The Blitz franchise has always been a love or hate relationship with gamers. You are either a fan of the over-the-top arcade action the game delivers, or find it completely negated of any enjoyment for one reason or another. Blitz The League II takes everything that original set out to prove and amplifies it ten fold. The story mode is more fleshed out, there are an abundance of new modes and everything just screams “we improved all the complaints from reviewers last year”. So it is bewildering to me why this improved sequel still feels just shy of prominence. However, if you are a huge fan of the series Midway has definitely went all out to deliver one of the most visceral experiences you will encounter this holiday season.
The biggest change to the series when it donned the subtitle “The League” was the inclusion of a story mode penned by Peter Egan of Playmakers fame. The sequel continues this trend with a more fleshed out campaign mode that offers a few nice innovations, but mostly sticks to the formula laid by its predecessor. This time around you are thrust into the shoes of up-and-coming player Franchise as you create your own team, give them a name and logo and prepare to take on the league one team at a time. One of the cooler features this year for player customization is a mock press conference where your answers to a series of questions will determine your play style and attributes. This makes a lot more sense than manipulating a set of sliders and really draws you into the character.
The rest of the story mode will feel familiar to fans of the previous game. Blitz is centered around the dark side of the sport which means sponsors can be earned through sleeping with various women, players can be juiced using a variety of drugs and crushing someone’s spine is considered an accomplishment. You can still set wagers before each game to earn extra cash as well as earning bonus money for activities such as late hits, injuries and of course powerful offense. The themes surrounding Blitz are mature as the rating states, but it is the off-the-wall high jinks that give the game the charm it has.
The on-the-field action feels almost identical to last year’s game. First downs require thirty yards as opposed to ten, you can beat the snot out of players after the play is over and you can commit as much pass interference as you want anytime on the field. The pace is fast, the hits are brutal and the announcers are fantastic. Frank Caliendo lends his voice box to the game with his dead-on impersonation of John Madden. Hearing Madden belt out some truly crude comments is comedy gold and certainly balances out the atrocious announcer from last year’s game (even though he is still present here).
Pulling off big plays is crucial in Blitz so thankfully the game good on both sides of the ball. I found myself passing far more often in the beginning, but once I grasped how to perform the Unleashed moves I loved shedding tackles and injuring players in glorious slow-motion. Whenever you land a monster hit that causes an injury you are rewarded with a slow-mo cinema of a particular body part breaking. No matter how many times I witnessed these I still cringed. If the injury is minor enough you even get to attempt a mini-game such as re-aligning a dislocated shoulder with the analog sticks. This small addition goes a long way since your accuracy determines how many plays the player must remain out.
Outside of the core single-player campaign you can also throw down in quick play or test your skills in a variety of game types such as Buttafingaz and Prizon Ball. All of these are fun diversions from the core game and add to the primeval nature of the game. Midway has also brought back the online mode and it works surprisingly well. In our play tests there was almost no lag to speak of and the competition was fun and friendly enough to keep you playing for a while. My biggest concern is that the community for this game will likely fall quickly and without fresh blood on a regular basis the online could easily fall apart.
On the visual side the game runs at a blistering frame rate and sports some cool stadiums, but everything else still feels like last year. Player models are not up to snuff and their animations are middling at best. Its not that everything in Blitz The League II is ugly, it just feels like too much of the same from last year, kind of like it wasn’t given any polish in the final stages. Weather effects are lacking and even the blocky cheerleaders and grainy cut scenes take away from the overall presentation. The highlight of the sound though is definitely Frank Caliendo. His quips are entertaining, but they will repeat for too soon leaving you hearing the same stuff over and over long before the career comes to an end.
Blitz The League II arrives at a time when most of the things wrong with it stick out like a sore thumb. The game truly is a blast to play with friends and is a refreshing break from the stats and superfluous complexity of traditional pigskin titles. Midway has done a nice job of correcting most of the mistakes from last year’s game, but the sore visuals and lack of overall polish keep this game from achieving greatness. Still if you love beating the hell out of your opponents and cracking more bones than a Jet Li movie than Blitz The League II should satisfy your primal instincts for violence long into the winter months.