NFL Head Coach 09 hands-on report

Posted May 29th, 2008 at 10:00 pm

As mentioned in the live blog, NFL Head Coach is a difficult game to assess after a handful of hours. This game is packed full of options to an almost overwhelming degree. The session began with a producer presentation which stretched on for about 45 minutes as they discussed different areas and answered some questions. Even after all that time there was many aspects of the game that hadn’t been touched on. That really is a testament to how much thought went into the making of the game.

Initially it is an awkward feeling to have nothing to control while a play is actually taking place. It just isn’t a natural reaction to sit back and let things happen. But the amount of control you have around each play is impressive. You can make adjustments before the snap by pressing a button which brings up the options, can make substitutions on the fly, and can even create plays right there. Something to consider is that the game stops when you are creating plays, so it isn’t as though you’re fighting the play clock when you make them.

Graphically the game looks great, a lot like Madden though maybe not receiving some of the improvements that Madden 09 has gotten. You do get to watch the action from several different camera angles. The sidelines and coach scenes add to the feel along with the dialogue which isn’t forced and gets right to the point. While graphically it is comparable to Madden they built the sim engine from the ground up. So just as how teams play as they should, their stats will represent that even when simmed as well. The default game is run with 15 minute quarters and accelerated clock which provides a realistic number of plays and stats.

The play creator, which allows you to export those you’ve created into Madden, is really well executed. Russell was putting together some pretty crazy plays after only a few minutes. What you do is select a play with Y, which is the play editor option, and that pulls up that play but gives you the opportunity to change things around. You can move the players, sub in someone on the bench, change their route, assign them to motion, and set the route progression. On defense you’ll have a wide array of choices there as well. You will get a warning if what you have represents an illegal formation. They also decided not to limit what you can do. So if you want to have a play with guys out of their normal position you can do that. You can create the plays on the fly during a game or from outside of a game which gives you the ability to test it out against different defenses and make adjustments.

Even better is that Gamernet will allow for play sharing. You can upload plays you created or download ones on the server. As soon as you download a play it is added to your playbook and can be used immediately.

I did take the time to run through a draft, although I didn’t do much preparation and rushed through it for the most part. The draft process is really fun and interactive. It runs in real time though you can easily advance it to the next pick or your next pick. Trading options are always a possibility. You can attempt to trade up or down. When you do that you’ll go to a screen where usually several teams have offers made or suggested. So there will be something like 15 different trade packages ranging from favoring you to favoring them. You can then choose one to offer, and they’ll either accept or counter it. During the draft you can also attempt to guess another team’s pick, will see instant reaction in a poll which shows how the fans reacted to each pick. All the while Adam Schefter and Todd McShay will pop up in the corner with reaction to the latest news which is really cool and many times is player specific.

When it comes to signing free agents there were a couple times I jumped into negotiations. Though I had simmed up to the draft I did it with one undrafted rookie, the drafted rookies, and signing one free agent. It is a relatively quick process since the clock runs down and some interested teams will drop out when the price gets too high. With the draft picks you can work on their deals early or push them off until later. The live style bidding is something I didn’t get to do much of but it seems to work pretty well.

Answering a few questions that I remember off the top of my head. You can edit a player’s position in career mode, though you can’t edit their position for just “coach now” games. I wasn’t able to check if watching CPU vs CPU is possible. There is no plan for a PAL release of Head Coach or the Madden collector’s edition. There is no head-to-head offline (no way all the info could fit on the screen) but they do have it for online. There have been some discussions inside the studio about an NCAA Football Head Coach though it is probably dependent on how well NFL is received and if there is interest out there for it.

Online play is done with the SuperSim, so you won’t see the on-field action. That will speed up the games as you’ll only be choosing plays. I’m not sure how much people will enjoy that. While the quicker games is a positive much of what makes up Head Coach is done through the game micromanagement. There will be roster updates throughout the year so that is good news for the online area.

Here are the sliders that are available. Offense: QB accuracy, pass blocking, WR catching, HB ability, Run blocking. Defense: Awareness, Knock downs, Interceptions, Break Block, Tackling. Special Teams: FG power, FG accuracy, Punt power, Punt accuracy, Kickoff power. In settings you can adjust sliders for penalties.

Top player ratings below (may not necessarily be final). Keep in mind that the ratings will be affected by the coach/scheme they are playing in. These are just the standard ones that would be used in “coach now” and how they would begin in career if they were on their current teams.

Tom Brady 99
Peyton Manning 98
LaDainian Tomlinson 97
Walter Jones 97
Randy Moss 96
Carson Palmer 96
Champ Bailey 96
Steve Smith 96
Jared Allen 96
Bob Sanders 95
Chad Johnson 95
Alan Faneca 95
Ed Reed 95
Tony Romo 94
Troy Polamalu 94
Chris McAlister 94
Terrell Owens 94
Andre Johnson 94
Nnamdi Asomugha 94
Reggie Wayne 94

A few others of note: Eli Manning 89, Antonio Cromartie 89, Darren McFadden 90, David Garrard 90, Marcus Trufant 91, Adrian Peterson 92, Patrick Kerney 92, Asante Samuel 92, Plaxico Burress 93, Braylon Edwards 93

I expect that ultimately I’ll end up much more interested in the off-the-field activities than the actual game management. Others may really enjoy that side of things, I just doubt I’ll have the patience to run through many games in each season. That is one of the nice things about Head Coach 09 though, you can basically tailor the experience to whatever you want.

Head Coach needs to be played in a more comfortable and less time constricted environment to really get into it. I hope that I’ll get a copy before it releases with Madden to offer the community much more. There was so much that I simply couldn’t get to.

So check on the live blog from Thursday for some other details I noted and feel free to re-ask any questions I may not have covered. I know there were a lot that I had hoped to address but may not have had the opportunity. I have more videos to show over the weekend including play creating, some gameplay, and coaches.