Think being an NFL quarterback is easy? Maybe you’re a veteran of Madden and have mastered the art of finding the open man on passing plays thanks to the game’s helpful overhead angle. That doesn’t mean you’d be able to step into the shoes of one of the sport’s signal callers and make those same kind of reads and throws when you’re thrust into the pressure cooker of the pocket.
The new VR game NFL Pro Era II from StatusPro attempts to replicate the experience of being under center and does a commendable job of making you feel like you’re really leading an offense down the field. With an official NFL license that has you playing with real NFL teams alongside and against current stars of the NFL, it can be downright exhilarating to fire a laser that hits your target right in his hands.
With an innovative menu that hosts a variety of game modes, there’s no shortage of ways to toss the pigskin around. The mechanics of throwing a ball are generally sound, allowing you to put as much zip on a ball or air under it as you need by adjusting the speed and angle of how you move your arm. Modes like 2-Minute Drill and Mini-Camp Tours provide a quick challenge to rack up scores and hone your skills.
The opportunity to play through a season only furthers the illusion of of helming a team as you navigate through dizzying highs and demoralizing lows. A new multiplayer mode scratches the competitive itch of wanting to see how you compare with other people as well. It’s unfortunate though that the game is riddled with bugs, some of which are so glaring that you can’t help but wonder if the game shouldn’t have remained as a beta for a little while longer.
Let’s strap on the helmet (and VR headset) and dissect the particulars of the game like it was a Cover 2 defense.
What I Like
Locker Room Menu
When you fire up the game, you’re immediately asked to run through a wall before selecting your favorite NFL team. Then you’re transported to that team’s locker room, which serves as the menu from which you’ll select game modes and adjust settings. It’s neat that you can walk around the locker room to find the different components of the game and there’s even a trophy room to display all of your accomplishments.
The game’s two quickest modes, 2-Minute Drill and Mini-Camp Tours, appropriately appear as arcade machines set up in the middle of the locker room. When you want to play a season game, all you need to do is grab your helmet from off the wall and you’re good to go. The back wall of the locker room is where you can adjust all of your settings and view stats from your career. It all serves as an excellent way to access what the game has to offer while showing off what VR can do.
Throwing The Ball
Considering NFL Pro Era II is essentially a quarterback simulator, much of its worth has to be measured by how it feels when you’re throwing passes. Its good news to report then that, for the most part, it’s a gas to drop back in the pocket, find an open man, and sling the ball in their direction. It’s a smart idea to have plays called on your wristband, which comes in handy as well to review the play art right before you snap the ball.
There’s definitely a bit of a learning curve as you get accustomed to when you should put some mustard on a pass and when it’s better to put a little touch on a lob. As you figure it out, there are plenty of frustrating moments involving your pass sailing way over a receiver’s head or being thrown almost directly into the ground. Your receivers typically show an adequate amount of awareness, fighting for jump balls and even diving for passes just out of their reach. They do sometimes seem to space out from time to time though, not so much as acknowledging balls they could conceivably grab.
Some of how you fare as a passer will depend on which passing mode difficulty within the options you’ve selected. On lower difficulties like Rookie and Pro, there’s a certain amount of assist provided to ensure that your pass ends up closer to its target. It’s not all that uncommon to be looking for one receiver and have the ball instead end up sailing perfectly into the arms of an entirely different receiver on the same side of the field. This serves as a safety net of sorts when you’re starting out, but when you’re ready for the ultimate challenge set the difficulty to All-Pro and it becomes harder to be accurate. It doesn’t help that defenders will be especially ruthless on the highest difficulty, picking off any of your errant passes and taking them the other way.
2-Minute Drill & Mini Camps Tour
As complementary modes to go alongside the ones that involve playing a full game, 2-Minute Drill and Mini-Camps Tour both serve their purpose well. The 2-Minute Drill has you starting close to the opponent’s goal line and attempting to rack up as many touchdowns as you can in the allotted two minutes. Every time you score, you’ll start your next drive five yards further from the goal line. You’ll need to avoid sacks that will lower your point total and interceptions that will end your game. It’s undeniably an enjoyable challenge to post a score and then try to beat the score of other players on the leaderboard.
Mini-Camp Tours, on the other hand, presents a series of activities that are geared towards improving specific aspects of being a quarterback. You’ll learn how to navigate the pocket by dodging objects being launched at you while you try to remain focused on your receivers as you roll out of the pocket. The best one of the drills teaches you how to drop dimes by throwing passes through rings as you attempt to hit moving targets. Each of these Mini-Camp Tours involves trying to accumulate three stars at every stop and then moving on to a slightly harder challenge. By giving you the goal of achieving these stars, there’s decent incentive to keep you coming back to collect all of the possible stars.
