Let me start off by being honest. This is the first Fever game I have ever played at length. When the Xbox first came out I got the chance to play Fever 2002 at Target and I wasn’t overly impressed with the game. The graphics were great, but the gameplay just seemed to different from the Madden and NFL2Kx series that I have spent years playing. Fever 2004 ushers in something new for Microsoft and the Xbox, that being XSN Sports, a centralized place where you will be able to set things up such as tournaments, leagues, etc. through all of Microsoft’s Sports offerings this year (such as NHL Rivals 2004, NBA Inside Drive 2004, Amped 2, Top Spin, Links 2004, etc.). It is a bold move by Microsoft to get people more centralized, but is it better than EA Sports current offerings or even Sony’s offerings over on the Playstation through their games? We’ll have to see.
The other big differences in this game from past years is that there is now a “Read and Lead” passing scheme that you can employ. They still have the same old one button and trigger passing, but they have also added this in case you want to have more control over where the ball and your player goes. You want to lead them out so the defender can’t get a hand on the ball? Throw it to the outside of your player. Want to throw it short instead of using the whole passing route? Go ahead. The big questions here are how long does it take to get a handle on this and is it just a gimmick or a real feature? We’ll find out.
Taken at face value, NFL Fever is the best looking football game I have played so far this year (I have yet to play ESPN NFL Football or NFL Blitz Pro). However the whole game seems to move in slow motion until you get out in the open. At the beginning of a play everything seems to move like molasses, not so much on the offensive side than on the defensive side though. This becomes very painful on defense because your lineman move so slowly that you think you will never get to the QB. However, I’ve chosen to take the points for this off in gameplay as I tend to think this is more a design problem.
Just watching the intros to the games I can see that the face animations are much better in this game than the others I have played so far this year. The stadiums look nice and the fields look nice as well, although I have yet to see any damage to the turf. Nothing much to complain about in the graphics department other than the sometimes jerky animation during tackles. One of the things I found out about Fever is that you shouldn’t rely on dive tackling. No, you just catch up to an offensive player and the tackle will be automatic (or as automatic as it comes). When you do the dive tackles it seems the player has gotten a bit of NFL 2K3-itis and are able to jump great distances in a single bound. Problem is the animation is a bit jerky off and on while doing this.
This game definitely has Madden 2004-itis in it, but it is better than that game on several things. The commentators, although they repeat themselves time and time again, flow better than Al Michales in Madden 2004. Where this game does get the better score is in the actual stadium sounds. Unlike Madden 2004 you hear the correct sounds. What I mean by that is if your team goes ahead, the crowd gets so loud you can barely hear the calls in Dobly Digital 5.1. Nice job Microsoft. The given music is ok, but as usual you have the ability to add your own soundtrack. A minus is that the music does not play when plays are not being run ala Madden 2004 on Xbox.
A rather annoying thing in the game is your coach saying stuff about what you should do. It’s cool that he is doing this, but he gets very repetitive very quickly. And as Ron Burke pointed out when we were playing, they say a bunch of things that could be construde as homoerotic, such as “The defense needs to beat off quickly from the line” and things like that. If your mind is in the gutter, chances are you may get a few laughs out of it.
At best I can call this control very loose. With the slowness I talked about in the graphics section (and will talk about again in the gameplay section) everything seems very loose. Running can be very slow and the quickness of the action after you hit the button seems slow by a step. I almost seem as if I am not in control of the running game…or at least as much control as I would like to have. The passing system is pretty good, although getting used to the new “Read and Lead” passing scheme takes a while to get used to. The key here is that you can’t be too wild with your R analog stick or you will overlead your receiver. Once you work on it for a while you will get used to it though. Whether it’s super helpful in the game or not is up for debate. I could see someone adept at it online against someone who isn’t adept at it killing them though.
Luckily you have other passing options outside of “Read and Lead” and you can set up online games to allow people to use whatever system they want. Another problem with this game is the playcalling options. Yes, you can have total control by formation, but they also have the ability to make the playbook in regards to run plays and pass plays and which way they go. In many ways I could see where this would be easy for a novice player, but even I as a seasoned player didn’t see any exciting plays via either route. They don’t give an indication of the button for each receiver in a play either. Even ESPN NFL Football is supposedly borrowing the Madden style of playcalling…why doesn’t Fever?
