NFL Fever 2004 Review (Xbox)
“NFL Fever” has always been an intriguing game. It’s shown a lot of potential and it’s been fun to play, but eventually I always ended up giving up on it due to numerous issues in the game. In their third installment of the series Microsoft promised to deal with many of these issues while giving us some new features and enhancements. Is this game worth a purchase, or is it like previous versions of “Fever”; teasing us with a lot of potential, but coming up short in the end?
For the most part, the graphics in this game are pretty well done. The colors are accurate and rich on the uniforms and in the stadiums. The field textures are well done, and look like the surface you are supposed to be playing on. The light sources are also well done, and you can really tell the difference between playing at night or in the day - or in bad weather.
My biggest complaint with the graphics is with the player models. They’re basically the same models that “Fever” used last year. They look bulky and awkward. I don’t understand why Microsoft would put so much effort in all of the other graphical touches and never update the player models. On a positive note, however, they have added a lot of new animations - and this really has improved the look and feel of the game. They still seem to have a far fewer animations than their competitors, “Madden” and “ESPN NFL”, unfortunately.
I will say this: The auto-replays and end of the game highlights are some of the prettiest replays you’ll ever see. The camera angles are amazing, and the players look great in motion. It really is like watching a replay on a televised game. The auto-replays really are something to behold.
Kevin Calabro and Ron Pitts are the play-by-play team, and while they don’t exactly remind you of a TV broadcast, they do a very good job. The commentary reminds me of the commentary that you get in “NBA Inside Drive”. It’s entertaining, and for the most part pertinent to what’s going on in the game. I do wish there was a little more variety to their commentary, but by and large, it’s very well done. The crowd noise is realistic and seems to crescendo and get quiet at the appropriate times. For the most part, I think with the combination of play-by-play commentary and stadium sounds, the audio portion of “Fever” performs rather well.
This is the area where the football game wars are won and lost - gameplay. Offensively, the “Fever” team added “Read-and-Lead” passing. When using “Read-and-Lead; instead of choosing a button to throw to a designated receiver, you actually aim with a cursor and throw to a spot. This allows you to lead, underthrow, or do anything you want to in the passing game. Trying to read the defense and throw a pass to a spot - all while avoiding the pass rush - is quite a challenge. It’s also extremely rewarding when you’re successful. My only complaint about “Read-and-Lead” is that the quarterbacks’ ratings seem to have no effect on it. When in “Read-and-Lead” mode, every quarterback is equally as accurate, and every quarterback has equal arm strength.
I’ve found the running game to be a mixed bag. On one hand, the blocking schemes are extremely well done, and playing the run game can be a blast. However, the run game can also be very frustrating. While lead blocking, your fullback will at times will run right by the defender he should be engaging. On traps and sweeps, pulling guards sometimes turn up the field too early; running right by the defender he should be kicking out, or sealing off. The running backs do have the ability to drag runners, and don’t seem to go down automatically every time they are hit by a defender. I haven’t noticed too much difference between running backs, though. I couldn’t tell the difference between playing as LaDainian Tomlinson and playing as Jerome Bettis. All the backs seem to run with similar ability and style.
Defensively, the DB play is much improved. No longer are long bombs “money plays”. DB’s will give ground and stay on top of receivers in zone coverage. They play their man well in man-to-man coverage, and the safeties give over the top like they should - depending on the coverage. On the down side, the blitz is way too effective. If you bring the house every play you can pretty much shut down the run, and hammer the QB at will in the passing game. This is especially true when playing a human opponent, whether it’s online or head to head. I never felt like I had the ability to exploit the blitz if I anticipated it properly on offense. In football, the blitz is a risk/reward type of strategy, and I never got that feel in “Fever”.
The playbooks are pretty generic. Every team has just about the same playbook, but they are varied with lots of plays, formations and personnel sets.
The Franchise mode has all of the standard bells and whistles that you’ve come to expect. However, it pales in comparison to the Owner’s Mode in “Madden” or Franchise Mode in “ESPN NFL” when it comes to depth. It’s not that the franchise mode is bad; it’s simply not very deep, and the CPU roster management both in season and in the off-season is rather suspect.
I will say this: “Fever” plays like a dream online. It’s super smooth, even when using “Read-and-Lead” passing. If there was any lag, “Read-and-Lead” would be next to impossible to use online. It’s obvious that online performance was a priority with the “Fever” team and it shows. The game also works with Microsoft’s XSN network. XSN allows you to setup custom online leagues and tournaments. XSN keeps your standings, stats for you and even allows you to access all this information through any personal computer connected to the Internet. XSN is the wave of the future for online play, and “Fever” takes full advantage of it.
I actually like “Fever”. But when compared with the “Maddens” and the “ESPN Football’s” of the world, it comes up short. It’s a fun game to pick up and play, and it plays great online, but in the end; by not doing the little things right on the field, and by lacking depth off the field compared to it’s competition, I just don’t see myself spending an extended period of time playing this game. The potential is there, but the game just isn’t quite there yet. Unfortunately, that’s the same thing I have been saying since the first version of the game.