elsewhere for your gaming fix.

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