Have you ever thought that professional football was for sissies? That it’s nothing more than a bunch of overpaid fat guys and prima donnas running up and down a field with a leather ball? If this is the case, then by now you have probably played one of the games in Midway’s Blitz franchise, but Blitz: The League aims for something different. It aims to be everything the NFL doesn’t want you to see, but oh does it fall far short of its lofty ambitions.
A game where players have the option to dope up their strongest player so he can play with a broken knee cap can’t be accused of aiming high and missing, but it does approach the game of professional football from a vastly different perspective than EA’s stale Madden franchise. Ever since EA and the NFL signed an exclusive licensing deal, other game developers have been forced back to the drawing board to come up with a way to create a football game without the rosters and official sponsorship of the big guys. This is where Midway decided to create their own league with their own rules, and have it all overseen by the writer for the controversial ESPN show Playmakers. On paper, at least, the idea is terrific. A major shout-out must also go out to the Midway marketing department for creating as in-depth a fictional history for a game as anything ever seen. The entire history of the League, along with player stories, challenges, and over-the-top storylines is present in some form in Blitz: The League.
What a great game that would be, wouldn’t it? If everything pulled together successfully, then Blitz: The League would belong at the top of the list for best games of the year. It’s a shame Blitz: The League has such lame game play and awful graphics to compliment the stellar idea of a football game where the player can, and must, literally win at any cost.
I can not believe how flat-out ugly Blitz: The League is on the PS2. Whenever the game is on the field, it looks like Midway discarded all graphical achievements from the past five years and went with something they found on a storeroom shelf. It looks even worse during the in-game cut scenes, if that’s even possible. Imagine the in-game cut-scenes of Grand Theft Auto III (yes, part III), then strip out the backgrounds of all details so that a brown wall looks like a large brown rectangle instead of a detailed attempt at a wall. Then render characters slightly better than multi-colored blocks, and you have Blitz: The League’s cut-scenes.
As for the football games themselves, the graphics are just standard. As I said before, it looks like the game was created five to six years ago. Players just run into each other and either fall down, or are thrown down, or cut to a pre-rendered cut-scene if they’re in bullet-time. There’s no life, no spark, and certainly no excitement from watching anything that happens during the games. It’s telling that I was more excited by the menu options in between games than I was while actually playing football. The background models are also inactive stand-ins. I know this because at one point my player was knocked out of bounds and ran not just through all the motionless stand-ins on the sidelines, but also through the benches and through the stadium wall. Happily, he returned for the very next play after his Copperfield-esque walk-through-walls routine.
I actually enjoyed the sound effects and voice acting in Blitz: The League, and was especially happy I could turn off the music in the Options menu. This reviewer is no fan of hip-hop and rap, which accounts for every piece of music on the soundtrack. But once this was off, the bone-crunching sound effects came through loud and clear. Whenever the player is on the field, the clashing of the two teams sounds just like it does on a Sunday afternoon. Helmets and pads crunch together as the two teams vie for dominance, and the post-touchdown celebrations sound as authentic as possible.
The voice acting comes into play in-game with players taunting one another, an equally taunting voice-over during the game play tutorials, and the various cut-scenes. Just about all of it is solid work, even Lawrence Taylor as the most brutal player of the New York team shows off some strong acting chops. I’m a big fan of his performance in Any Given Sunday as well so it was good to see Taylor has remained consistently entertaining.
The controls for the game are pretty basic, but there are four different schemes depending on whether it’s pre or post-snap, and whether the player is on offense or defense. Pre-snap on offense, the X button is used to snap the ball, the square button is used to call an audible, and the triangle skips past the taunting scenes. Once the ball is snapped, the L2 button is used to activate the Clash/Unleash power, the X button executes a power move, circle evades, square dives, and triangle jumps to catch the ball.
When the player is on defense pre-snap, both the X button and the circle button are used to charge the defender, with the triangle and square buttons performing the same functions as on offense. Post-snap on defense makes the circle button the one used to switch between defending players and the triangle button jumps and attempts to intercept thrown passes.
It takes a bit of getting used to once the player switches to defense because it is very easy to hit the circle button thinking you’re about to take out a runner, but instead you find yourself switching to some player halfway down the field in the wrong direction. The player should have no trouble navigating through the game’s menus though, as the description of which button does what is always on screen.
I freely admit that I am not a fan of football games. Never have been, never will be. But I know enough to say that both first-and-30 and five-minute quarters are lame concepts, regardless of how far back in the series it goes, and adding what is essentially bullet-time to a football game makes it impossibly easy to score. This is the original game play from the arcades, and why it has yet to be refined for a series marketed as a rebirth to the franchise is beyond me. Oh, and having the computer immediately come back and score two or three touchdowns in a row with three minutes to play just so that it can win is considered cheating, not a challenge.
Players can start up Quick Play matches and select any of the fictional teams they want, and get right to the games. Or they can start up the campaign mode which is the complete rebuilding of a shattered dynasty. Players can customize their team right down to the socks they wear, and can use the money earned from each game to buy better equipment, better players, and better “medicinal supplements” for the team. Messages are delivered in between games that are compliments, extra challenges, or threats. All of this is part of a grander story mode that follows the owner’s quest for the League championship.
I compliment Midway for going the extra mile and tacking on a story that’s actually interesting. The problem is they tacked it onto a game that is not only no fun, but feels like a crapshoot with receivers. As you gain yards and score, you’re Clash meter fills up. A full Clash bar is what you need to execute the “bullet-time” maneuver which slows everyone down so your players can dodge or block easier. By dodging or blocking or taunting, you earn icons that fill up your Clash meter that much faster. If you put enough dirty hits on the opponents, then eventually the Clash meter will turn into an Unleash meter. When this is activated, pretty much any hit made to the opposing team will be huge, players can dodge just about anything, and any pretense towards realism is tossed out the window.
Dirty hits are the high point of Blitz: The League because they have the chance to knock an opposing player out of the game completely. When a major dirty hit is successful, the camera zooms into an x-ray of the affected bone, which immediately snaps and is followed by a scream. The overall affect is just wicked to behold, and is about the only true high point of the on-the-field mayhem. I can’t wait to see this eventually used in a better game.
Hopefully that game will also come with loading times under a minute. When you can use the restroom, walk into the kitchen and grab a snack, then read a short article in a magazine in between when you save a game to when it resumes, you have a problem. Now imagine this being the length of time it takes to just start up a match during the campaign mode. What is the game loading? There’s no way it’s pre-caching high-end graphics because there aren’t any. Creating the initial save took so long I thought my PS2 had crashed. Then I realized it takes that long every time I want to save my progress. What gives, Midway?
Blitz: The League is about as standard a football game as you can get, only uglier. There is a cornucopia of customization options, and an entire day can go by just playing with them. Completing different goals unlocks different features, and there are three different difficulty levels to choose from. Among the unlockables are several things related to the cheerleaders, from new outfits to FHM photo shoots, new juice drugs for the players, new equipment for the players to train on, and so on. If the core game play was worth all of this attention, then Blitz: The League would stay in my collection for a long time to come. As it stands, the game surrounding the core has a lot of repeat fun, but you have to go through the core mode to get to the good stuff. In the end, it’s just not worth it.
If you don’t have a football game in the house, and want one with more violence than anything on EA’s roster, then rent Blitz: The League to see what you think. But by no means is it worthy of owning. Midway has a great idea here, but the game play and graphics are just plain awful. I have high hopes for the series, and fans should too. If Midway doesn’t overhaul the game itself for the next one, then no amount of great set-up will help. It will just be another turkey, and ideas as solid as the ones here deserve better than that.