A few days ago I was sent a review copy of Take-Out Weight Curling by our local Canadian game publisher Global Star Software. It instantly caught my eye, since I haven't even heard anything about this game before getting the mini box, so I've decided to do some research before writing this review. While making the research, I've found out some rather interesting things about the game... First of all, it is the FIRST curling simulation title that ever made it to retail stores, second of all it was entirely made by (you won't believe that!) Nathan Sorenson, a teenage Canadian high-school student, and was even showcased at the Independent Games Festival! After reading this, I have decided that the game should be rated accordingly, since it's still a bargain-priced title (costing a measly $19,99 USD or $29,99 CAD according to which side of the border you live) and it would be rather unfair comparing the game to other projects that have had solid budget behind them... And as well, since it is the first curling simulation ever, it would be rather hard to compare it to anything else, so this game probably should and will be used as a reference point for reviews of further curling sims that we will hopefully see in the future.
If you live in the Northern hemisphere, chances are you know what the sport of curling is and you should skip this part, otherwise read on... Curling is a very popular winter sport, especially in Canada, Northern parts of USA and the Nordic countries of Europe (even though it is also enjoyed in many other countries all over the world), played by two teams (up to four players total per team) on ice. Each team has a person that throws "rocks" and attempts to get them as close s possible to the middle of a bulls-eye target circle on the other side of the ice ring, while two other persons are sweeping the ice in front of it with, well, brooms, in order to facilitate its getting there. It might not sound like the most exciting sport out there, but it does the trick for millions of people that enjoy playing it.
Curling has a lot of rules and to give the game's creator what he deserves, all of them are present in this game. As a matter of fact the game has different settings for different rules, and you can modify pretty much anything you want (number of ends, play by international or by national, Canadian rules, the number of rocks per end and more). You can actually make different shots, all controlled by the easy game interface. And in case you're not a real curling enthusiast, there's a very detailed tutorial that can probably teach even a monkey how to play the game. The game also features real-life physics, which I have personally noticed, since the rocks do react quite well to impacts at one another and the trajectory of the shot will be changed by the condition of the ice, which you can select before starting the game.
Gameplay / Multiplayer
There are five game modes present: Human vs. Human opponent (for two players on one computer), Human vs. Computer opponent (with modifiable difficulty), Bonspiel (tournament) mode for up to eight teams, each of which can be controlled by either human player or computer (which means you can play the game with up to 7 of your curling club buddies on one computer and see who's the best player around at summertime),Practice mode where one could practice his own playing skills before trying to take on the computer or your buddies (you can even create your own "scenarios", as in positioning a number of rocks in different locations on screen, so you could even practice the shot that you've missed in real life on your computer, then get it right in real life competition and impress all your buds), and finally multiplayer mode with support given by Gamespy Arcade (which was rather unexpected, and is a very welcome addition to the game). You can also create your own team with different faces and names for each one of your players, as well as change the team uniform. Then you can switch between the teams and after that even check their personalized statistics - just like in real life! As well you may create new teams for the computer to play with against you, while assigning stats to each different team member, which brings up the replay value to virtually no getting tired of this game And last but not the least, you can save and load your games, since curling tournaments tend to get really long.
The gameplay itself is very easy to get used to - you control your players with the mouse buttons, by left clicking and holding to select the strength of your shot and then letting the rock go, after which you may once again use the left mouse button in order to tell your sweepers to sweep the floor so the rock will fly harder. While this all sounds extremely simplistic, trust me, it's not. It takes quite a bit of coordination (especially on harder difficulty levels) to get the rock going right into the middle of the target, and there are a lot of of different that can be used to win the match, such as kicking opponents' rocks off the screen with yours, or try to block your opponent by putting "blockades" next to the middle of the target once one or two of your rocks are there. In higher difficulty modes it's of course also much harder to get to the target, since while you throw your rock you have to make sure it will fly straight (i.e. find the right time to throw it). The multiplayer mode is equally rewarding and has almost no lag/sudden disconnection issues.
The game engine used to portray the graphics is Conitec's A5 engine, which is a part of their Game Development Studio, principally intended for small/independent game developers. It is slightly outdated comparing to the other new engines out there and of course this game cannot reach the level of graphic realism of multi-million budgeted games from EA, but nevertheless it still gets its job done. The player models are fairly well done, they even have shadows (although there are no reflections on the ice like in most other modern games) and their movements are animated, although there are no facial animations and they do move the same way all the time. In the game you can zoom in and out with the use of the right button, and when you zoom in too close you can see a severe pixelisation, which isn't a good thing. Also the textures of the actual skate ring don't look exactly too realistic (severe pixelisation, the borders, walls and the lights on top do not look realistic at all, no light coming from the top, etc...). Overall, the graphics get the job done, but don't stand up to today's standards.
Sounds / Music
The real major problem of the game is the sound department. Since it's been made by only one person, it has no music and I've counted a total of 31 sound effects in the entire game. The sound effects that are present are nicely done, but the problem is that they are not varied at all, so they keep repeating all the time, which becomes somewhat annoying at the end. As well, all the in-game voices made by the players (such as "Hard, Hard!" or "Sweep, sweep!") were recorded by one person (the game creator I would assume) and have virtually no variation. It's a pity that such a well balanced game failed in the sound department because of lack of funding... I genuinely hope that after it sells the first few thousand of copies and Nathan gets his hard earned cash, there will be a re-release of the game, with added music and more sounds. But then again, it's a sports game, and the sound in it shouldn't be top notch comparing to FPS or adventure games...
Overall, this is a very enjoyable game, worth putting out your dough on. What it lacks in the graphics and sound departments it makes up by very enjoyable single and multiplayer as well as a vast variety of gameplay options that you wouldn't expect from a bargain title. As well, it is the first game in its genre, and that's why it's a must-have for every curling enthusiast. And finally, it's really good to see young Canadian developers like Nathan Sorenson taking their place in the gaming industry... And they need our support!