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NFL Blitz 20-02 (Xbox) Review

Background Info

Screens (25)
If you've never played NFL Blitz before, allow me to let you in on a little secret: Blitz 2002 is a loud, aggressive, and highly addictive game. Okay, so maybe that wasn't much of a "secret," but here's the catch: it's so loud, aggressive, and addictive that it can suck in even the most run-oriented, defensive-minded football junkie around.

Midway has always had its mind set on creating a football game that breaks from traditional sim-oriented gameplay and strive to capture some of the "flash and pizzazz" that cover boy Charles Woodson is known for. Think of Madden as the NFL and Blitz as its XFL counterpart, only without Jesse Ventura in the press box and lesbian action among its cheerleaders (Midway did include some nice looking cheerleaders, though - don't you worry).

If you can buy into Blitz's offensive gameplan, and if you enjoy some serious testosterone with you pigskin, then it'll be easy to see why it's not always a bad thing that Mr. Woodson and friends aren't exactly playing shutdown defense in the newest NFL Blitz.

Presentation/Graphics: 92
I'm not going to bore you with all kinds of polygon counts on player models and stadiums, but I will tell you one neat fact that says it all about the graphics in this version of Blitz: the arms of the players in 2002 have more polygons in them than the entire player models of old. The arms! Players have all been modeled in the familiar Blitz style, with gigantic arms and legs and Barbie-doll waists. Even my boy Ted Washington looks like he's slimmed down a few pounds, although Midway was kind enough to give most of the linemen guts that somewhat match their real-life girth. Every player looks as though he's a member of the Ken Caminiti/Jose Canseco health club, and in Instant Replay mode you can zoom in and really see how incredibly jacked these guys are. As far as I'm concerned, Midway has definitely got it right when it comes to the player models. For this brand of football, you need superhero-like players who look like they can fly across the screen and inflict some serious damage on each other.

Don't think the fun stops with the models - the animations in this game are incredible, with various player moves coming together almost seamlessly. Guys are constantly picking each other up and slamming opponents into the ground, and it looks real. Motion capture was used to make all of the action look as realistic as possible, even to the point where one of the actors cracked a rib on a body slam in the studio (if you look closely, you'll see one of the players grab his ribs as he's getting off the ground - now that's good motion capture).

I was also very impressed with the way this ultra-fast game moves all over the field without virtually any slowdown. You may notice a little stuttering coming out of certain plays when a high number of players appear onscreen, but this only happens two or three times a game and has yet to affect the gameplay.

Your fifty dollars will also get you some great looking stadiums and field textures. You'll immediately be able to figure out what stadium you're at in the beginning of each game. The grass appears to have many layers to it. I do have two small gripes here however. First, with the default camera angle you see almost none of the stadium. I know you can change the angle and have fun with the instant replay cameras, but if Midway is going to make the stadiums as nice as they are they should find another way to show them off. Second, the difference between indoor turf and outdoor grass is almost unnoticeable. Again, this isn't a huge problem and I know it doesn't affect gameplay one bit, but as I said before, if you're going to all the trouble to make lifelike grass, why not put the same amount of effort into the turf as well?

As you play more games you will also notice quite a few walk-throughs involving players, referees, and goal posts, as well as an unusually large football. All in all, I was very impressed with the graphics that Blitz has to offer. It looks like a cross between NFL Fever and NFL 2K2, with buff, angular player models and rich colors and textures. I think 2002 takes the graphics bar up a notch and looks just about as good as any football game I've ever seen.

Presentation/Audio: 73
Think fast. How many men does it take to put together an awesome sound package for a sports video game? Give up? You should, because it's a trick question - "awesome" sound in a sports video game has never been done before. Sega Sports seems to have cornered the market on really good sound and commentary, but I'll give the people behind Blitz credit on this one for at least making me laugh. There's a good and a bad here, so I'll start with the good. Nothing beats the moans and groans of players in this game. When Brian Urlacher absolutely punishes Randy "I'll-play-hard-when-I-want-to" Moss coming over the middle, you can almost hear the bones breaking in his skinny little body. It's a great feeling. The player and announcer taunts are pretty good as well, although I still wish they had been able to get Mike Tyson's comment about eating his opponent's children into the game. That would strike fear into any man. The banter between Tim and Bill in the booth can be very funny at times, but therein lays the problem: the commentary and on-field taunts become so repetitive after a while that you almost want to turn the audio off. You will quickly tire of hearing players yell "We're number one!" and hearing Bill and Tim joke around about getting nachos. This is a problem with all sports games, but Blitz really seems to suffer from needless repetition. With the exception of some great on-field crunches and cracks, along with some pretty good menu music, the audio for this version of Blitz is rather bland.

