Stop, Drop, and Roll, Blitz, Roll...
In 1993, arcades across the United States witnessed the birth of a new genre of video games. I remember quite clearly the first time it hit me: "Good God, that point guard is on fire! Literally!" The game was, of course, Midway's NBA Jam, and the crazy flames leaping off John Stockton's back were a sight for sore gamer eyes.
Cut to 2002. Midway has made a fortune breaking all the rules, and has already found some arcade success on the Playstation 2 with the solid NHL Hitz 2002. Now its most popular series has made its way to the next-generation, and though NFL Blitz 2002 isn't fully on fire, it's still pretty hot.
For those new to the "arcade football" experience, here's a crash course. This game has absolutely no rules. It doesn't bother you with silly things like kickoffs or 10-yard first downs (you need 30), and late hits are not only encouraged, they're one of the most satisfying elements of the game.
Start the game up and you'll find all the usual play modes: Exhibition, Season, Quick Start, and a Tournament feature that lets you create your own playoff tree. The theme here is nothing fancy. Every little bit of Blitz is focused on getting you directly to the bloody meat of the game: the hits.
And in this case, the hits are about as good as they can get. Bodies are constantly screaming across the screen in every direction. Hit a guy with good momentum going and he'll be thrown back 10 yards. Not only that, but Midway's actually found a way to make this stuff look, dare I say, graceful? That may be stretching it a bit, but the Blitz team has really stepped it up in the animation department. You'll see new motions constantly, and for the most part, everything looks natural.
Graphically, NFL Blitz 2002 is right up there with the best next generation football games. The turf looks like real grass and the players look pretty good. They even added details missing in past installments - check out a replay close-up of your tight end's forearm as he reaches for a overthrown pass and you'll see muscles.
But realistic, it ain't. These guys are all superheroes with massive shoulders and perfect abs. Heck, the primary Blitz motion capture model wasn't even a football player. It was John Batar, the guy who's chiseled body was used to create Scorpion in Mortal Kombat. But that's all part of the fun. You're not playing this game for its realistic player models, you're playing it so that you can beat the living crap out of your buddy.
Though improvements are obvious in the looks, the controls leave a bit to be desired. I've been playing video games for 15 years and after some serious hours playing Blitz 2002, I'm still baffled by its control scheme. Say you're on a big run with Terry Jackson. You're coming up on the goal line, but some pesky Packer safeties are on your heels. Dive man, dive! You instinctively go for Triangle or Square or some comparably painless button, but no such luck. To dive in NFL Blitz 2002, you've got to hold R2 while you double tap the X button. No kidding. Double tap. By the way, you're playing one of the fastest-paced football games ever made, so you must be lightning quick with that double tap.
In the end, though, it doesn't matter so much which buttons you press because the game is a button masher. If you know how to hike and throw to an open guy, you can play. If you happen to squeeze extra yards out of a run because you know how to stiff arm, then you'll be better than most.
Ditto for the new 'Impact Player' feature. Before each play, you can program a designated player to do one of several actions (blitz, cover, go deep, etc.). While it sounds like an interesting proposition, after the hike, all bets are off and the button mashing takes over.
Another slight beef I have is that it's impossible to break away. You'll blister your fingers trying every button combination to break tackles while sprinting for the end zone, but it just won't happen. This travesty wreaks havoc on the play-by-play; it's quite possible that you'll never hear the end of "he could go all the w--!"
Interrupted sentences aside, the sound in Blitz 2002 is top notch. The hits are loud and brutal, trash talking is almost constant, and the play-by-play is appropriately tongue-in-cheek. New this year is a color commentator whose sole purpose, it seems, is to point out the obvious: "You know Vince, if he gets a touchdown here they'll put some points on the board!" Hmmm.
Rounding out this already full package is a feature that I'd love to see in every next-gen console game: DVD extras. Game designers now have a whopping 4.7 gigs at their geeky fingertips, and I for one am happy that they're not letting it go to waste. In Blitz 2002, the extras come in the form of several behind-the-scenes videos. True, you've got to love this game to enjoy the extras, but for those that do, they're a nice bonus.
And true to Midway form, you should know that in this gritty, manly football game, you can be a clown. Or a horse. Even a deer if you'd like. Enough said.
NFL Blitz 2002 is not going to change the world, and you certainly aren't going to learn much about planning out a well-balanced drive. But you will get to pulverize your best friend, and in my book, that's priceless.