Review: The Bible Game (PS2, XBX)


The Bible Game
Genre: Party game
Developer: Mass Media Inc/Crave Entertainment
Publisher: Crave Entertainment
Release Date: 10/25/05

I’d like to start this review off with a little bit of personal observation. Feel free to skip to the “Game Modes” section if you like.

I’ve been playing video games for, roughly, about twenty years. In that time, I’ve played a whole lot of different kinds of games, on a whole lot of different game systems. And through that time, I’ve learned more than a few things that consistently prove themselves true. Acclaim, when they were still in business, made terrible games. Licensed video games are usually not as good as their unlicensed brethren. You get the idea. The point is, many of these observations have exceptions that prove them to be not universally accurate, with one exception:

Video games and religion don’t mix well.

Now, when we’re talking about “religion”, I should probably explain that I mean the Judeo-Christian religious classification, as that’s what America is most populated with. I’ve yet to see a video game dealing with Allah, Vishnu, or Buddha, and the closest video games have come to encompassing a universal view of religion are the Megaten games (and I’m not so sure Christians would like SMT’s inference that God is kind of a dick). So when we’re talking “religious” games, we’re talking about games that are designed with Bible readers in mind. Games like “Super Noah’s Ark”, where you bean animals in the head with veggies, then run them off to the Ark, or “Bibleman: A Fight For Faith”, which appears to be a horrid Diablo clone, only your main character is Buddy from Charles in Charge. While these sorts of games are usually designed to be heavy on the biblical concepts, they’re also of negligible quality, and sell themselves off of their concepts more than their quality or entertainment value.

Enter “The Bible Game”. Mass Media Inc. and Crave, for whatever reason, came to the decision that what Bible readers really wanted was a party game. And lo, they’ve presented us with a game that is essentially South Park: Chef’s Love Shack meets Wheel of Fortune, only with Bible themes. Now, I was raised Christian, and while I’m no longer practicing in any sense of the word, I can absolutely understand the appeal such a game might have. So, I’m going to walk into this review optimistic that, even if the game isn’t really a great game, that it might be a great game for those who want biblical entertainment.


GAME MODES


There’s not a story to speak of here, as this is a party game, so we’re going to look at the game modes that are offered. There’s a Game Show mode, which allows you to play the full “Do Unto Others” game show. There’s also a Challenge Game mode, which allows you to simply play the available mini-games without having to answer questions and such. And… well, that’s it, actually. There are no other modes of play in The Bible Game. Also, in both modes of play, you must play with a group of four, so if you lack human players, computer players will be assigned to join in, so if you wanted to play with a smaller group in either mode, too bad. There’s also no option to play through the single-player mini-games, or to play the trivia game as a separate entity, or anything like that. Even if this is a budget title, I really can’t overlook the lack of things to do in the game, especially since other games of this kind, Mario Party as an example, offer all sorts of extra modes for the players to entertain themselves with.

Game Modes Rating: 2/10


GRAPHICS


The graphics in The Bible Game range between being functional and ugly, depending on what you’re doing at the time. Events like Testament Trivia, Commandments, Do Unto Others, and such are all brought to life, as it were, with animated 2D images. These images are bland, but serve their purpose well enough; the sole exception to this is Wrath of God, which uses an animated lightning strike alongside ugly sprites of locusts, frogs, or hail. I understand what it’s supposed to signify, but it looks ridiculous.

On the other hand, the “Do Unto Others” game stage and Challenge Games use the game’s 3D engine, which is horribly substandard. First off, the graphics look like first generation Dreamcast graphics, which is simply unacceptable, even for a budget title. Second, while the game stage and the host look perfectly acceptable, the playable characters have terrible facial animations that look like they’re missing frames. Also, when the characters are static, they all look like they have a facial tic; their faces twitch for no noticeable reason other than simple graphic errors. Some of the Challenge Games look acceptable, but the split-screen Challenge Games are squished down, which makes it hard to see what’s going on most of the time.

Overall, The Bible Game is visually poor. About the only thing I can say nice about it is that the designers succeeded in making everything look appropriately biblical, so if you can look past how ugly the graphics are, you’ll find something to appreciate here.

Graphics Rating: 3/10


SOUND

The Bible Game sounds appropriately like a game show, with goofy little buzzer noises and pinball machine effects playing behind music that sounds like it was rejected by “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”. Some of the sound effects, like Samson’s grunting and the devil laugh in “Angels and Devils”, are somewhat laughable, though. There also isn’t a lot of voice acting; only Justin Warren (the game show host with two first names) and God (who sounds like James Earl Jones with a cold) have any voice acting at all, though it’s certainly acceptable, if not great.

