NFL Fever 2003
I love football, as a man I feel that it’s my birthright to plant my rear end on my sofa every Sunday and take in as much football as possible. But what about the 5 other days of the week where the sport is nowhere to be found? I’ve tried filling the void by watching other, lesser sports but they just can’t satisfy my cravings. So what do I do? I play football games, lots and lots of football games.
Last year marked the console debut of Microsoft’s NFL Fever (it originally appeared on the PC) franchise and for a rookie franchise, the game came off far better than expected. Even with the big two on the market, Fever managed to gain a cult following of some sorts. Those who were looking for a heavy dose of arcade action, but were turned off by NFL Blitz, were delightfully pleased, especially the casual football fans who didn’t want to deal with all the intricacies of the sport. However, an equally large number of the population was turned off from the game due to the hyper-inflated statistics and unrealistic gameplay. Microsoft has listened to its audience and worked hard to deliver a game that plays and feels much more like a realistic football simulation should.
Sure the statistics are still way over the top, but they’re much more sensible than last year’s version. This means that although you’ll more than likely encounter QBs that throw for 300+ yards a game (Peyton Manning is the coverboy after all) as opposed to 100 or 200. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to stop the passing game but containing it has become much easier thanks to some minor tinkering. To give you an idea of how much better it has become, I was able to average nearly 500 yards of passing in last year’s game. The tweaks have gone a long way in improving the game and more importantly, future entries into the series.
The funky control scheme remains and oddly enough in this instance, I can’t fault the designers of the game. Fever further exposes the ineptness of the Xbox controller, including the S. The face button perform your usual moves, speed burst, tackle, dive, change players. There are quite a few problems though, let’s say you’re the ball carrier, you can press A for a speed burst, X for a stiff arm, right analog stick up for hurdle and black button for dive. Now go ahead and look at your controller, does that really look convenient to you? Try pressing the speed burst (A) and the dive button (black) without changing your positioning on the controller. You can’t, the scheme is just too odd and cluttered and again, it exposes the negative aspects of the Xbox controllers.
This year’s game features many of the same principles found in the other 2003 entries, this means franchise modes where you’ll have to deal with salaries, practice modes where you can perfect your usual bells and whistles. What this game does do better than the rest though is in the execution of the online component. Utilizing Microsoft’s Xbox Live technology, finding a game and hooking up with someone is a breeze. Thanks to the headset, you can even trash talk throughout the duration of the game without having to type a single word, awesome!
As good a job the guys have done of making the game more realistic, there are still far too many instances of stupidity that clog up this otherwise excellent simulation of the sport. For instance, on kickoffs and punts the kicker runs down the field way too fast. On most plays the kicker was one of the first, if not the first, guys to reach the ball carrier. If anything, you want to keep your kicker out of the action unless he absolutely is the last line of defense you have left. I managed to rack up about 17 tackles with my kicker Steve Christie in one season, that’s rather unsettling if you ask me.
Speaking of the kicking game, it’s probably the worst of the bunch. It features an arrow that moves back and forth, you need to push the button in order to stop it in the direction that you wish to kick it. Again, this makes it feel like an arcade game as opposed to a simulation. There’s absolutely no reason why I shouldn’t be able to select the direction or orientation of my kick, it just makes absolutely not sense at all. This is especially bad when you’re trying to kick a last second field goal with the clock running out, in other games you’d be able to aim and get it off, in Fever you have to wait for the arrow to arrive at the point that’s close to your liking.
Each of the player models have received a significant amount of detail. There’s a problem though, although they look nice they look highly unrealistic. Imagine if every single player in the NFL took steroids for 2 weeks straight and you can begin to envision what these guys look like. They are beautiful though and feature tons of little details that appear in the other games, but aren’t as refined as they are here. Simple things like stadium reflections on helmets just look absolutely amazing here and are much more cleaner and crisp than the competition’s versions. But again, their bulkiness really ruins the total package. They make the players in NFL Blitz look like a bunch of pansies. Everyone looks much more built than they should be and they sometimes look absolutely ridiculous on the replays.
