Review by Rottenwood
Still Not Quite There Yet
With the 'Madden' series enjoying a firm stranglehold on the football simulation market, companies have had to look outside the box to get their piece of the pigskin pie. Some competitors have tried to build a better mousetrap and beat 'Madden' at their own game. The folks behind 'Blitz,' on the other hand, decided to build a rocket launcher and make a big, gory mess. And thus, 'Blitz: The League' was born on the previous hardware generation, mixing the series' traditional arcade-style gameplay with an atmosphere based around football's seedy underbelly of dirty hits, illegal drug use, and foul language. Conceptually, the idea is perfect: the 'League' games provide an absolute ideal contrast to the squeaky-clean 'Madden' series, with a heavy dose of ribald humor and gory tackles. However, the original 'League' had some legitimate issues, ranging from long load times to sloppy A.I. Now that the series has landed on the new consoles, how has it held up?
For better or worse, little about the series has changed. The engine is more or less deja vu, providing the usual 1st and 30 'Blitz' gameplay where the average offensive play goes for 20+ yards. As in the original, your success in the game will depend heavily on your use of Clash, the energy meter that allows you to slow down time and make spectacular plays. Clash can be refilled with successful plays on offense or defense, but since it can be hard to have those without using Clash to begin with, there's still an element of 'feast or famine' where a team that runs out of Clash can be dead in the water. And naturally, Clash starvation is still the number one tactic in multiplayer. Unleashed feats are also back when you stockpile enough Clash moves, although their power has been toned down a tad. Rushers no longer seem to enjoy the period of invincibility after an Unleash, and Unleash passes can now be intercepted cleanly.
But who cares about offense? You want to hurt people, right? In that regard, 'Blitz' does not disappoint. The original was infamous for its intense injuries, but this new version goes way beyond even that level of bad taste. You'll see close-ups of torn shoulders gushing blood, skulls breaking in, and even certain tender male parts being ruptured in full 3-D. I normally credit the video gaming audience with relative immunity to the 'gross-out factor,' but I can see more than a few people being genuinely disturbed by the gory injuries on display here. You even get to repair your wounded players via simple mini-games where you 'juice' their wounds or snap bones back into place. I actually liked this feature and wouldn't have minded seeing it expanded a bit, but I can see why the developers wanted to keep it simple to get you back to playing football.
Gamers can expect the usual Quick Play and Multiplayer options, but the meat of the single-player experience is Campaign Mode. You'll take on the role of Franchise, a blue-chip college superstar who actually plays Ironman ball, meaning both offense and defense. You'll play for your hometown team (which you get to name and design) and start in the scrubby Division 3, and of course, work your way to the Division 1 championship over several seasons. Between games, you'll experience some story elements, including an overall plot regarding the League's commissioner, and some off-field shenanigans involving wine, women, and song. The game proudly touts that the writer(s) behind the T.V. show 'The Playmakers' scripted 'Blitz,' but I get the impression they weren't trying very hard. All of the elements - cocky rookie, crooked comissioner, slippery agent - are generic parts borrowed from previous games and movies. There's even a prison-ball game as an homage to 'The Longest Yard,' although the game at least acknowledges the reference.
The creation of your personal Franchise character is done via a press conference, where your answers determine his playing positions and initial statistic buffs. It's a pretty unique concept and I liked it, although the statistic gains become completely arbitrary once you start training your players, as a week's regular training can provide more point increases than the press conference options will. Football fans might also giggle at some of the positional combinations, like a Franchise that plays wide receiver on offense and defensive end on defense, where your build for one would probably exclude you from the other. But hey, it's a game.
The game's strongest creative aspect is the addition of Frank Calliendo (he of the ubiquitous 'Frank TV' commercials) doing his beloved John Madden impression on color commentary. Since 'Blitz' is often a parody of the NFL, it only makes sense to parody John Madden as well, and Calliendo is in fine form. Stating the obvious in a confused fog, rambling non-sequiturs, yelling out names of produce during fumbles... all good stuff. Unfortunately, the limited amount of material means you'll get repeats before long, and I've played entire games where Calliendo said nothing at all. Either the developers limited the Calliendo phrases to prevent as much repetition complaints as possible, or there are some audio problems, which I will discuss in detail in a bit.
The inept A.I. of the original has been fixed somewhat, at least once you move up into the better divisions. This is most noticeable in the pass defense, where the cornerbacks and safeties will ride your receivers heavily and often make aggressive plays at you or the ball. Constantly throwing to the same player (which you will probably do if your Franchise is a wide receiver) will end up in a lot of interceptions unless you mix things up. Unfortunately, rubber-band A.I. pops up, leading to computer players shaking off nine tackles or making absurd catches in double-coverage if you're ahead by a few touchdowns. And there's nothing more annoying, or goofy, than a ball carrier using a stiff-arm to completely floor a defensive player making a DIVING TACKLE, with no loss of momentum.
Graphically, 'League' is a mixed bag. Many areas are markedly improved from the original (as you would hope, with a hardware upgrade), but the sideline players and crowds still look pretty awful. The gory C.S.I.-style injuries look terrific, the players and cheerleaders look okay, and the weather effects are rather well done. The coating of rain and mud on both the field and players on a stormy day is great stuff and adds some true grit to an already-rugged game.
Sound-wise, you've got a decent selection of modern rock and hip-hop tracks. It's actually a step down from the original (which had one of the most underrated soundtracks ever, filled to the absolute brim with rock, rap, and even electronic gems from the underground) but it's very appropriate, and artists like Canibus and M.O.P. fit 'Blitz' like a glove. Calliendo and the play-by-play man do a bang-up job. Unfortunately, sound issues pop up, especially during endzone celebrations, where the various audio channels either interrupt each other or just cancel themselves out. This leads to moments of complete silence (other than the music) after a touchdown, or the second half of a Calliendo quip coming in after the touchdown dance is over.
Fans of the original will want to know what's new. Well, there are a bunch of new teams in the League, for starters. (This game, of course, does not use the NFL license, and all teams and players are fictional.) You can now pinpoint where to stick an injury during a dirty hit, although it can be hard to guess exactly which area injures what. You can assign medical staff to players with long-term injuries to help them come back faster. Oh, and you can input four-button codes when you score a touchdown to determine which celebration you use. As you can see, other than some minor touches and window dressing, not much has changed.
And in the end, it's that feeling of familiarity that keeps 'Blitz: The League 2' from greatness. The brutal arcade gameplay is still great fun, and as far as multiplayer games go, this one will be enjoyed both by the players and those watching simply to see some carnage, and humorous endzone dances. But games last about 10 minutes, and then you'll move on to something else. The Campaign mode isn't interesting enough to warrant multiple plays, either. My recommendation is the same that I had for the original: offer a lot more important choices to make during the off-field sequences, and more activities to do. Otherwise, 'Blitz' will soon be in the same rut that 'Madden' has rolled into.
Rating: 3.5 - Good
Product Release: Blitz: The League II (US, 10/13/08)
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