When EA bought the rights to the NFL and NFLPA last year, everyone knew that there wouldn’t be any football but Madden.  Or so we thought.  Midway came along and decided that since they already had a football franchise in Blitz, which the NFL had been trying to tighten the screws on for years, that they’d go ahead and make the football game that they wanted to make. 


Enlisting the aid of a scriptwriter from the cancelled (almost by NFL mandate) Playmakers, Midway came up with Blitz: The League.  This would be the football that you don’t see.  What happens behind the scenes, behind closed doors and where the cameras don’t go.


The game has gathered a lot of press, both good and bad, ever since it was announced.  Adding in the voice and likeness of NFL Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor as Quentin Sands, a menacing linebacker for the New York Nightmare, the stage was set for a lot of football brutality and hopefully a great story.

While the graphics in Blitz: The League aren’t up to the par of Madden, for example, it’s still not a bad looking game.  From a distances, the players appear crisp and clean, the animations are solid and flow rather realistically.  The problems begin to crop up when you start to see the characters up close, especially during cut scenes.  There’s some definite ugliness in the textures that’re used, especially in one particular cut scene where they show a closeup of a player’s face while he’s being injected in his back.  It’s…scary, to say the least.


While we’re on the subject of cut scenes, by the by, you have to wonder at Midway’s recycling cut scenes.  Every injection in the back looks the same.  Every different type of injury has the same different imagry.  And it dosen’t stop there, as the same animations for the after-touchdown celebrations are used over and over again.  When you’re seeing eight to ten touchdowns a game, this can get annoying very quickly. 


Staying on topic with cut scenes, the images of people in them really don’t seem realistic.  Faces seem bland, hands don’t exactly mesh well.  It just creates a jarring effect that takes you a bit out of the game.

First off, the overall quality of the sound in Blitz: The League is quite good.  On a basic surround sound system, the hits pop out like you’re in the middle of the field.  Even on a standard television, the sound is quite good.  You don’t have television annoucing like Madden or NCAA, you merely have the field announcer.  As with football games in real life, when the crowd’s excited it’s hard to hear the PA and the same is true in this game. 


Cut scenes are handled well with a solid voice actor list led by none other than Lawrence Taylor as the voice of Quentin Sands.  All of the characters are voiced well with emotions being conveyed properly in nearly every case. 


The problems only begin to set in when it comes to the taunts and minor cut scenes.  Here, as with other areas of the game, repetition is the issue.  You’ll hear the same taunts over and over, and you’ll hear some of the same commentary as well both from the PA and from the team’s owner up in the box.  It’s only mildly annoying, especially compared to Madden, but it’s still something that should be noted.


The music is solid, having an extremely heavy hip-hop complement.  Twenty-eight songs grace the soundtrack, and unlike many games, even M-rated ones, the songs are not edited or chosen to be unoffensive.  If the song featured explicit lyrics when it was originally released, the explicit lyrics are complete in the game.  It’s really almost a pity, though, that Blitz: The League doesn’t feature custom soundtracks and somewhat surprising, considering the amount of time a person could spend playing the title.  Perhaps when a sequel comes along these might be rectified.

The controls in Blitz: The League are not really new if you’ve played any football game on the Xbox in the past.  The left analog stick controls player movement, A snaps the ball, R is your turbo and L is your Clash button.  On offense, X is dive, B or the right stick is evasion, A is your power move and Y is catch or jump with the black button being a jump pass and the white button pitch.  on defense, B changes defender, as does a before the snap.  X audibles again, L starts Clash mode and R is your turbo. Y is to jump, X is to dive and A is to power tackle. 


While the controls all handle as you’d expect them to, it’s sometimes frustrating as your defensive backs will almost always be outstripped by the wide recievers and running backs of the opposing teams and your players will get caught on other players many a time, keeping you from chasing down the ball carrier.  Still, these aren’t problems with the controls, and to be honest it’s hard to mess up footbal controls unless you go for too much detail, as Madden did this year.

Campaign mode is the heart of Blitz: The League.  The story here is that an upset owner of a professional team who has just lost to the New York Nightmare. Tired of it all, he decides he’s going to fire the coach, the players, the GM and move the team.  In the process, he makes a deal with the mayor of the city to fund a new stadium if his team can make it through Divisions 3, 2, and 1 to win the League Championship.


This gives the player a lot of leeway in exactly how to build their team from the city and name of the team, the uniforms (both home and away), which rookie (of three) to draft, which veteran (also of three) to pick up in free agency, the types of coaches to take and the type of team doctor.  You’re then expected to win through Division 3 to make it up to Division 2 and there to Division 1 and the league championships. 


Every week you’ll have messages from various people in the game to either your rookie, veteran or the coach and with these come challenges.  One may have you attempt to sack the opposing quarterback four times in the game, another may have you trying to stop their star wide reciever from making 100 yards.  If you can meet the challenges, you’ll unlock more bonus content.  Beat them by a lot and unlock even more.  During the Campaign Mode, you also will see various cutscenes.  The problem here is that you’ll have a cutscene maybe every four to five games, especially early on.  This simply isn’t enough, as you find yourself wanting the cutscenes more than the games themselves.


