NFL Fever 2004
It’s fall. The time of beautiful leaves, Thanksgiving, and, of course, football. People across the country are strapping on pads and hurling themselves at one another in what has become America’s #1 sport. This is also the time for all of the major players to release their NFL football games. Madden is the top dog of the football world, having been around for over 14 installments. With the launch of the Xbox, Microsoft wanted its own football franchise and thus begat NFL Fever.
NFL Fever 2004 is the launch title for Microsoft’s new XSN sports brand. Featuring a central online hub to setup leagues and matches, XSN is Microsoft’s biggest foray into online play. XSN allows you to form online leagues and tournaments for you and your buddies. You can create leagues with four to 12 friends and XSN will organize games, track your statistics, and show you who’s winning the season. It’s a nice feature and given that it’s free with the purchase of the game it’s a great deal.
The sound in NFL Fever 2004 is hit and miss. I know each sports game has to have play by play announcers. It’s a feature that has to be in each game but honestly, how many people leave the announcers on after the first few games? NFL Fever 2004 features Kevin Calabro and Ron Pitts and while they aren’t bad, they aren’t great either. They lasted for about five games for me before getting annoying and repetitive and turned off.
Thankfully, the in-game sounds make up for the annoying announcers. The game features great hitting sounds, nice solid crunches where you can almost feel the hits in the game. The game has some other nice touches, like trash talking at the line of scrimmage between players, decent crowd noise (although I didn’t hear the famous J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS chant during a home Jets game). Rain games also feature some nice thunder in the background.
The graphics in NFL Fever 2004 are excellent for the most part. During the replays there is a bit of a halo effect around the players but the rest of the graphics are fantastic. Rain games offer some nice visual touches as well. From players getting muddy during the course of the game, to nice splashes around the players during the game, and the field degrading from grass to mud over the course of the game, the graphics add a touch of realism.
The animations of the game are, like-wise, excellent. Players move and run in a realistic manner for the most part. Although, occasionally they seem to be a little too robotic. The hitting in the game is fierce and on a few occasions I went back into the replay to watch a nice bone-crushing hit. A nice visual touch is the receiver routes are color coded to match the corresponding button for that receiver.
The stadiums are rendered well (although there seemed to be a few too many fans in Paul Brown Stadium). Besides all of the standard NFL stadiums, the folks at Microsoft added three additional stadiums. If you ever wanted to play a football game on the deck of a carrier, in a roman coliseum, or in near the pyramids, than you are in luck. They are a little cheesy but a nice touch to the game.The game does a really nice job of getting newbies into the it through the in-game tutorials referred to as training camp. While some of the drills are a little unnecessary (I don’t think many will get a lot out of the “how to run from point A to B” drill), most of the others do a good job of introducing you to the game and to the Read and Lead passing system. This is a good thing as Read and Lead (introduced in this version of Fever) takes a bit of getting used to.
Read and Lead allows you to drop back into the pocket, setup, find a receiver, and then aim where the ball is going to go. This allows you to “Read” the defense and the “Lead” the receiver with the ball. Once you snap the ball using the A button, you drop back into the pocket and press the A button again. This sets your feet and allows you to survey the field. You then select which receiver you want to pass to (each receiver is assigned a button, X, Y, A, B, and the black button). Once you select a receiver a passing cursor appears on the receiver and then you pick where you want to throw the ball. You throw the ball by pulling the right trigger (quick pull for a lob pass or a long pull for a bullet pass). Once the pass is thrown your receiver will adjust to where it’s thrown.
If it sounds like a lot to remember, it is but once you get used to it you realize the benefits. You have better control of where the ball is going, which can really help you squeeze it into some tight spaces. Of course, you still have to watch out for the defenders.
The practice mode also has Chalk Talks. Chalk Talks are six non-interactive overviews about football in general and how to use that knowledge in NFL Fever 2004. They are actually fairly useful for introducing you to some basic football concepts and how to utilize them in the game. I actually learned a few new things about formations. I wish they had been interactive some how but they do a nice job of getting you into the game.
