NFL Tour hands-on impressions

Posted December 16th, 2007 at 11:28 pm


I was able to get a substantial amount of time in with NFL Tour at the PR event over the weekend. Tour is a game designed for those who have found others such as Madden to be too complicated or just a change of pace from the simulation experience. It strives to be simplistic and easy to play while providing a fun time.

Tour has really turned out to be a fun game head-to-head but it isn’t going to provide a deep or nearly as satisfying experience from playing the CPU. That isn’t a knock on the game but just how all “arcade” style games tend to be. With the reduced price of $39.99 those who would like a pick-up and play type game that isn’t going to require hours of practice and button combo memorization should really enjoy it.

Before playing I had a number of questions about the game and for the most part was able to get closure on them. I have some of the details spread throughout my impressions.

Default the game is set to two minute halves. Time doesn’t run off the clock between plays so there are usually 2-3 possessions per team per half. There are four different levels of difficulty and it defaults to the second. I spent the majority of the time playing on the third which provided more of a challenge. The highest difficult really kept the game balanced and almost sim-like but didn’t seem as fun as the others.

There are a surprising amount of options that are given to change from the defaults. You can adjust the length of the half, whether you want to use Tour or Classic passing, whether you want to play a timed game or play to a certain score, or choosing the distance for a first down as just a couple examples. We had some discussion about how it might be fun to play by having to score in only four downs. So you can really vary the experiences you have by messing with the options they give you.

There are four different jerseys that can be worn. There are the team’s actual NFL jerseys, the Tour jerseys, the Tour T-Shirts, and Performance Gear.

The fields are all relatively similar although aspects such as the roofs, crowd placement, and field design vary slightly. Each has a surrounding setting representing the city that is being played in. There are 14 different venues: Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Kansas City, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Pittsburgh, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis, Washington DC.

One of the main questions I had going in was since each team is going to have their best players on the roster how much differentiation do you see between the players and the teams? This area was a pleasant surprise. Each team is rated on a 1-5 scale for offense and defense but even without seeing that it is clear just by how each team feels. Playing with the Saints is going to be a completely different challenge than playing with the Ravens. Beating the Patriots with the Dolphins is going to take playing a nearly perfect game. With individuals the superstars do play better than the lesser players on both offense and defense.

Ratings wise each player is visibly scaled on the following categories: Speed, Break Tackle, Blocks, O-Moves, Tackling, and D-Tech. You’ll definitely notice the difference between players high in a particular category and everyone else. Brian Westbrook is extremely quick but you’ll be able to break a lot more tackles as Brandon Jacobs. It may have been pure coincidence since there isn’t a category such as QB arm strength or accuracy but I picked off four Rex Grossman passes in one game while INTs were tougher to come up in the rest of the games.

How is the balance between offense and defense? That mainly depends on the difficulty level. This type of game though is certainly angled towards offense. Make a big play on defense such as an INT or turnover on downs and that could be the determining factor. Once you bump up the difficulty the defense starts to perform better.

I wondered about the unbalanced rosters by position such as how some teams have up to four receivers but others only have two. You’re locked into the same position players being on the field. So you can only use two WRs, one RB, one QB, and three OL on offense. On defense you get three DL, two CB, one LB, and one S. In three WR sets the RB lines up at WR.

There is one set of playbooks for every team. The offense has 44 different plays which can be viewed all together or by short pass, long pass, and run. The defense has 20 plays which can be viewed all together or by man, zone, or blitz. At first I thought the lack of plays would be a detriment but in a way it is a positive thing. This is a game that is played quick so flipping through pages of plays would’ve really slowed the pace and defeated the purpose. It would be cool to have more to choose from though. Maybe creating your own playbooks of 44 and 20 by choosing from a bunch of plays and putting them together for a personalized book would work well. For a game like this there are only a couple trick plays and you begin to identify what the opposing team is running by seeing how they’re lined up because everyone has the same plays.

There are some pretty cool animations and situations that happen only on rare occasions which enhances the excitement they provide. Things like deflected passes being caught by another player and diving or one-handed catches are a few examples.

Passing uses the Tour mode instead of what everyone is used to from Madden. It takes a little time getting used to but I really ended up liking it. Basically you are locked onto one receiver which is the A button (360). To switch to a different receiver you hit B and then would press A to pass to them. With only 2-3 options to throw to you can cycle through quick and almost in the mold of the vision cone you can use highlighting a receiver icon to pull someone playing manual defense away from the receiver you want to go to. You can switch to Classic passing which is Madden style.

There is no kicking or punting in the game so there are throwoffs instead of kickoffs and after scoring you have the option of going for one point from five yards out or going for two from 10 yards out. Generally everyone goes for two unless strategically the one point makes more sense based on the circumstances.

While there were a couple blowouts generally the games came down to the wire. Managing the clock and possessions is critical. On many occasions the games came down to who could or couldn’t score on the conversions.

It was disappointing to see how overtime was handled. There should be something like a college system where each team has a chance to score on a single play. Instead it is the NFL system of first team to score wins. And in Tour almost always that’ll be the team that gets the ball. I’m not sure how it was determined which team got the ball, but in the one game I played that went to overtime it jumped straight into OT and the road team received.

Gone is the Gamebreaker from NFL Street and it is replaced by the Smash Meter. You can fill that up by executing a lot of reversals and intercepting passes. The defense can call on the Smash when it is full and for a single play they are juiced up which leads to a good chance for a forced fumble. Unfortunately there is an easy way for the Smash play to be nullified by the offense so that it is practically useless. I’m sure that people will figure out what that is pretty quickly.

I didn’t get into the single player Tour mode at all. This really feels like a head-to-head game and I doubt I would play much of it otherwise. It’s one of those games that you can just throw in for a short period of time and have fun trash talking your opponent. Without that element it would probably feel a little empty but that is usually the case with these type of games.

Despite that I feel that Tour has more replay value than a game like NBA Street. There aren’t as many frustrating situations because the game goes back and forth so quickly. You’re not going to be wasting time running around while someone else is trying to rack up trick points or whatever. It’s just straight forward football and usually is competitive.

The mini-games were not what I had expected. I didn’t go in with high expectations of them but I was surprised that they simply weren’t any fun. This is especially the case with Smash and Dash. I played that once and I don’t think I’ll ever do it again. After that I wasn’t too annoyed that the mini-games aren’t included online.

Hopefully the online play is smooth because this would be a great game to play on there. If it is I’ll probably run an NFL Tour league. With the games only taking 10-15 minutes to play on default it is a lot easier to commit to it and arrange for games to be played unlike Madden where people have to set aside about an hour for a single game.

If there is a sequel to this game I hope they add things such as custom playbooks, better rosters, online co-op, and a new overtime system.

Overall with the lower price of NFL Tour it feels like a really solid value. I played so much of this game often times I said that each one would be the last but when it would end I’d go on to play again. Tour may not have the depth of strategy that fellow “arcade” title The BIGS had, but it provided some of the same feeling that I got from that. It is all about simplicity and fun and to me that is something that I’ve come to realize has been missing from sports gaming over the past few years. Because of that Tour is a welcome addition and will fill that football gaming void.