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NFL Extreme 2 (PSX) Review

Publisher: 989 Sports
Release Date: July 1999

Background Info

When it comes to sports games, the period between mid-July and mid-October is make-or-break time. Titles appear for college and pro football, hockey, and (usually) pro basketball. For years pucksters and hoopsters also had the option of playing several pure arcade versions of their favorite sports on home consoles. Last year that list expanded to include the NFL; as everyone awaited the appearance of NFL Blitz, NFL Xtreme popped on the scene. Although the game had its fans, most people saw it as a pale imitation of Blitz, a modified Gameday that sought to cash in on the unsuspecting. Now 989 Studios has had a year to reflect on that experience and to ponder what niche would be filled by a revised and updated version of Xtreme . . . and (surprise!) the result is NFL Xtreme2.

Presentation/Graphics : 84
After the usual FMV introduction featuring hard hits (taking out sideline cameras as well as opponents), a series of on-screen menus featuring reds, yellows, and golds outlines the numerous options open to the player. No problem here (although some of the illustrations on the loading screens suggests that the boys at 989 Studios need to go out once in a while). The players and playing fields deserve a closer look. As one might expect, the players are a bit over-the-top in physical stature and development; the uniforms are fine (no names on the jerseys), with thigh pads and other protective equipment visible underneath (and, in the case of shoulder pads, visible as a result of a torn jersey). The animations are acceptable (and there are many more post-whistle activities, as players taunt, flex, pose, or whatever). Press turbo, and the player leaves a streak of flame in his wake; other button combinations will lead to flips, spins, stiff arms, swim moves, jumps, and so on. Sometimes players take their helmets off, although the face underneath does not always resemble the player in question. In short, look for slightly-improved Gameday 99 players who are pumped up to play. User-controlled players are denoted by a series of concentric circles and an arrow--the result looked a little bit like the Dreamcast icon.

The fields and stadia are less distinguished. All stadia bear no more than a fleeting resemblance to their real-life counterparts; at least one can tell the difference between artificial turf and grass. Rain and snow are done well (although fields do not deteriorate); there's a down marker that does not give way when hit by a player (ouch!). At the end of plays, the field often undulates, as if the contest is taking place on a waterbed. Odd.

Overall, a marked improvement on its predecessor.

Presentation/Audio : 50
Mediocre. The pasting together of phrases from sound bites to sentences is too clumsy and halting; the announcer does little to personalize the game or to inject much enthusiasm. The sound effects are adequate; the in-game and menu music rather bland. In a game that depends so much on booming noises and music to help create an environment and an experience to fire players up, these shortcomings are especially serious.

Interface/Options : 80
The pregame menus are easy to understand; so are the in-game options brought up during a pause. However, something's badly wrong with the playcalling menu. You are allowed to choose one of six "books"; in each "book" there are six plays. On offense the "books" resemble sets; on defense . . . who can tell? In any case, players are going to have to invest time in looking through plays to see what works.

The controllers are rather straightforward. One can do well enough with command of only a few buttons, and of course some of what's there is for flair more than anything else. Indeed, one can survive for a while on offense by pressing X to snap the ball, then any of the other right buttons (triangle, circle, square) to allow the CPU to hit an open receiver . . . or hit X a second time to bring up the passing icons, then hit the button linked to the receiver of choice. While the former sounds sooo easy, be aware that the CPU often selects the safety valve, and not much happens. You can simply hit circle for a "special move" or hit the triggers for stiff arms, turbos, and breaking tackles.

There are an assortment of in-game cameras: some offer a close-in view, others help quarterbacks look downfield.

Gameplay : 70
For many players, the big question is whether NFL Xtreme2 provides a viable alternative to NFL Blitz. The odds are that most people will find that it falls short, lacking the pizazz of Blitz (let alone Blitz 2). However, the big problem may be that Xtreme2 is not so much Blitz as a compromise between Blitz and Gameday in its easier versions. For those unfamiliar with the game, players take control of NFL teams and play 5-on-5, up and down an 80-yard gridiron. One of the game's quirks is that first downs are scored at 20-yard intervals on the field, so one can start a series anywhere between first and 1 to first and 20. The game relies on passing; somehow receivers always wiggle open (unless you level them first). You may make multiple forward passes, although only one may cross the line of scrimmage. Playing good defense presents a challenge. NFL Xtreme2 includes options for substitutions and injuries, enriching the mix a bit. Other game options allow players to vary several aspects of gameplay and keep user and season records. One can play a simple exhibition game, a season, the playoffs, or a tournament.

Unlike Blitz, NFL Xtreme2 attempts to incorporate several aspects of team management: a player draft, creating players, signing free agents, trades, and so on. With Blitz, you are stuck with certain teams' personnel and style of play; I prefer my Giants to feature a wide-open passing offense, something that requires several visits to the player creation screen. And yet NFL Xtreme2 could have been a deeper game. Had the playbooks been better organized, for example, or team-specific (or constructed according to player preferences), players could have employed contrasting styles; even better would have been a play design editor.

What I appreciate most about the game is the lack of CPU cheating--a characteristic of Blitz as one progresses through a season or past the rest of the teams. That's a cheap way to maintain competitive juices.

However, one's enjoyment of the game also depends (at least in one-player mode) on the level of difficulty chosen. Easy is simply too easy; I rolled through a playoff year with a limited number of offensive plays (mostly long passes) while letting the CPU manage a man-to-man defense. Even when my receivers appeared to be covered, they buttonhooked to gobble up bullet passes, leaving defenders looking at their backs.

For some people it will be the trash talk and other after-the-whistle activity that will attract them to the title . . . but not for long. Sometimes the taunts are rather ill-timed in the context of game situations; other times they seem stupid. The repetition will grow old and stale. In short, even those people who like that sort of thing will not like it here.

Perhaps the best way to look at NFL Xtreme2 is as a variant of arena football--sometimes fun, a bit like a pickup game, but not to be confused with either the real sport or the insanity that is Blitz.

Difficulty : 70
Along with three levels of difficulty, the player can make things easier or harder by relying on one-button CPU-determined passing or calling up the icons; game speed is adjustable, with faster speeds placing more emphasis on reaction time. It's fair to say that it is a playable game without becoming too difficult.

Overall : 71
Even on its own merits, NFL Xtreme2 falls short of providing a truly satisfying experience, despite the team management options. Not that it is a bad game: it's just missing something. Playing it can be fun but does not leave you with the sort of buzz that a session with Blitz creates. And this game is doomed to be compared with Blitz--although Blitz would do well to pick up on some of the features of this game.

By: Brooks S. 8/2/99

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