The models aren’t perfect though, as nice as they may look in the screenshots they’re absolutely terrible when they’re moving. While the animation isn’t as bad as Gameday’s (then again, what is?) they’re certainly not going to win any awards. Their deficiencies become even more apparent on the replays when you realize that the players could have benefited from a few more frames of animation. Tackles in particular could use a lot more work. You don’t really get that hardnosed, in-your-face, bone-crunching, “damn that had to hurt” feeling from the tackles in the game. Instead you get a more sissified version of Madden and NFL2K3’s tackles, they just don’t look painful enough and the collision detection seem to be quite a ways off. How can I feel like I’m punishing a RB if it looks like I’m just giving him a small nudge every time he carries the ball up field? Of course the absence of group tackles (another big inclusion in this year’s games) hurts the game even more. The animation in this game is really needs some refining. Everyone runs the same, this means that the O-line looks just like your wide-receiving corps, just with insanely larger guts.
The rest of the visuals are a mixed bag. On one hand we have beautiful terrain that features some impressive bump mapping. On the other hand, we have some of the ugliest stadium textures seen in this year’s football games. I’m talking bland city here with a huge emphasis on BLAND. While other games’ stadiums will be populated by banners and flags, Fever’s stadiums feature boring and uninspired wall-textures. While Madden features the proper signs behind the goal posts of 3Com Park, Fever simply features a large and empty patch of grass. The playing field here is way too far from the stands and it really hurts the game, it makes the playing field seem empty, almost as if it were separate from the rest of the stadium. The other titles are so successful because they succeed in recreating the atmosphere of the sport. I’ve never really felt like I was at the game before while playing Fever, it just feels too hollow and empty.
The game is also lacking in the audio department, the tackling sounds in particular could really use some work. Fever also fails to take proper advantage of the Xbox’s Dolby Digital support. It seems like the sounds are just mirrored from the front speakers into the rear speakers. Some sports games have shown just how far the 5.1 setup can go in immersing the gamer (All-Star Baseball 2003 comes to mind here), almost making them feel like they’re a part of the action. The commentary is excellent though, matching up with the best of the genre. The rest of the sounds are standard football fare.
Although the multiplayer aspects are well done they seem to be the weakest of this year’s contenders. The largest problem comes with the collision detection, again there seems to be a five foot aura surrounding the ball carrier. Just push the tackle button in the vicinity of the ball carrier and you’ll magically bring him down, it’s that simple. Of course the AI of the defensive players still seems to be suspect. At times they’ll do some truly brilliant things like swipe away big money passes and at other times, they’ll do stupid things like get caught up and left behind when trying to cover receivers.
AI is another mixed bag, at times the AI can be brilliant and pick up on your plays. Other times they have a hard time sniffing out my offense, even when I run the same plays in succession. I was able to run the same running play up the field for 3 consecutive gains of 10 or more yards. This shouldn’t be happening, in today’s games the AI should have no problem sniffing out my offense, especially when it’s the same play over and over.
Let’s be honest here, Fever isn’t going to be on the top of any kid’s wishlist this holiday season, but it is definitely worth your time. Though the title is plagued by many potentially crippling problems, there always seems to be enough positives to pull it out from the depths of obscurity. The action is fun and frantic and if you’re just a casual fan of the sport who doesn’t care about statistical accuracies then this could very well be the game for you. It caters far more to the casual fan than the hardcore fan and it’s represented by the alarming number of big time plays and unrealistic occurrences. The general structure of the game is good and it really is a lot of fun to play. Sure there are dozens of glaring errors but it’s amazing how easily they go un-noticed when you’re having a great time.
Microsoftâ€™s sophomore entry remains a few paces behind the big boys, but has a solid enough foundation to build a perennial franchise in the future.
Rating: 8.1 Good
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.
It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.
It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.
When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."
As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.
When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.
Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile