NFL Blitz Review (Xbox 360)
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How badly do you want an online version of Blitz? For anyone who's still got a dusty cart or CD copy of Midway's NFL Blitz lying around the house, that question is the answer to whether or not EA Sports' 2012 remake is worth your $15.
Developer EA Tiburon had to tone down the original game's brutality to get it licensed by today's politically correct NFL, so unless you're pumped to finally take Blitz online, there's little reason to pick up this censored version of Sal Divita's and Mark Turmell's 1997 arcade hit.
"Coverage sack" gets a new meaning in NFL Blitz, when all three receivers can be shoved to the turf before the quarterback has time to get the ball out of his hands.
With 30-yard first downs, easily beaten offensive lines and a complete lack of pass interference, offensive coordinators must string together laterals, flea flickers and zig-zag routes to find open passing lanes.
While it's easy to abuse AI teams with basic plays like "Da Bomb," Blitz becomes a much more strategic game against other humans. In the hands of skilled users, NFL Blitzplays a more defensively minded game than even EA Sports' Madden NFL series.
Get four human players together who know how to shove receivers and dive tackle, and matches of Blitz turn into defensive slugfests full of field goals, punts and safeties. Blocked kicks are not only possible, but common! Fumbles occur frequently; the wild, unpredictable gameplay is a part of NFL Blitz's legacy, just as much as the classic "on-fire" powerup and scrambling jump passes.
Unfortunately, some of the new powerups like "instant fire," are unbalanced. Walking over a randomly placed "fire" icon puts your team "on fire" until a sack or a first down is earned by the other team. Powerup icons regenerate about once per drive, making it far too easy to spend the majority of the game "on fire."
Unlike EA's other football titles, speed isn't the only attribute that matters in NFL Blitz. Track stars like Jacoby Ford or Mike Wallace are easily knocked off their routes and tend to drop balls following big hits. Stronger, more-skilled receivers like Antonio Gates or Larry Fitzgerald power through shoves during routes and hold onto the ball when hit, making them much more valuable than pure speedsters.
On defense, a slower, more-skilled cornerback like Charles Woodson will get physical with his man and make aggressive plays on the ball, while a fast, low-skill corner like Antonio Cromartie struggles to cover routes and is easily fooled by laterals and special moves.
NFL Blitz used to be one of the loudest machines in the arcade -- a bedlam of yelling, taunting and full-body impacts.
Commissioner Roger Goodell and his "No Fun League" have decided to ban much of the unnecessary roughness and unsportsmanlike conduct that's made the Blitz series famous. For the first time in video game history, having a league license actually hurts a sports game's fun factor.
Without trash talk during play, the fields sound oddly quiet. Late hits have been disabled, as players walk around peacefully after the whistle like they're trying to avoid getting fined. Pro wrestling moves like Diamond Dallas Page's "Diamond Cutter" and Hulk Hogan's "Leg Drop" have been replaced with tame, boring tackling animations. EA Sports' "G-rated" version of NFL Blitz sacrifices the violence and humor of the original titles for the sake of NFL logos and uniforms.
While Blitz's stadiums are colorful and detailed, teams cannot select their uniforms, creating kit clashes when two similarly-colored teams take the field.
Despite the "high definition" makeover, NFL Blitz looks and sounds boring. With no rain or snow effects, the game lacks flair or graphical pop.
Aside from "Play Now" exhibition games, "Blitz Gauntlet" is the only offline mode. Players select a fantasy squad of NFL superstars and progress through a ladder of NFL teams. The rosters used in this mode are severely outdated (San Diego is the highest-rated team), weakening some of its appeal. Boss battles against the cartoon "Hot Dog Team" or "Cheesehead Team" are mildly entertaining, but challenging the computer quickly becomes a bore. Running the "Gauntlet" solo just isn't much fun, especially when most of the mode's unlockables are easily purchased in the Blitz Store.
Buying out the Store is harder than it should be, as "Blitz Bucks" can only be earned by completing online games. Since Blitz doesn't award a correct payout during online games with a dropped connection, it can be frustrating trying to earn coins when 90 percent of the online population quits before the final whistle. Gaming with friends is the best way to avoid quitters, but you'll still run into lots of sore losers during 2 vs. 2 cooperative play.
Aside from the standard online exhibition games, there's a "Blitz Battle" ranking board, which attempts to mimic a virtual arcade scene by dividing users into state, regional and national rankings. Starting at the bottom of your home-state pool, you must win games to gradually move up the rankings one division at a time. "Blitz Battles" can go both ways, so losing too much will result in a demotion to a lesser division.
If you grow tired of the default NFL squads, Blitz's "Elite League" lets you build a fantasy team of NFL players. Each completed Elite League game pays out Blitz Bucks, with the amount determined by your team's on-field performance. Blitz Bucks can be used to buy card packs, which contain random NFL players and field powerups.
Elite League remains fun until you reach the higher ranks, where virtually every team is using Michael Vick and Calvin Johnson. Some sort of salary cap would have made the Elite League more strategic. Instead, every team ends up using the same star players, killing all roster-building strategy.
EA Sports' slower, gentler, quieter Blitz lacks the razzle dazzle of the original games. Blitz's online experience is enjoyable, but it can't make up for the neutered hitting and zip-lipped players.
Blitz would likely sell less copies without the NFL license, but the fun factor would be much higher minus the NFL's content restrictions. There's good gameplay to be found here if players can tolerate the censorship, but friends are needed for most modes, as this Blitz is built for multiplayer gaming.
Visuals: Loading screens featuring half-naked cheerleader are OK with the NFL, but an elbow drop after the whistle is crossing the line of good taste? C'MON, MAN!
Audio: Even the commentary is toned down, with "Midway Sports announcer," Tim Kitzrow, delivering a subdued, mild-mannered script. Needs more BOOMSHAKALAKA!
Controls: Icon passing is a welcome option, but the lack of fully customizable controls means gamers are stuck with an awkward default button layout.
Online: Slight input delay affects most online matches. Lag isn't a game-killer, but it zaps some of the fun from the online experience.
Learning Curve: Series veterans will be lateralling and dive tackling with ease, but Blitz newcomers may have trouble adjusting to the exaggerated game rules. The in-game instruction manual won't help newer players understand advanced Blitz tactics.
Lasting Value: NFL Blitz continues its tradition as a boring single player experience. Thankfully, local or online friends can join together for four-player mayhem.
Score: 7.0 (Good)