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Game Over Online ~ NFL Fever 2004

GameOver Game Reviews - NFL Fever 2004 (c) Microsoft Game Studios, Reviewed by - Stephen Riach

Game & Publisher NFL Fever 2004 (c) Microsoft Game Studios
System Requirements Xbox
Overall Rating 80%
Date Published Wednesday, September 10th, 2003 at 08:12 PM

Divider Left By: Stephen Riach Divider Right

With Week 1 of the NFL season in the books, there’s no better time to start your own virtual gridiron campaign. Entering a third season of its own on the Xbox, Microsoft Game Studios’ pigskin franchise has had an up and down career thus far. As a rookie, it impressed with its fast-paced arcade style of play, crisp visuals and outstanding sound. Its sophomore effort was disappointing in comparison, little more than a roster update with added Xbox Live support. So what does the 2004 campaign have in store for football fans? Huddle up and we’ll break it down.

NFL Fever 2004 worked on a number of things this off-season. The passing game, for one, has been enhanced to include multiple passing modes. Fever veterans will already be familiar with the One Button Passing controls, and the new Trigger Passing scheme is a slight variation on that theme. Instead of using the colored buttons to pass to a receiver, they’ll be used to select a receiver. The right trigger is then used as the throwing mechanism. The advantage of Trigger Passing is more control over the height of the pass since the trigger is much more sensitive than the buttons.

Rounding out the pass attack is a Read and Lead Passing method that is by far the most challenging and rewarding of the three. Here, the colored buttons are again used to select a receiver. However, once a receiver has been selected, a passing target will appear on the field, which you move around using the right analog stick. The trick is to place the target ahead of your receiver, thereby leading him to where you want him to catch the ball; hence the Read and Lead label. You can also make the receiver break his route and simply follow the target. Again, the right trigger is used as the throwing mechanism. The advantage of this mode is total control over the passing game. Read and Lead requires a lot of dexterity in order to select a receiver and move the target, while avoiding the pass rush and keeping an eye on the secondary, so you’ll likely want to keep this mode on the sidelines until you’ve spent some time with it at the practice facility.

On the defensive side of the ball, the secondary has received a much-needed boost. In the past, the NFL Fever franchise has been very pass-friendly, resulting in inflated statistics for both quarterbacks and receivers. In this year’s edition, the cornerbacks and safeties are much more aggressive; making better adjustments on the fly, knocking down passes, and defending the money plays with more efficiency.

At the line of scrimmage, the running game hasn’t changed all that much. I suppose the old adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” applies here, but the defensive backs still seem to have that sixth sense when it comes to stopping the run. The biggest difference you’ll notice on the field is the speed of play, which is noticeably slower than previous years. Perhaps it’s an indication of an overall shift from arcade to a more simulation-based football experience. The default setting is great for novice players, but a bit low for seasoned veterans. If you’re in the later category, you’ll likely want to adjust it.

Over the years, critics have argued that the playbook has never been a strong point in the NFL Fever series, but I tend to disagree. Do they really think NFL teams are going to hand over their playbooks so Microsoft Game Studios’ can accurately recreate their offensive and defensive schemes? Puh-lease. The West Coast offence isn’t a defined set of plays, it’s a style of play. If you want to emulate it, run your offence predominantly through short passes. Now, could the playbook be larger? Absolutely. In fact, it should be something the developers mark on their to-do lists, but it doesn’t mean you can’t run the style of offence or defence that you want, to some degree. With that gripe aside, playcalling has been strengthened this season. The playbook contains new folders where you can store your favorite plays for easy access, as well as recall recent plays. There’s even an assistant coach that you can call upon for advice. At the line of scrimmage, calling an audible is a familiar exercise, but you can also change the hot route of your running back if you spot a bad match-up, and vice verse on the defensive side of the ball, where you can shift your defensive line at the touch of a button.

Visually, NFL Fever 2004 continues to shine. New player animations have been added, including some new tackle and tackle-avoiding moves, and the player models themselves have been given some much-needed attention in order to look more like their real-life counterparts. You’ll even find animated coaches and cheerleaders roaming the sidelines. Kevin Calabro joins Ron Pitts in the play-by-play booth for another campaign, but the chemistry they shared last season is noticeably weaker in NFL Fever 2004. Their commentary ranges from generic to just plain dumb. I don’t know if it’s because they didn’t spend as much time in the studio, or whether they had a poorly written script to work with. Either way, the announcing needs improvement.

NFL Fever 2004 marks the launch of XSN, the Xbox Sports Network. This exciting feature allows players to take their NFL Fever experience to the web. By logging onto, armchair quarterbacks can join user-created leagues and tournaments (or create their own), view game results and player stats, and send messages to other XSN Sports members. Online play is taken to the next level in NFL Fever 2004, in what is easily its strongest feature.

With the new additions, NFL Fever 2004 has gained some yards on the competition, but there’s still room for improvement. I know NFL Fever doesn’t have a college franchise to draw players from, like the Madden NFL franchise does, but the Dynasty mode could be a little deeper none the less. The play-by-play needs a boost and the playbook could be a little thicker too. With that said, if you’re looking to take your Xbox football experience online for some head-to-head competition, NFL Fever is your go-to receiver.


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