The worst thing about NFL Fever 2004 is that it is very vanilla compared to Madden 2004. It has less in every mode, except when comparing online play to the Xbox Madden 2004 (which has none). Dynasty mode seems very stripped down and is not as diverse as other games in its class. The draft is there and so forth, but I just didn’t feel as involved in my team as I did in Madden. Obviously Microsoft cannot compete with EA on College Football connectivity since Microsoft does not have a college football game, therefore real rosters cannot be imported into a draft class. Madden just brings that extra something that Fever does not bring at all.
This game moves way too slowly for my tastes. I put in my copies of Madden 2004 and NFL 2K3 for the Xbox to see if I could tell the difference in speed. Both games moved faster on both sides of the ball than Fever. I have a feeling this is where Fever gets the majority of complaints from…the fact that it just plays slower and more methodical than its rivals. The worst problem with the slow play is on defense. I regularily use a defensive lineman as my beginning controlled player at the start of a play. As soon as he comes off the line it’s like he and the offensive lineman are in a ballet together because it is so slow and meandering. There should be some quick swim moves or something that my defensive lineman could fly into the backfield on at least a semi-regular basis. Things also seem a bit slow on the offensive side of things as well since it seems you get forever and a day to execute a play.
What is interesting with the slowness was playing my co-staffpeople Ron Burke and Eldon Alameda in online play. Both barely play football and both seem to be liking the game quite a bit. I have a feeling if they had any chance to play Madden or the Sega NFL series they may think differently. We’ll get more into online play in the Value section though.
The running game is not as robust as Madden, but it certainly outdoes the Sony games from this year. I just don’t feel I have a whole lot of control over my running back as I do in Madden (don’t know about ESPN NFL Football, but I would guess that will be a lot like last year, which means better). I’d rather pass every down in this game than run. You can have a good pickup every now and again, but for the most part you get 2 to 3 yards a carry. The problem here is that it seems my pressing of a button (such as juke) and the player actually doing it seems a step behind. It could be because of the general slow gameplay and it might be something I just have to get used to. The passing is a lot easier, although once you hit your target he seems to have more speed than anyone on the defense if he is even a couple yards ahead of them. Passing becomes difficult with “Read and Lead” passing and sometimes the game has a problem with whether I touched a button (lob pass) or firmly pressed it (bullet pass) in both the One Button and Trigger passing schemes. The defensive AI is ok, although they allow receivers to open up huge leads on them where they get easily burned. I’d say they are far less adept than the rivals they are trying to overcome. This is also a more likely low-scoring game than Madden for instance.
And don’t even get me started on extra points. You can actually miss an extra point…this is a rarity in pro football. In this game you could miss a bunch of them. The problem is that the arrow that moves from left to right goes too fast when trying to make an extra point versus kicking off or punting. I honestly don’t know whose system is the best, but I think EA and Sega have a better kicking system than this.
The value of this game depends wholly on your ability to get online for Xbox Live and XSN Sports. Microsoft was nice enough to give people 2 free months of Live with every sports game they are bringing out this year. This means that if you have never had Live before you have the chance to try it and see how good it actually is.
This year you can play one-on-one or you can play tournaments or leagues through XSN Sports website. I made myself an account at XSN Sports, although I have yet to play tournaments or leagues since I am soon to be in the Gone Gold League for ESPN NFL Football and don’t know if I’ll have the time to play this in a tournament or league capacity. What I see in the possible information (such as all the stats) looks pretty cool and is certainly a nice centerpoint for being able to run leagues without setting up your own website and all that.
The games I played with Ron Burke and Eldon Alameda went very well. There was only one hint of slowdown where I was running a play and it froze for just a second against Eldon. Other than that things ran pretty well. You get to see how many spot players the formation that the offense is in and you can choose your defense from there. Eldon and I noticed one odd thing though. I did a pass and got a touchdown, but the cornerback that was on my player decided to turn around to face the other side of the field and walk backwards trying to run me down. I have no clue why the player did this, but it seemed very wonky. Ron also pointed out the “Superman” defensive players that could leap 15 yards in a single bound, which I told him was exactly what happened in NFL 2K3. Of course, the football terms just bounce off of them because they aren’t as into it as I am.
The fact is that other than the upcoming ESPN NFL Football, this is the only online Xbox Live football game you’re going to get to play this year. Rumors are there is no league support in ESPN, although I’m not sure we’re getting the whole story or not. Fever is great because you can set up tournaments and online leagues, set dates to play, etc. If you’re into online football and don’t want to set up webpages for leagues, XSN Sports and NFL Fever 2004 is your ticket to doing so.