When EA sports bought the exclusive rights to the NFL, there were a lot of unhappy football fans around the videogame world. Granted, most football gamers played Madden anyway, but what were the folks who didn’t particularly care for EA’s offering supposed to do? Developers on the other hand were faced with two major choices. Do they ignore the football game market without the NFL license, or do they capitalize on market without the aid of arguably the most recognizable sports license in the United States?
Luckily Midway decided to continue their hugely successful Blitz franchise without the NFL’s backing. Not only did they produce a highly enjoyable experience, they managed to do something that motivational speakers have been preaching about for years. They turned a negative, into a positive. They took all of the hot button issues that would have been deemed too controversial for an officially licensed game, and threw them into Blitz: The League. The result is a fast paced, edgy, gritty take on the game that really does a great job of immersing the player in the game world.
Blitz presents several different modes for you to sink your teeth into, from standard quickplay exhibition matches to online multiplayer. However the meat and potatoes of Blitz: The League is the new Campaign mode. This mode is akin to combining the franchise mode you are used to in sports games, with a television drama series (in fact, it’s clear from playing the game that the ESPN series “Playmakers” was a huge influence on BTL).
The owner of your team is fed up with losing games, and decides to completely overhaul the team. You are charged with starting from scratch, and bringing the team from the bottom of Division 3, all the way to the Division 1 championship. You are given free reign to pick a team logo, a team name, and location. After you’ve picked these, you will be asked to design the team uniform, using a surprisingly deep selection of designs and colors. Then you are asked to pick a stadium. Each of the stadium choices presented gives a different benefit to your team, or detriment to your opposition. After you pick where you play, you get the opportunity to select a coaching staff. The choices that you make here tilt the balance of your team between aggressive and conservative, as well as more run heavy or pass heavy. Following coach selection, you’ll get to pick a veteran player and a rookie player, who will have major roles in the story of your teams success or failure. This limited selection process may feel a little on the weak side to gamers used to the sim heavy micromanagement of other franchise modes, but it’s simplicity is a welcome addition for gamers who don’t want to be overwhelmed with decisions. Campaign mode is substantially more shallow in the stats and management department than most other sports games, but it’s not really about that in BTL.
Once you begin the campaign, you will notice that this isn’t your typical football game. You employ a trainer, who can hook your guys up will all forms of performance enhancements, both legal and illegal. Want to win the BALCO way? Juice your guys up with illegal enhancements, just don’t be surprised if they get injured more often, or if they blow their top. Each player that is on an enhancement is measured on a scale of stability. If they stay clean they don’t have to worry about getting in trouble, but they may not perform to their full potential. Dope them to the max and they may be machines on the field, but their health and mental condition will suffer. Gameplay choices like this are one of the main ways that Midway has made the most out of the fact that they no longer use the NFL license, and definitely make the game more intriguing. Star players will get in trouble, chase women, and basically do all the things that the more immoral athletes in the real game do. This lends a gritty, dramatic edge to a genre and game type that often gets bogged down in emotionless stat tracking.
Once the play on the field starts, you will notice that rather than present itself like a TV broadcast, BTL tries to make you feel like you are really on the field. Graphically, the game looks great, but it’s not particularly ground breaking. The on field cut scenes are mostly well done, although I could have done without the wisecracking coach in the box. One area where the presentation really shines is during hits that injure players. When the player is injured on a hit, the game slows down and turns the screen red. On impact, the game uses the “Romeo Must Die” trick of zooming in to an x-ray of the injured body part as it breaks. Words can’t express how cool it is to see a player hit the ground, then watch an X-ray of his shoulder separating. In fact it’s so cool, that it wouldn’t shock me if EA implements it into their next iteration of Madden.
Of course a game is only as good as it plays, and fans of the series will feel right at home with BTL. The game is as fast and arcade style as ever. The controls, while not as tight as Madden’s or the late ESPN series, still feel capable enough given the speed of play involved. Jukes, Stiff-arms, and crushing hits on defense are all present, and made ten times more interesting by utilizing the Clash meter. Big plays and big yards build up the meter, which players can then activate by using the Left Trigger. Holding the trigger while running, for example, will cause a player to do more powerful stiff arms and jukes. As much fun as it is to stiff arm that safety before he can drag you down, its much more fun to be on the other side. Using the trigger on defense allows players to do dirty hits, which have the potential to injure the ball carrier. Too many dirty hits, and you will activate the Brawl mode, where the teams will each attempt to late hit each other in an on field free-for-all. Earn enough clash icons, and you can activate Unleash mode. This is an extremely helpful boost, that can turn the tide of the game in one play. Specialty hits, and awesome offensive plays can be triggered while your players are Unleashed. The kicking game is really the only negative as far as gameplay goes, as the over simplified “DDR” style button presses lead to low degrees of control over kicks and easy field goals.
In the sound department, Blitz doesn’t exactly wow, but it is definitely adequate. Midway got the legendary Lawerence Taylor to voice a character, but other than his dialogue, the rest of the voice acting is standard fare. The music is also a pretty standard mix of rock and rap, like most sports games. Sound effects on the field are very well done. Everything from the sound of the kickoff, to the brutal sound of a dirty hit is captured in such an extravagant way that it really adds to the over the top presentation of the game.
The intriguing campaign mode alone is worth the purchasing Blitz: The League for, and the ability to unleash your ’roided up super team on your friends over X-box live only adds to the replay value. BTL is definitely not for the 15 year franchise, NFL obsessed, stat tracking, sim minded football fan. However, if you are looking for a fun football game that captures the more gritty and violent side of the game, it is definitely worth picking up.