This leads into the second major problem with Blitz: The League.  The game is essentially a two-headed beast.  On the one hand, you’ve got an excellent storyline with cutscenes explaining what the various characters are going through.  On the other…you’ve got Blitz football.  While the game was supposedly retooled from the ground up, it feels like playing NFL Blitz back in 1999 or 2000.  It’s still 8 on 8 football and arcade-style at that.  Money plays abound, late hits are all the rage and there aren’t many rules to speak of.  New this year is the ability to injure other players, complete with pop-up x-rays showing what the injury is.  Unfortunately you seem to see the same injuries over and over, which gets a little frustrating.  Through twenty games, I only saw two injuries that lasted longer than the game I was in, and one of those was season-ending.  It would have been nice to have more variety in the injuries, especially for such a hard-hitting league. 


Also, computer catch-up is in full effect.  Fumbles and interceptions tend to happen with amazing frequency late if you’ve got the ball and the lead.  I even had one game where someone barely touched me and caused a fumble.  Of course, I had no one near to pick up the ball.  While arcade-style football can be fun and isn’t a major issue, flawed arcade football is no one’s friend.


Back to the off-the-field play, it’s nice to be able to train your players, build up their stats, buy new equipment (and new illegal drugs to juice them up with) and see the progress.  It’s also interesting to choose between treating a player or juicing him up to speed up recovery.  However, it would have been nice to see more interaction with the League on this, including perhaps random drug tests on key players causing fines.  The addition of betting and the in-jokes in the game are also great.  For those who are really into their NFL trivia, a scrambling, left-handed quarterback named Ron Mexico and a wide reciever named Tito Maas (say it quickly to get the references) are a lot of fun and poke quite a few needles into the NFL’s balloon.  I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see one of the teams have a ‘pleasure cruise’ on a lake in next year’s game.


Another nice thing is the addition of ‘history blurbs’ during half of the loading screens.  These tie into the ‘official’ league website which has a complete history of the fictitious league. 


Beyond the Campaign Play your other options are Quickplay, Training Camp, Extras and Xbox Live.  Quickplay is basically a way to play a quick game without worrying about storyline or anything else.  You simply select one or two players, home or away, the teams and stadium, and you’re set.  Training Camp is a very solid tutorial mode narrated by Lawrence Taylor.  In it, you learn how to do all the various moves including learning how to handle Clash mode.  Performing each section successfully unlocks more options in the game for later play.  It’s a surprisingly solid tutorial especially when combined with the manual. 


The Extras option includes all of the unlockable content in the game.  Most of the bonuses are unlocked by performing various tasks in Quick Game mode, and there’s a lot of things to unlock, including FHM videos of the girls acting out the role of Blitz’s cheerleaders, behind the scenes footage with Lawrence Taylor, various bits of concept art, trailers and more.


Going online, of course, requires an Xbox Live account.  Not only can you take your custom team from Campaign Mode online and play againt others, Xbox Live also keeps track of standings, so there’s that to look forward to.  However, with only about 27 options as far as how to customize your team depending on how far along in Campaign Mode you’re in, there’s not a whole lot of disparaty in the various choices.  Granted, it can also be argued that with free agency and the salary cap, the same can be said for the NFL.

To be honest, the game is pretty much worth the money unless you absolutely cannot stand arcade football.  At only $40, there’s approximately thirty games to Campaign mode, which equals about fifteen to twenty hours of gameplay.  Beyond that, there’s the fairly large amount of unlockables to work on in Quick Game mode, some of which require you to be very good at this game to unlock them.


Once you’re done with all of that, there’s Xbox Live to conquer where you can try to stand atop the leader board.  It’s definitely worth a rental, and if you can find the game on sale, it’s definitely worth a purchase.  Even at $40, if you’re a fan of football and don’t mind arcade-style, this is probably the game for you.  If you don’t like Madden and want to buy it just because it’s not Madden, that’s always an option, too.

To be honest, I was really expecting more from the game in terms of gameplay and also in the storyline as far as the frequency of cutscenes.  The story tends to come in dribs and drabs and spends more time on the subpar football section of the game.  It would have been nice to have some minor cutscene after every game or two, especially considering that part of the game has you living the life of a rookie football player.  They could have gone one step further in that and had you make a few decisions for the players other than whether or not to send escorts to the opposing team now and again.


The football section of the game is flawed enough that it seriously detracts from the enjoyment of the game.  When you’re restarting a game three or four times because you know there’s almost no way to come back from more than 7 points down in some circumstances and in others you’re trying to make a certain challenge, it can be more annoying than challenging.  Still, overall it’s an entertaining football game, and that’s really all that counts when you come down to it.

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