Blitz: The League
I used to spend a great deal of time playing NFL Blitz back in the day. I never owned the game, but one of my buddies down the street did. I always wanted my own copy, but back then I only got a game every few months and buying a game my friend already owned was impractical. After a while, the Blitz series faded away as the NFL made the developers tone down the game, eventually turning it into a fairly serious football game that bombed commercially when put into direct competition with Madden and the NFL 2K series.
We all know what happened to the NFL license after that. Once EA took hold of the NFL license and nearly every other professional football license, it was pretty much established that they’d be the only ones making an American football game. Yet, strangely enough, Midway decided that now is the time to bring back their once diamond franchise and although it doesn’t feature a roster of the biggest and brightest NFL stars, it plays a great game of football.
Here’s a quick indoctrination into the world of Blitz: The League. You pick your team from a series of fictional ballers, throw them out on the field, and then attempt to score as many points as possible while inflicting the most pain on your opponents. If you play by traditional rules, you’re probably going to lose as dirty hits and pass interference are encouraged. Quarters are divided up into two minute intervals, so you have to act fast with play selection. It’s a fast-paced, hard-hitting, buzz-word-with-a-hyphen type of game.
Blitz: The League shares many common points with its predecessor. With the absence of the NFL license, the developers at Midway have finally gotten the clearance to go for an adult rating, meaning that hits can end seasons, blood will stain your uniforms, performance-enhancing drugs are nearly required to go for the championship and on-field expletives won’t result in fines. Hell, there are even streakers! Though you won’t find any real teams to play, you can not only make your own hailing from nearly any major US city but you can also pick from a solid list of pre-made teams.
If you’re playing single-player, you’ll spend a lot of your time in the in-depth franchise mode. Here, you’re set in charge of a losing team and you have to build it from the bottom up. You can hire different defensive and offensive coaches, each with individual styles that will affect your team. You can also create your team in this mode (which you can use for online play provided you’re connected to Xbox Live while you create it) which offers a lot of options including logo, jersey colors, pants colors, and even the colors of the socks. I enjoyed doing this quite a bit because I think it gives franchise mode a little more value. Since the team I was in charge of was really my team, I could really get behind them more than I could for just a plain old NFL team.
The actual play in the game is really good too. You’re offered a wide selection of running and passing plays for nearly any situation. If you need to heave the ball or gain just a few yards for the touchdown, you’re going to find an ample selection of plays that aren’t confusing at all to novices. The running game is pretty solid and through the use of the right analog stick you can throw your body around to dodge all of the hard hits. Passing the ball is a simple affair; just press the button that corresponds with the receiver and it goes right to him.
Naturally, the defense in this game is one of its best features. The computer is more than willing to hit you with dirty hits and they’ll rush at your quarterback if your offensive line leaves any openings. I’ve personally ruined the seasons of dozens of stars, braking their femurs, giving them whiplash, and I even took a quarterback out for the entire season when I tore his ACL. Dirty hits serve two purposes: not only do the chances of a fumble significantly increase, but also to injure your opponents. It’s not uncommon to slam someone with a dirty hit and hurt them. When passing, it isn’t surprising that all of your men are covered tightly by a defender and interceptions are common.
These might seem like ingredients in a recipe for irritation, but they aren’t nearly as annoying as they may sound. For some reason or another the developers got rid of the “late hits” that made the other game so much fun (you know, tackling your opponent after the play is over) but after getting a few dirty hits a chaotic brawl will typically ensue where you just tackle your opponents, so this makes up for the exclusion.
What attributed to the success of the Blitz franchise wasn’t the single player, but the multiplayer and that’s also been left intact. I had a lot of fun playing this game with my buddies. The frequent scoring and the tense gameplay had us right on the edge of our seats and the end of the game usually was followed immediately by the beginning of the next one. Oddly, two-player co-op isn’t unlocked from the start of the game, but playing against your friends is, which is still pretty satisfying. Playing against your friends also means that you’re probably going to be running the ball a lot, because it’s all too tempting to smash your buddy’s receiver before the ball gets to him.
In the graphics department, Blitz: The League looks great. The style of the game is captured in the gritty graphics. Helmets will pop-off when players grab at them during tackles and all of the tackle animations (which include a sweeping dropkick) are spot on and very entertaining. Occasionally a small clip will come up when you’re on the field showing a player talking trash to the other team. These are funny for awhile, but thankfully these interruptions are easily skipped. As for the sound, the players all shout out random quips that seem appropriate for the game (lots of cursing), the soundtrack is an appropriate blend of hard rock and rap, and the hits all sound realistic (or as realistic as they can be).
Blitz: The League is a great football game. It’s a lot of fun to play even if you ignore all the hard hits because the actual football gameplay is solid. Of course, the hard hitting, cursing, and style elevate the game to the next level. While I’m sure true football fans aren’t going to love it (better stick with EA), casual fans and players searching for a true, arcade-style sports game are really going to dig this one. Don’t let the lack of an NFL license fool you: Blitz: The League is a true player.