It should also be noted that several Christian Rock bands granted the use of their songs to The Bible Game, and you’ll hear these songs during the Challenge Games. The songs are mostly fairly generic sounding rock tracks, only the lyrics are about praising the Lord. None of them are terribly exciting, but if you’re a fan of that sort of music, you’ll like them fine. The only thing I can really say against them is that a couple of the songs are in praise of Jesus, which might limit the appeal of the game for Jewish players, for obvious reasons.

Sound Rating: 5/10


CONTROL/GAMEPLAY


The heart of The Bible Game is, again, the “Do Unto Others” game show. This is where you will spend most of your time in The Bible Game, as it offers the most to do. You start off by choosing your character from a group of six, including the nerdy Caucasian guy, the nerdy Asian guy in the sweater vest, the black girl who apparently only exists to fulfill two demographics at the same time, and the Cowboy. Yes, a Cowboy. There’s a distinct lack of playable avatars to choose from, almost all of them are goofy looking, and four of them are Caucasian, which is just all sorts of annoying.

After choosing and naming your character, you’ll be introduced to the game screen, which has various numbered spaces in what always looks like some sort of tree. The game highlights random spaces, and you have to press the button to choose one of these spaces, which not only earns you the points listed, but also randomly gives you one of the following events:

Testament Trivia: You answer questions from the Old Testament.
Commandments: You randomly get points from the other players, or from Heaven.
Do Unto Others: You do something for another player. You’ll either give them some of your points, play a mini-game for them, or give them your turn.
Challenge Game: All players will play a mini-game, which we’ll get to in a bit.
Blessing Game: A single player mini-game, which we’ll also get to in a bit.
Wrath of God: End of the round. Whoever reveals this loses all of the points they’ve collected in the round.

The actual control scheme is fairly simple; you can either pick a space by pressing one button, or pass control by pressing another. The Testament Trivia controls are simple, too; answers are mapped to four of the controller face buttons, and you just press the button that’s listed next to the answer you want. All of the Challenge Games and Blessing Games list their controls on-screen before you play them, as well as some helpful advice. Blessing Games, by the way, also show the high scores that have been achieved, as well as a Bible quote related to the game in question. Everything is laid out fairly simply, and well explained, so that even new gamers should have no trouble adjusting to what needs to be done. The Blessing Games are almost all incredibly simple to play, and a few of the Challenge Games, like Tower of Babel and Seven Days, are actually pretty fun to play.

On the other hand, there are more than a few notable issues that bring down the gameplay a bit. First off, the mini-games don’t really offer a lot of variety. There are a very small amount of single-player mini-games available in general, and the multi-player Challenge Games are, in a lot of cases, not all that different from one another. Walls of Jericho and Jonah’s Whale, for example, feature slightly different objectives with almost identical gameplay. Second, a lot of the Challenge Games are difficult to control properly. Walls of Jericho and Red Sea (which are, by the way, nearly identical) both control poorly, and your characters feel floaty and unresponsive. Games like Leap of Faith and Stone the Philistines feature controls that are difficult to understand and more cumbersome than they should be. And finally, the games have no concept of player alignment, so in split-screen games, you’ll be taking the first couple seconds to figure out which screen your character is on. This isn’t affected by player number, place, or representing color; you’re simply dumped somewhere at random for no reason. Besides being disorienting, it’s also really stupid, and I can’t imagine why anyone would even do something like this.

Bottom line, the gameplay is simple and easy to learn, but unnecessary problems and some confusing or broken Challenge Games will hamper your enjoyment somewhat.

Control/Gameplay Rating: 4/10


REPLAYABILITY

Crave claims there are 1,500 Old Testament questions in the game; if we divide the total possible questions up evenly, there should be 500 per each of the three difficulty levels. Since questions started repeating around my fourth game session, I have to question that. Also, Crave claims there are a total of 20 mini-games available to play, between Challenge games and Blessing Games. There are only twelve Challenge Games to play, which not only means you’ll have seen most, if not all, of them fairly quickly, but you won’t find much reason to go back to Challenge Mode. And finally, of the suggested eight Blessing Games that should be available, I only ever saw four.

Basically, after about four game sessions, you’ll have seen just about everything The Bible Game has to offer. You can adjust the difficulty of the questions and the length of the game show, and there is some replay to be had with multiple players, but you really won’t find anything new to bring you back outside of your first two to three game hours. Unless you’re highly interested in the trivia portion of the game, you most likely won’t be coming back to this.

Replayability Rating: 3/10


BALANCE

Most of the major balance issues in The Bible Game come from the massive amount of luck the game requires of you. It’s entirely possible to select a Wrath of God space very early in a round, and there will be several occasions where you’ll see someone get nailed by one two or three times in a game session, which basically cripples any chances they might have of winning. This is disappointing to players who actually have some degree of knowledge or skill; losing all of your points, multiple times, because you picked the wrong space, might be enough to make people not want to play any more. The same goes for the Grace of God final round; anyone can go from last place to first place purely by luck, which, again, screws over players that are skilled at the game.

