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NFL Fever 2004

Itís easy to say that Microsoftís NFL Fever 2004 is in its own little football world. Every year they try to outdo themselves to make next yearís games as good as possible, forgetting about competing with other football franchises. Yet every year they still make the same mistakes that we first noticed in the 2002 version of the game. Fever developers are still struggling to fix many problems, but they are also taking small steps to enhance the game to a new level.

This year, Microsoft had a full year to fix all the problems that hampered the last two versions of Fever. Of course, they passed on that opportunity and decided to innovate more new features, such as read and lead passing and XSN Sports. We are still waiting for the overhaul, Microsoft. You wonít catch up to EA Sports or ESPN without it.

The new read and lead passing allows you to choose your receiver and then select what part of the field to throw it to. Long passes still seem like they take forever, but thankfully the defensive AI has learned what coverage is, so donít expect to go long every play. Every play starts out with slow-mo actions, then switches to fast game play a second later. It may actually help you out on the run, allowing you to find holes early on.

On offense, you can now do even more with the hot route control. Instead of just picking a different pattern for a receiver, you can send one in motion, set a tight end to block the blitz, or even change the direction of your running play. New coverage audibles exist on the defensive side of the ball as well. You can choose to defend the inside run, the deep pass, or stop the run. More times you will be wrong than right, but what hey, give it a shot! Once you learn how to read the offense, it can be a key to a successful defense.

For the third year in a row, the Fever graphics lag behind those featured in ESPN and Madden. The stadiums and fields are definitely stunning, but the more basic components look exactly the same as the 2002 version of Fever. Microsoft still refuses to create a new menu interface. (Just because they change the color doesnít mean itís new.) The player models still donít resemble the physique or natural look of football players, and occasionally you will see a linemen literally going right through another; a glitch that we have been asking for Microsoft to fix for ages.

The in-game sounds have finally been redone and are extremely life-like. The sounds of the players blocking, the crowd roaring, running in the snow, itís what footballís all about. However, the commentary is still lacking. Ron Pitts and Steve Callabro just donít get the job done. They sound like theyíre reading every line for the first time off of a queue card. Ridiculous. We are also still waiting for Microsoft to import real music into the game, instead of creating their own variations of what they call ìmusicî.

Donít feel let down though, Fever still has plenty of features that can keep you occupied for a long time. The Dynasty mode allows you to play up to 25 seasons with an NFL team, or select Franchise mode to create your own custom team. This mode is nowhere as complex as Madden, but it gets the job done. You can also play in challenge mode, where you are put into a variety of scenarios, such as beating the 10 toughest teams of all time. These do get very boring very quickly, but that may be due to the fact that many are the same challenges from last yearís game. Lazy, lazy!

Multiplayer football still shines in Fever, and the light has gotten even brighter. You can play with 3 buddies on the same Xbox, hook up using system link, or take your game around the world with Xbox Live. A new service that all Microsoft online sport games will be taking part in is XSN Sports. XSN Sports allows you to participate in leagues and tournaments played over Xbox Live. In order to compete, you need an Xbox Live gamertag, a .net passport, and access to the internet. The head to xsnsports.com and get ready to play with the best!

Gamers who hate playing ultra-sim like football games would probably enjoy Fever much more then hardcore simulation gamers. This game is nothing close to a simulation, but it is loads of fun and will keep you on the edge of your seat the entire time. Although Fever shows some graphical flaws, the game plays rather well. Your best bet would be to rent it first, especially since there are so many football titles on the market. Overall, NFL Fever 2004 is an extremely fun football game that is still very young compared to the Madden and ESPN series. Microsoft still has some touch-ups to work on, but give this series some time, and soon enough it will be on top!

7 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in January 2003.

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