The last attempt at a pure arcade-style football game came from EA Sports in late 2009 with Madden NFL Arcade. It represented one of the first attempts by a sports developer to release a full-fledged offering digitally through XBLA and PSN. Though quite fun it ultimately didn’t extend much beyond just that and thus died off relatively quickly.
With NFL Blitz the company has hoped to resurrect a beloved franchise and provide more significant content to make for an ideal $15 package. They have succeeded in that goal but only to an extent as the handcuffs put on EA by the NFL, and the company’s inability to compensate for those imposed drawbacks, are painfully obvious.
Off the bat NFL Blitz appears as though it is the epitome of mediocrity. While quite faithful to Blitz of the past at some point it has to offer more than just being a rehash with modern-day graphics and controls. Content wise it achieves that but in terms of gameplay it’s simply a flat and uninspired experience.
Fun factor in arcade-style games is always going to be the central goal and NFL Blitz does offer a good time. The game is relatively easy to pick-up-and-play but there is that slight learning curve involved with getting a grasp of the controls and strategies. It’s always important to have that element of constant improvement to grasp at – otherwise games of the sort requiring little skill or that rely largely on luck are just aggravating.
The gameplay feels a bit slowed down especially when in the open field. Regardless of speed rating – even if its someone like DeSean Jackson or Mike Wallace – players will get run down by big lineman. In general the player differentiation is not well defined if present at all. You’d be hard-pressed to identify differing skill levels in players even if those in question would be a duo like Blaine Gabbert and Aaron Rodgers.
As dictated by the NFL there are no late hits in NFL Blitz, and though the series could survive without them, it really does contribute to the overall ‘sanitized’ feel that was also present with Madden Arcade and NFL Tour. The hit animations can be violent but rarely are over-the-top in nature outside of the occasional powerbomb. Celebrations too are really subdued and therefore completely forgettable.
In general the gameplay is pretty well balanced between offense and defense. On occasion, particularly online, games can turn out to be defensive battles. Driving down the field on offense is usually a very deliberate process rather than busting things open with big play after big play. That lack of breakaway speed – whether utilizing turbo or not – would be a big factor in that.
One thing that is bothersome is not being given any notification of what the offense is doing on 4th down. There is no way to see if they’ve called a normal play or a punt or field goal. The problem here is that in guessing wrong there is usually not enough time (or it’s not possible) to make the proper audible to defend the selection. The option is there though to wait out a tedious 10 seconds and have the CPU select the play for you which seems to take into account whether the opponent is going for it or not.
The outdated rosters can’t be overlooked – especially when players the caliber of Terrell Suggs and Rob Gronkowski are absent. Blitz desperately needs a roster update but it appears there are no plans to deliver one. It’s also worth noting once again that there are no left-handed throwers in the game so Tim Tebow and Michael Vick are right-handed (was the same way in Madden Arcade which is a more than a little suspicious). Jerseys are not selectable which means some confusion can occur when matchups feature white vs white or colored vs colored uniforms.
Gauntlet mode is the main offline campaign and involves playing through a series of games and ‘Boss Battles’ resulting in the unlocking of those special teams when defeating them. The mode is to be played through several times in order to unlock all of those ‘boss’ teams and your squad can involve any players in the game. The level of enjoyment here will come from getting those new teams but otherwise is dependent on how interested one is in playing the CPU. Games have been competitive thus far, and there are different difficulty levels, but ultimately playing the computer in this manner will wear thin for many people.
Elite League is the take on the popular Ultimate Team mode found in EA Sports’ sim titles. Here though there is no real money involved in the purchasing of card packs or management. ‘Blitz Bucks’ are earned by playing online games and given out in healthy amounts. Thankfully even losses provide ‘Bucks’ as it isn’t just about the winning result but coming out on top in various stat categories. Card packs in the mode are reasonably priced too and it’s easy to quickly build up a dynamic team and work on the ‘collections’ eventually reaching the opportunity to trade them in for ultra high rated versions of players. The mode also helps alleviate the frustration over outdated rosters but would have benefited greatly from having extra players to obtain.
The lack of player differentiation is the big downer as it relates to Elite League. When it’s hard to notice variances between players there’s really no excitement involved with getting new ones. When I pulled Adrian Peterson in a pack it wasn’t a big deal as Beanie Wells felt almost the same. There may be some advantages to the better rated players – Peterson would likely shed more tacklers with a stiff arm than a smaller back – but it’s so subtle that it removes that sense of achievement in building a team up and taking advantage of them online.
Online performance has been consistent and smooth. Kicking and punting can be difficult to get a feel for but the timing has seemed consistent in when to hit the button to compensate for any latency. Keep in mind there are some users online who will try different (fair in Blitz) tactics like constantly blitzing or taking out receivers right after the snap. There are counters to those though – an especially effective one is to use the motion man to block the manually controlled blitzer with the right trigger at the snap of the ball and buy some time that way.
NFL Blitz is showing to be a fun, though mediocre, reboot of the franchise. For $15 that may be all one wants or expects out of the package – with the apparent value coming from the various online modes (including co-op which I’ve yet to dig into) which do seem to have relatively strong replay factor. Look for the full “Hits and Misses” review of NFL Blitz to come early next week.