When you’ve had enough of the drills and meaningless exhibition games and are ready to play some games that count for something, the season mode puts you in control of your team’s fate over the course of the team’s real 2023 schedule. The ecstasy of orchestrating a game-winning drive and agony of tossing a back-breaking interception only become amplified when your team’s in the thick of a playoff race. You can monitor your stats throughout the campaign to keep track of how many touchdowns you’ve thrown and ensure that number’s staying lower than your interception total. It’s hardly a comprehensive franchise mode, but there’s enough of a framework here to increase your investment in your performance and the outcome of matchups.
The addition of a new multiplayer mode that pits your quarterback skills against others in head-to-head online matchups is a great idea on paper. The only problem though is that the game’s community is still relatively small so finding an opponent will often require a great deal of patience. It works as well as you would expect though when you do finally get connected with someone, as both of you take turns trying to march down the field against a CPU-controlled defense. Without the aid of a quick sim option that lets you skip through defensive plays against a CPU opponent, you’re left to discover that a large part of being a quarterback involves the excruciating experience of watching your counterpart lead a touchdown drive against you.
What I Don’t Like
The trouble with the positive aspects of NFL Pro Era II is that nearly all of them are also hampered by bugs that range from minor annoyances to severe impediments. Every single game, for instance, is hindered by a scoring glitch when using the quick sim option (which doesn’t always trigger how it should for starters) to skip all defense and special teams plays. This causes every CPU touchdown to result in only 6 points instead of 7, as if their kicker always misses the extra point.
The 2-Minute Drill mode won’t save your scores on any subsequent attempts after your first, forcing you to exit to the locker room and waste time loading back in to try again. Season mode appears to randomly determine which teams make the playoffs, thereby rendering the entire enterprise pointless. Even if you’re lucky enough to make the playoffs and win the Super Bowl, somehow that hardware won’t appear in your trophy room.
To be fair, developers StatusPro did already release an update in early November that fixed some bugs at launch, so perhaps there’s still hope that some or all of these issues will eventually be rectified. It’s encouraging to find that there’s a fairly active Discord server for the game where developers can stay connected to the community’s feedback.
The Ground Game
A key part of any good offense, running the football is largely absent from NFL Pro Era II and what little you do see of it is largely disappointing. If you choose to merely select the plays suggested by the coach, it’s possible that you’ll see just a handful of running plays called in a game. Some may consider this a feature rather than a bug since passing the ball clearly gets you more involved in the action as a quarterback, but it can’t help but detract from the realism.
Then again, the few times that you are asked to hand the ball off to a back so rarely lead to a significant gain that they hardly even seem worth the effort. Taking off with the ball in your hands as a quarterback is a possibility, however it doesn’t quite function as you’d expect. You’re able to roll out of the pocket to gain some yards with your feet, but when you spot some room in the middle of the field and try squeeze through your linemen you’ll find that there’s an infuriating invisible force field that keeps you from running between the tackles.
Graphics & Animations
While the first-person perspective creates a unique vantage point to view every play, how the action unfolds doesn’t always look the greatest. The graphics aren’t incredibly sharp and can quickly become muddier with a slight jostle of your head, which is perhaps more of an issue with VR in general. The animations also leave something to be desired, becoming increasingly repetitive with every game that you play. It’s not uncommon to see the bodies of players pass through each other like ghosts exempt from collisions. You’re never more aware of how dull and choppy the players appear than when you’re standing on the sidelines watching from a distance while your opponent is on offense.
Effectively harnessing the strengths of virtual reality technology, NFL Pro Era II mostly delivers on its promise of testing how you would fare as an NFL quarterback. The locker room serves as perfect menu hub for a respectable swath of games modes. Mini-Camps Tour and 2-Minute Drill are ideal bite-sized modes where you can constantly try to beat your high scores. Season mode adds some structure and stats to your NFL journey while multiplayer’s head-to-head games are a savvy addition, even if finding opponents can be next to impossible. A host of bugs threaten to derail your enjoyment at every turn though, some of which can be overlooked more than others. Running the ball is rare and ineffective by and large, leaving passing as the only dependable option. The graphics don’t exactly pop off the screen and aren’t helped by some clunky animations that wear out their welcome fast.