The game play is NFL Fever 2004 is solid but not spectacular. The control scheme is decent and easily learned but occasionally it felt a little floaty. There is a lot to learn but the only thing that’s a bit of a pain is that you have to use the black button consistently during game play. It can be kind of a reach to hit it (especially if you have the original Xbox controller).
Play selection is the key of any football game and NFL Fever 2004 actually does a pretty good job of it. Depending on your level of play, you can work with what the game suggests (based on down, distance, and field position), pick from generic sets (short, medium, and long pass, right, middle, left run), or pick a play starting from a particular formation. You also get the option of picking from recent plays, which is a nice touch (especially when you find a money play). The same system is in place for the defensive play picking.
Once you have the play selected, you can preview the play when you come up to the line of scrimmage by pushing the Y button. This gives you a preview of the routes being run and allows you to scan the defense to see what could and couldn’t work with the play called. If you see something you don’t like, you can press the black button to audible to something that could better take advantage of the situation. Another option is to press the white button and change the route of a receiver. See a corner blitz? Switch one of the receivers to a short route and burn them for a quick gain. What I really like most about the pre-snap play is if you are on defense, it shows you the defensive zone you are supposed to cover. Occasionally, you’ll get advice from your coach on what your opponent may be doing. This is a nice touch but at times seems to be off (I don’t think the offense is going to stretch the field when it’s first and goal from the five yard line). Online play is a no-brainer. If you’ve played any other Xbox Live title, you will feel right at home in NFL Fever 2004. You log in and pick the type of match and go to it. I played a few games online without any problems. I did get a little bit of lag occasionally on some running plays but it wasn’t something consistent (I’m guessing something was in the pipes between me and the other people I was playing). I would also like to thank all of those people who ran up the score on me while I was learning how to play the game…you do not need to go for two points when you are up 47-7…seriously…that’s just not cool.
NFL Fever 2004 features a basic but solid dynasty mode. You can pick any of the existing NFL teams to take over (and move) or one of the fictional teams created by Microsoft. Once you take over a team, you can change the name (but only to one of the pre-selected ones) and then you choose which stadium you want to play in. Being a Bengals fan, I had to do what my gut told me to which was to move the Browns to Cuba. Since I was moving the team, I had to change the name so we ended up with the Cuban Burros’ who will play their games on the deck of a Navy aircraft carrier. It’s a bit cheesy but it’s always fun to make Browns fans suffer (although the team is doing a better job of it this year than I am). After that, it’s pretty typical stuff. You can trade players, play the season, and so forth. It’s pretty basic and this is probably an area that MS can work on for next year (it doesn’t feel nearly as deep as the system offered up by this year’s iteration of Madden).
I did have some nitpicks with the game. First off, do we really need to see five static cards before the game loads? I know that there is credit to be given but having to sit through the Dolby Digital logo, the NFL, NFLPA, Microsoft, and XSN title cards every time the game loads is a bit much. My second big nit is that the game includes some great teams from the past but there are no names associated with the players. So instead of having Barry Sanders on the 97 Lions you are stuck with RB 21 (I don’t even think Barry wore #21). So while the stats and strengths are there, the player names are not.
At the end of the day, NFL Fever 2004 is a solid title but it has a way to go before it challenges Madden and the ESPN franchise. Microsoft has made great strides this year and the future looks bright for the franchise but they are still missing a lot of the details that make its rivals so dominant. Hopefully, next year’s version of Fever deepens the dynasty/ownership model while extending the excellence of the rest of the game.
NFL Fever 2004 is a solid football game with excellent multiplayer aspects but it lacks some of the depth and features found in competing products, as well as its share of graphic and control quirks.
Rating: 7.6 Above Average
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Hi, my name is Charles Husemann and I've been gaming for longer than I care to admit. For me it's always been about competing and a burning off stress. It started off simply enough with Choplifter and Lode Runner on the Apple //e, then it was the curse of Tank and Yars Revenge on the 2600. The addiction subsided somewhat until I went to college where dramatic decreases in my GPA could be traced to the release of X:Com and Doom. I have been a Microsoft Xbox MVP since 2009.