Interface/Options : 80
If you've played the Blitz series, this score might seem a little low at first. The menus are incredibly easy to navigate, and everything in the game feels well laid-out. The four main game modes - Quickplay, Exhibition, Season, and Tournament - are explained on the Main Menu screen as you select them, and all of the submenus do a good job of walking you through the pre-game setup. If you're familiar with the Xbox controller layout, then you should have no problems navigating through the various modes of Blitz 20-02.

The reason this score is low concerns the lack of true customization available for this game. Sure, you can change all of the standard stuff like time of day, weather, quarter length, etc., but as far as gameplay goes, you're out of luck if you wish to customize it in any significant way. I realize that sliders are only for certain people and/or game companies, but I think Blitz would appeal to more people if it allowed gamers to experiment with certain gameplay features (like cornerback coverage ability!). You have three main levels of play to choose from, but no way to alter smaller aspects of play within each main level. And while the Blitz franchise has never been interested in career modes, it would be cool if you were allowed to trade players between teams or even create your own players in order to make competition more fun. As much as I loved playing a season with my Bears, I would have really liked to be able to get rid of Jimmy Miller and get a better QB for my team. Alas, such an option is completely unavailable in this game, and I feel that it does detract from any prolonged interest in the Season mode - but I'll say more about that later.

Gameplay : 85
Now we're getting to the nuts and bolts of this review. Blitz football is Blitz football, and if you haven't enjoyed it before, you probably should turn and look away now. I'm going to be honest: when I first started playing this game, I did not enjoy it. I like to run the ball, and I couldn't find any good running plays. I like to play aggressive, smash mouth defense, and I couldn't stop anyone from scoring on me. Most of all, I like to feel as though I am in control of every part of my team's performance, and I felt like 2002 just wasn't allowing me the full range of control I was looking for. But as I got more comfortable with the game, experimenting with certain offensive formations and trying out all sorts of new defensive plays, I really grew to enjoy my time playing it.

There are two main things to keep in mind while playing Blitz, and once you've mastered these two areas, you'll be won over just like me. The first involves mastery of the Xbox controller, and the second involves mastery of your team's offensive and defensive playbooks. I'll start with the controller issue, and then work my way into a more general discussion of gameplay and the playbook situation.

As far as the controller setup goes, the controls for Blitz 20-02 are very basic. On offense, it is pretty difficult to get confused when using the basic "point and shoot" control scheme. Point and shoot is exactly as it sounds: after you hike the ball (A button) and drop back to pass, receivers will flash as they become open. In order to hit an open receiver, you must move the thumbstick/directional pad in the general direction of that receiver and press the pass button (the B or the X button). After using this for a couple of games, I became very frustrated with my inability to hit open WRs when I wanted to. So then I changed to what they call "Blitz Icon Passing", where you hold down the L trigger during the play to see button icons over the heads of your receivers. Then you simply press the corresponding button to throw to the receiver you want. This scheme gave me much better control of my offensive passing attack, and I found the Controller-S to be very helpful in using this sort of passing system. On defense, the controls are much easier to use, with only three buttons to remember: the change player button (X or B), the tackle button (Y or A), and the turbo trigger (the R trigger, same as on offense). There are all sorts of special moves to be made in Blitz 20-02, from hook slides to high hurdles, but these require the pushing of several buttons and, again, should only be used after you have become very familiar with the basic controls.

Now that I've told you how to make the guys move, I'm sure you're still wondering how Blitz plays. I can sum it up in one word: FAST. This game is not for the faint of heart, but that's a good thing. On offense, QBs are limited to 60 yard passes, so moving in big chunks is key in order to gain the 30 yards needed for first downs. And while 30 yards sounds like a lot, if you can avoid big sacks, then moving the ball up and down the field is fairly easy. Each team has a giant playbook at its disposal, and as I said before, you would be well advised to learn the plays and formations inside and out before moving up to higher levels of play. You can get by with using five or six different plays on the Easy level, but on Medium and Hard you will have to mix it up a bit more to be successful. You also need to take advantage of what Midway calls your "Impact Player", who is basically another offensive or defensive player you can have do a number of things. When calling your plays, you can press the white or black button to change the assignment of your Impact Player - from blocking or deep routes on offense to blitzing or zone coverage on defense. This player is usually a wide receiver or running back on offense and a safety on defense. (With the Atlanta Falcons, however, it's Michael Vick ...go figure.) The use of this player is an important part of success on both sides of the ball, and you would be wise to mix up his roles in order to confuse your opponent.

