Ask any football fan what their favorite part of the game is, and you’ll probably get a range of answers: the strategy of the game, the beauty of the pass versus the power of the run, the drama of close games and propensity for last minute heroics. However, all fans can’t deny their love of bone crushing hits. They’re almost like car accidents waiting to happen; you don’t want to watch, but you just can’t turn away. Why else would ESPN run a segment on their Monday Night Countdown show called “Jacked Up,” featuring the meanest impacts of the week? NFL Blitz was created to capitalize on this desire for pain, with an over the top focus on crushing your opponents, and quickly became a fan hit. So you can imagine their shock when it was announced that the latest game in the series would take a more realistic tone. Get ready to eat some grass with the new football title from Midway Sports, NFL Blitz Pro.
Unlike previous games of Blitz, which came across like a pickup game of football with NFL players in stadiums, Blitz Pro focuses on a more realistic, simulation style 11-on-11 game of pigskin. Gone are the days of 1st and 30, and get ready for 1st and 10 gains again. Along with the refocusing of the yardage scheme, Blitz Pro welcomes the addition of a running game, something that has been missing from the series (some would argue) since its inception. It’s now a conceivable option to perform a sweep for a considerable gain just as it used to be easy to throw for 15 or 20 yards in previous Blitz games.
However, you won’t be able to rest on your laurels, because the AI for the game has been boosted significantly, enabling defenders to sniff out run or pass plays and adjust their protection accordingly. The fast and loose style that once controlled the game has been reined in significantly, meaning that the number of wild fumbles, massive numbers of interceptions and off the wall untouchable catches. This can be exceedingly tricky for veterans of the Blitz series to get used to; considering the accelerated speed of the computer, quarterbacks no longer have the luxury of sitting in the pocket and getting a player open. Such conservative control will only result in numerous sacks and punts. That’s right, you’ll also have to worry about special teams in Blitz Pro, including physically attempting field goals.
Fortunately, players can use impact players to even their chances for big plays. Typically selected from the big offensive and defensive stars of a particular team, the impact player can be used to drop back and pass protect, go on an “audiblized” pass route, or delay a rush on the quarterback, amongst other things. Throw in a widely expanded number of playbooks (each one unique to every team) and you have a re-envisioned form of Blitz football. Yet, while there has been a lot of attention paid to bringing up Blitz’s loosened approach to the sport, the outlandish features of the game still remain. Players retain the option to stomp mudholes in any running back or wide receiver foolish to cross the line of scrimmage with the football, just as players have the option to showboat their way down the sideline towards the endzone. The boost meter makes its return once again, which can be used to shake off opposing players or give a back a jolt of speed. Oh yeah, and those players in the zone still catch on fire, too….
Aside from the typical quickplay or exhibition modes, which allows you to play a match between any of the NFL teams on any of the gridirons around the league (in any weather condition), gamers can establish a number of tournaments against computer or human opponents to see which team is best. They can also create a player or establish their personal info to keep track of their wins, losses and other statistics. Now, however, season and franchise modes have been boosted and added, respectively, leading to a more “Madden”-esque feel to gameplay. These modes include a fantasy draft, personal player stats, and other managerial tasks. Successful games or seasons can net you cash that can be used to purchase new fantasy teams, stadiums, game modes or upgrade player stats in the Blitz shop.
Stadiums and field effects in Blitz Pro look particularly nice, showing a particular attention to detail that hasn’t really been seen in previous Blitz titles. Unfortunately, if you’re looking for anything in particular to distinguish between football players, you’re not going to find it here. Blitz Pro features similar character models for every player on the field; hell, even kickers seem huge in this game, which is obscene in today’s league. Animations of tackles, catches and celebrations are wild, and still evoke the similar laughter and cringing from previous games. However, other animations come across rather wooden and stiff, especially before boosts or other rule breaking moves are enacted.
Sound is just as mixed as the graphics, which is unfortunate. Hits still sound particularly painful in the game, which is exactly what you’d want to hear from a fierce game like this. Other sound effects seem appropriate to the onscreen action, but that’s about all. The music, while pulling from popular licensed rock artists, is very limited, with only four tracks constantly playing in the background. Needless to say, this gets very old very fast. The commentary falls into this trap as well. While the color commentator and play-by-play announcer are hilarious, and come with great material, you’ll notice that they tend to repeat themselves often, meaning that the amount of lines for these comedians is rather shallow.
Shallow, in fact, is the perfect term for gameplay in Blitz Pro, because it feels like the designers lost focus with what they were trying to develop for the game. To this end, the amalgamation of realistic, simulation football and over-the-top, arcade smashmouth gaming doesn’t go far enough in either direction. For instance, there’s a draft, but no training camp. There are trades, but they’re so exorbitant that they’re unrealistic within franchise play. What’s worse, you may work hard at saving up a ton of money to upgrade a player, simply to have that guy retire shortly thereafter. Simply put, this blows. Plus, the inclusion of kicking meters for special teams is way too loose and uncontrolled. I don’t mind trying to line up a scrolling bar in the green area in the kick meter, but there’s no explanation for the green area to consistently move from kick to kick. Additionally, some sections of the “successful” green bar cause catastrophic failures or inaccurate kicks. This system needs to be worked on or eliminated entirely.
The extreme action feels somewhat toned down also…Now that you actually have to worry about always picking up 10 yards and establishing running games, the rush of adrenaline previous Blitz titles provided seems to be missing. If I’m playing a Blitz game, I don’t care about tracking player’s stats and trying to improve them; I want to rip an opponent’s head off. This is highlighted by the inclusion of Classic Blitz within the Blitz shop, which shows just what’s lacking in this year’s version. Tackling players feels sufficient, and the bodyslams, choke holds or other moves almost feels superfluous. Unfortunately, unlike Midway’s other “realistic/extreme” sports title, NHL Hitz, there’s no option to tweak the gameplay settings, meaning what you see is what you’ve got. (As a side comment, it takes way too long to load a game or even switch screens between plays, which is inexcusable, especially on an Xbox.) The final straw that breaks Blitz’s back is the lack of serious multiplayer options, with the exception of the PS2, which doesn’t provide a lot of depth. Downloading similar weather conditions or updated rosters with accurate stats isn’t going to improve the quality of the game or impart new features to gameplay. This means that your major competition, aside from the computer, will have to be a friend. However, both of you will probably find yourself switching football games quickly.
Fans of the Blitz series were alarmed when it was announced that Blitz Pro was going to be more realistic this year, and rightfully so. Players not interested in statistics or hardcore accurate football liked the cartoonish, inflated violence that Blitz provided. Unfortunately, the inclusion of half-hearted simulation elements and toned down arcade gameplay result in Blitz Pro turning into a watered down shadow of its former self. Hopefully next year’s version will restore some glory to this now tarnished franchise.