October 13, 2008

Are you one of those people who are convinced that the Madden football series has not changed significantly since the beginning of the decade? Are you tired of shelling out full price for a slightly glossier look, non-essential game mechanic add-ons and updated rosters, year after year? Would you like football any better if it involved power bombs and nut shots, rather than penalties straight from the “No Fun League?” These are the questions that Midway asks with the latest installment in their Blitz football series, Blitz: The League II.

Though the questions are certainly worthy of an eyebrow raise and interest from those who are disenchanted with EA Sports long running (and best-selling) franchise, there are some issues with the game. Midway manages to deliver on some of their promises, but the failure to deliver a worthwhile football experience holds the game back from being better than it is, and may keep many from trading in their freshest copies of Madden or canceling plans to reserve next year’s edition.

There is plenty that works here though, if you are in the market for some football. First of all, the ability to pull out all the stops — late hits, cheap shots, brutal tackles that look more like wrestling moves than football ones, the blatant cheating on field — is fun, because it is not real. I would not want to see any more pronounced cheating than what we are used to seeing every Sunday in the NFL on television, but when it’s in the realm of video games, it’s entertaining and a quality game hook.

The “Franchise” mode also has its merits, though you will easily beat it in a day or two if you stick with it. You create a player — one who is not nearly as fun as the mode he is a part of, but more on that later”"and then attempt to become the biggest star in the league, one who will enable the Blitz universe to live on thanks in part to it’s larger than life icon. There are ways to become famous without necessarily dominating the league: want some extra cash? Bet on the games, and keep within the spread in order to rake in money you can use to buy steroids for your team in order to improve their in-game performance.

Earn promotions and sponsorships by turning your “Franchise” player into a household name, and follow the advice of your agent, voiced excellently by Jay Mohr — in order to succeed. The gameplay is more intriguing here than it is in a random game, since there is more on the line — specifically, beating your opponent but upholding the spread, making sure your franchise player (who works on both sides of the ball) gets enough touches, and following the story, which has its moments.

As far as the gameplay goes, outside of the killer tackling and hits, you can slow down the action and maneuver around your opponents in order to gain a few extra yards or break free for a touchdown. “Unleashed” plays, which you earn by pulling off moves in your slowed down state, are momentum changes, but be warned, the AI will utilize these as often as you do, so you will need to get the hang of them quick to stay in the game.

Jay Mohr is not the only voice actor that adds to the game, as Frank Caliendo takes his Madden impression into Blitz and does a wonderful job. He’s an even more ridiculous version of Madden as usual, and his commentary adds to the in-game experience significantly; that is, until you have heard everything he has to say (which is not much at all) over and over again.

If those positives are enough to sell you on the title, consider the negatives. The graphics, while obviously an upgrade over the original version of the game on last-gen consoles, are not up to par with Madden’s offering, and the player models look odd in a glossy way, especially in the rain. Some of the gimmicks that are supposed to make the game seem more “hardcore” lose their appeal quickly.

For instance, the game zooms in on a breaking bone or torn muscle as they happen, which is effective the first few times, but when you play a team that has late hits and cheap shots on every play, you get tired of seeing the same thing repeatedly, not to mention the fact that you lose many of these players for quarters, games or weeks at a time.

Playing against the AI is another drawback. They seem to be more interested in snapping your players in half than winning, which has its positives and negatives. First off, there’s no real challenge once you pick up the basics of the game, as you can dart and weave amongst their defense at will when you start to master slow down and the Unleashed maneuvers. It’s nice to win, but it’s better to feel accomplished for doing so, and the AI does not allow that in Blitz; it’s tough to lose any game where you can easily throw a 60 yard pass at any time and succeed because they want your quarterback to be broken into pieces, and therefore keep coverage light.

Thankfully, there is an online mode that works effectively, so there is never a shortage of human opponents to play, and though they may be interested in crushing you under their cleats as much as the AI wants to, at least you know you are playing to win in this mode.

This is the downside to playing a Franchise, as the games come off as less entertaining than the other portions of the mode. It does not help things that your created player goes beyond campy and cheesy and straight into annoying when he speaks; his dialogue is awful (but thankfully offset by Mohr’s solid work much of the time) and more choices for personality would have been a positive, rather than being stuck with the one type.

Overall, Blitz: The League II is not a bad game, as there is plenty to keep you interested if you want a change of pace on the football scene. The late, cheap hits and mature setting to the story are a serious turnaround from what you are used to playing other football games, but the football itself is at times lacking in structure and effectiveness. It’s worth a purchase if you need to play football, but if you are just looking for something to play and are short on cash, this holiday season is loaded with better places to spend your money.

About The Author

Marc Normandin was gaming editor of Blast from 2008 to mid-2010. You can reach him via e-mail at [email protected], or follow him on Twitter @Marc_Normandin

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