Running the ball is accomplished mainly with QB sprints and screen passes, but you can gain 15-20 yards a crack if you do it well. Don't be surprised if you can actually do better running the ball than airing it out, as interceptions are everywhere and you can avoid costly fumbles by leaping out of bounds. But passing is still the bread and butter of the Blitz game, with tons of pass plays in your offense and tons of pass-stopping play in your defense.

Success seems to be most easily achieved when a little patience is mixed in with the chaos and you dink and dunk your way downfield. Long gains are nearly impossible to count on, as your player's Turbo meter will assuredly run out before he can hit pay dirt and the defense can catch up in a flash. Paying close attention to the Turbo meter is important, but don't get too conservative with it unless you plan on losing big time.

Playing against the CPU is okay in Blitz 2002, but money plays abound and you can run certain variations of the same play over and over again with equal success. Only on the Hard level do you really have to think to outsmart the CPU, and even there a little bit of trickeration goes a long way. Stopping the CPU on defense is another story. Turnovers are about the only way to keep your offense on the field, and even though they happen all the time, you will still wind up feeling hopeless on "D" more than you wish.

The real money for Blitz 2002 comes in the multiplayer games, where you can challenge a friend in Exhibition mode or many friends in Tournament mode. Nothing beats talking smack with the person right next to you, and it is guaranteed you will lose many nights of sleep with friends trying to prove who's king of the Blitz. All in all, if you want the absolute best Blitz experience, you have to play against a human opponent. All of the same little flaws with money plays and heavy turnover ratios are present in multiplayer mode, but it makes you feel a little bit better when it's happening to your buddy as well as to you.

Replay Value : 60
There is only one reason to keep playing Blitz after you've gone through a season or two, and that's the multiplayer game modes. Sure, you can play seasons against the CPU and see what you're made of. The various levels of play seem to be just about right for challenging good players, as I went undefeated with the Bears on Easy, finished two games over .500 with the Eagles on Medium, and quit a season after dropping three straight with the Rams on Hard. I am sure there are better players than me out there who could go undefeated on the Hard level, but my sampling showed me that Midway got it right when stepping up the level of competition at each notch. But without any career mode and with only four modes of play (including only one that really invites any long-term interest from the single player perspective), I just can't give Blitz a higher score for Replay Value. It's a great game to spend a couple of weeks with in Season Mode, but then the only draw remains the Exhibition/Tournament modes that suck without a human opponent.

This in no way reflects on the fun of playing Blitz 2002, but instead on the lack of staying power its development team decided to give it.

Overall : 83
I know that Blitz has always been the Anti-Madden, with Midway priding itself on creating the most over-the-top football game imaginable. This game takes the Steve Spurrier/Mike Martz offensive philosophy - PASS, PASS, and PASS again - and mixes it with a lethal combination of steroids and fire in order to give the most barbaric fan what they want.

If you think this review sounds like a little "Blitz bashing," then hold on a minute. I admit that Blitz 20-02 is not my brand of football. I have always preferred more sim-oriented games, enjoying the art of outsmarting my opponent just as much as the pleasure of physically destroying his team and his pride. But there is something about this version of Blitz, something that keeps me coming back for more and more. I still have yet to find a corner or a safety that has any clue what "cover" means, and defense is still the necessary evil that kills time in between my array of end zone dances. I'll admit that there is a certain seductive challenge in trying to outscore the opponent.

If Blitz 20-02 can suck me in, then I think it has a little bit to offer everyone - even though I don't think the game is for everyone. Arcade football freaks will find everything they want in Blitz 2002 and those sim folks who want something different than Madden will quickly realize why the Blitz franchise has been such a popular alternative to the EA Sports game. But unless you've had experience with other versions of Blitz and are confident in your ability to enjoy what it has to offer, I would strongly recommend renting this title before dropping fifty bucks for it at your nearest video game hot spot. I have a feeling you'll consider the rental fee money well spent whether you like the game enough to make it a part of your permanent collection or decide it just isn't what you're looking for in a football game. This game is a blast to play and a lot of fun to look at, but the problems it has in other areas (sound, options, replay value) hold down its overall appeal.

By: Tom Jesse 7/17/02

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