The computer players are also unbalanced excessively; in ten games I played with computer opponents, none of the human players ever came in first. I’ve watched the computer opponents answer questions before I’ve finished reading the choices; empty the entire game board of spaces, except for the Wrath of God space, then pass their turn to another player; and uncover every single piece of fruit in the Grace of God round, thus launching them instantly into first place. I have to assume that it’s possible to beat the computer, but I’ve yet to see it happen.

On the positive side, the game does offer up many different things that can be done that require no biblical knowledge whatsoever, so even your non-bible loving friends can play the game and do acceptably. This is of small consolation, of course, when the computer constantly destroys you, but when you have four people playing it makes things more balanced.

Balance Rating: 3/10


ORIGINALITY

Remember before when I said that this game is basically Chef’s Love Shack crossed with Wheel of Fortune, only with biblical references? That should pretty much explain how much originality this game has. While this game is one of the very few biblically targeted console games on the market, making video games based on the Bible is hardly an original idea. Making a biblical video game that pretty much rips off other party games isn’t original, it’s lazy. Make no mistake, every single thing you see here has been done by other video games in the past, and in most cases, it’s been done better.

Originality Rating: 1/10


ADDICTIVENESS

Whether or not you find the game addictive will depend almost entirely on how deeply religious you and your friends are. Assuming you’re a heavily religious person, and you have a lot of heavily religious friends, you’ll find yourself coming back to the game a lot, if only because the game caters to your interests. If you’re not deeply religious, or you don’t have a lot of religious friends, you probably won’t find yourself addicted to the game much, if at all. Those who are religious in name only will find absolutely nothing here to interest them, but that’s kind of a given, considering the subject matter.

Addictiveness Rating: 4/10


APPEAL FACTOR

Well, according to the 2000 US census, there are about 285 million people living in the US. Depending on who you ask, anywhere from 50 to 75 percent of the population is Judeo-Christian. The Bible Game is a budget title, and hit the stores at $20. So it’s fairly safe to say that this game will appeal to a fairly massive audience. The Left Behind series of books has sold into the millions, and the movies single-handedly saved Kirk Cameron’s career, so I’m pretty confident in saying that if this game doesn’t sell over a million copies, I’ll honestly be surprised.

Appeal Rating: 9/10


MISCELLANEOUS


So, we know that the game is decidedly below average. We also know that, based on the market it’s aiming for and the low price it’s debuting at, it’s sure to sell well. Here’s my problem: for all of the terrible video games that have come out with their roots based firmly in the Bible, it wouldn’t be hard to make a good Bible video game. Now, if you’ve read the Bible, you know that there are several stories that could be made into interesting video games. David stoning the Philistines, the journey of Moses, Samson and his life and times, all of these would translate into entertaining video games with the right developers behind them.

Even beyond the actual Bible, there are plenty of sources of literature that could be used as the basis for entertaining games. The Left Behind series is a perfect example of that. The Chronicles of Narnia will finally be seeing a video game sometime in the next few months (yes, they’re stories based in Catholic faith), after the books have been available for longer than video games have even been in existence.

The point is, while I’m not exactly among the group of gamers demanding a biblical game in any form or fashion, I think it’s absolutely insulting that what games ARE available to this market start at mediocre and get worse from there. Someone told me not too long ago that reviewing a game like this was pointless, because the point of the game is to educate people, not entertain them, and the entertainment value of the game doesn’t matter. Well, I’ve played a lot of educational games in my time, and guess what? I learned more from playing “Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego” than I did from playing The Bible Game.

It’s stupid to expect that religious gamers will play whatever terrible crap you put in front of them just because it has “Bible” or “God” in the title. Christian video game developers are, by their own admission, trying to make quality titles available to gamers, which is a wonderful goal to aim for. But if every game you produce is going to be an experience like this, then you’re falling far short of where you’re aiming.

Miscellaneous Rating: 1/10

The Scores:
Game Modes: 2/10
Graphics: 3/10
Sound: 5/10
Control/Gameplay: 3/10
Replayability: 3/10
Balance: 3/10
Originality: 1/10
Addictiveness: 4/10
Appeal: 9/10
Miscellaneous: 1/10

Overall Score: 3.4/10
Final Score: 3.5 (BAD).

Short Attention Span Summary
Ugly graphics, lacking gameplay, no originality, and a name on the box that will convince a lot of people to buy it without a second thought. This sums up The Bible Game nicely. Unless you’re deeply interested in biblical trivia, don’t bother with this; even if you can find something to entertain you here, it won’t entertain you for long.