You give me fever.
Few sports get the royal treatment like football. It's something of a mystery, really, since baseball and basketball are equally popular. Everyone on the planet knows who Shaquille O' Neal is, but what about Duante Culpepper? Keyshawn Johnson? Tiki Barber? Great names and great players, surely, but far from being household names.
But when it comes to gaming, football offers some of the most intricately detailed and meticulously designed action on the planet. From the venerable Madden games to the revolutionary NFL 2K series, gridiron gaming really pushes the limits of console power.
So it comes as little surprise that Microsoft decided to come out of the gates with NFL Fever 2002, an in-house competitor to EA's wily fat man. Though the series has been around for some time on the PC, this is the first Fever game out for the consoles. It's also the best Fever game period, offering a notably different but only slightly less fulfilling experience than Madden 2002.
The basics are all accounted for. Fever features all 31 current teams and stadiums. In addition to Practice and Single Game modes, Fever boasts a full fledged Season as well as a Dynasty mode that will track a team across a whopping 25 seasons. That's quite a few empty bags of pork rinds.
You can manage every elements of the team's progress, from trading and signing to creating your own custom kick ass QB. In a nice move, created players' stats will actually increase or decrease over the course of a season depending on how well he plays, which can affect how much money it will take to resign him. It's all handled well and will please the more hardcore gamer looking for realistic GM control.
But this is all fairly ubiquitous. The only really new bit is the Fantasy Challenge, in which you can play a 7 game tournament against a collection of badly named fantasy teams. Beat the teams and you can use them in Single Game play. Big whoop.
NFL Fever has an odd little Tutorial mode that will teach even the most clueless gamer the basic rules of football, which is a nice touch. Frankly, though, I'd take the play breakdowns in Madden's Training mode over newbie education any day of the week.
Football games aren't about features so much as gameplay, and it's here where NFL Fever makes its unique mark. This is both a good and bad thing.
For starters, the control is a mix of arcade and sim. With fairly realistic physics, the ball moves as it should. However, players are sped up and can cut on a dime. You'd think this would mean that the control is 'spot-on', but if you in fact thought that, unfortunately you'd be wrong.
NFL Fever is a very fast-paced game, and keeping up with the action on the fly can be tough. It's not that the controls are loose so much as frisky. Trying to tackle a guy is easier said than done thanks to the speed at which things move. You'll often overshoot your target and tackle thin air. It will take some time before you get used to the fact that defense is very, very hard to play well.
Offense, on the other hand, is a blast. The running game is handled well with turbo, spin, dive and juke moves that are actually useful. It might be hard to stop the run on defense, but it's really quite fun to bust out a sweep with a good RB on offense and wind your way through the linebackers.
The passing game is also forgiving, but this isn't always great. Icon passing makes hitting the right guy easy. However, you can get away with some ridiculous, game-breaking bombs if you have a decent receiver because of the fairly stupid defensive pass AI. Though interceptions are fairly common, you can rely on the passing game almost exclusively and do pretty well.
Whether you're passing or running, it all looks good. NFL Fever 2002 features a solid framerate, nice player models and a good number of little graphical touches, like moving mouths and eyeballs. Though occasionally the transition animations are a bit jerky, NFL Fever does a great job handling the complex series of character animations that can go into a big play. Players flop over one another appropriately. Tack on rendered coaches and accurate stadiums and you have a pretty picture.
The sound is fine thanks to veteran Dick Stockton handling the play-by-play. Like all sports games, the announcing gets redundant, but it's pretty inoffensive.
Fever also moves quickly in terms of game flow. You'll end a play, pump the A button a few times and whammo! Right back on the field. It doesn't take long to load at all, which makes for a quicker, more arcadey game than Madden.
Considering it's going up against a series that has been on the consoles for about a decade, NFL Fever 2002 actually puts up a good fight. Good delivery and fast gameplay lead to a football game clearly designed more with the casual fan in mind. Its AI flubs and somewhat wily control takes it down a notch from Madden, however, and I'd still give big John the ball. Probably the best bet is to try both before you buy one.