NFL Fever 2002 was the distant number three title in last year's inaugural battle of the football games on the X-Box. One year later, with plenty of development time under their belts, gamers expect big things from Washington's most famous software house. The question remains whether this title, which lies somewhere between an arcade game and simulation, can attract the serious football fan from the Madden and NFL 2k franchises.
Xbox Screens (12)
In my first game with NFL Fever 2003, I wanted to throw the game disc against the wall. By default, player names are turned on. This means that the names take up a surprisingly large amount of space on the television and obstruct your view of the action. Once I turned the names off, there was yet another consistent problem, this one isolated to the running game. With every running play, it seems like the game wants to skip graphically. The camera appears to reset itself and jump to a slightly different viewpoint during a play. This annoying characteristic quickly turned me off on the running game since it affected my ability to find open holes in the line. While on defense or running a pass play, the camera was more than adequate, though even run plays by the CPU team suffered from the aforementioned camera skip. To compound matters, after each play the camera pans from the field upwards to the seats. The pan and scan takes nearly 5 seconds and there is no way to skip out of it.
The graphics of the players and field are rather good, though they aren't as realistic as some of the other football titles out there. You'll be able to catch the names and numbers of the players on the field, but in close-ups, faces aren't to the level of detail you'd expect from a second generation Xbox title. Stadiums and fields are a bit bright in color, which leads to more of a cartoonish look. Grass textures are non-existent, and the fans in the seats have no detail at all. Player animations are likewise lackluster. The animations are few and don't provide the atmosphere you find in games like the NFL 2K or Madden series.
The best word to describe the audio in Fever is "blah." If you're used to the higher quality audio commentary from the two leading football games on the market, you'll be disappointed by Fever. The play-by-play is quick and to the point and color commentary is non-existent. Even the crowd noise does little to inspire a realistic football atmosphere.
Interface/Options : 60
The available options in the game are a carbon copy of last year's version except for the addition of an online component to the game. This means you can play a single game, take control of a team over multiple seasons in the dynasty mode, or play a seven game series in the classic challenge.
And just like last year, the game seems oriented more towards quick arcade style action rather than a realistic simulation. This means that the gameplay options are few, consisting of standard things like difficulty level with no adjustable AI sliders, injury and penalty toggles (very few penalties are called in the game), fatigue (players never seem to be affected by fatigue), game speed, and quarter length. Actually, Microsoft did improve the options somewhat by allowing something other than 5-minute quarters in the dynasty mode.
The play selection appears to be the same for each and every team. I never noticed a change in playbooks from one team to another. On the one hand this makes going from team to team an easy matter, but it also takes away from the realism of the game. Further, the play selection on defense tends to be confusing.
Gameplay : 40
I like to judge games based on the claims made by the advertising. Let's look at some of the comments on the back of the box of NFL Fever 2003. The back states you can go into all aspects of the NFL experience including on-the-field play and front office moves. It also claims cutting-edge gameplay and seamless control. Or how about the improved AI that shuts down your passing game?
In the front office, the game does have reasonable depth. You can make cuts, sign players, or create trades. The contract negotiations don't have the depth of some of the other titles out there as you can only modify the length of the contract. The CPU decides how much salary to offer a player.
As mentioned earlier, there is a slight graphical hiccup that affects the running game. I never got comfortable with this aspect of the game due to the jumpy camera and quickly abandoned it. Once I did, I noticed the same flaws in the passing game that existed in Fever 2002. The secondary AI is abysmal. You can sit in the pocket and wait for an open receiver or throw deep and watch as your receiver outruns the defensive backs. Eventually the AI may shut down this type of play, but if so, just run some out patterns for quick and easy yardage. If you like racking up passing yards, you'll easily do it in Fever. It's no problem totaling up 400 plus yards on any difficulty level per game. The CPU team has an equally impressive passing attack since it rarely runs the ball.
When you control a player rushing the passer, you'll experience the tight grip of the offensive line. Once a player locks on, you won't be able to escape unless you execute a swim move. Backing up does not work as the game ties the two players together. Once you perform the swim move, the player wildly flaps about and control is difficult to regain. You'll push the player one way only to see him continuing in the original direction just like in Fever 2002. Further compounding the defensive play problems, is the game's inability to always select the closest player. Many times I've missed tackles when the game selects a distant player rather than the one right next to the ball carrier.
Replay Value : 30
Fever 2003 is nothing more than Fever 2002 with updated rosters. Sure there is the online play, but the basic gameplay is so flawed that the game can't be saved from mediocrity. The camera issues take out a critical aspect of football leaving a passing game that is too easy to dominate. There is little challenge in the game and thus little desire to play the game.
Overall : 45
Microsoft is a big company known for producing software. Football games are often flagship titles, so you'd
expect a company to take pride in such a title. We know they have the ability to put out some stellar software titles, but Fever 2003 has most of the same flaws of Fever 2002 and the flaws really detract from the fun of the game. For a first year title, the learning curve is somewhat excusable, however, you have to draw the line at repeating those same mistakes the second time around.