Who says you need an NFL license to make a good football game? While Electronic Arts was dumping truckloads of money at the NFL headquarters for the sole rights to their license, Midway developed Blitz: The League, a game that throws that license to the ground and then stomps all over it. Blitz is packed full of things you would never find in an NFL approved game, such as off color language, drug use, gambling, violence, and scantily clad women.
At the center of Blitz: The League is a story mode in which you attempt to take a lowly team to the championship. Your team is highly customizable from the team name, coaching staff, uniform design, cheerleaders, and players names and appearances. To whip these sad sacks into shape, you are given full control of their training throughout the campaign. The task of training each of your players, buying extra equipment for them, or purchasing training upgrades can be very daunting initially. More than likely you will end up wishing you had spent your money differently by the time you figure it all out. It can be a very fun aspect of the game once you get the hang of it, and your early mistakes will give you a good reason to play the campaign mode a second time through to perfect your strategy.
A unique aspect of Blitz is that youre not stuck with the normal training tactics. You can also put your players on the juice - a variety of illegal and legal performance enhancers. Most of these substances will increase a players strength, stamina, or speed to varying degrees, but it comes with some negatives. Many of the illegal ones will also decrease the players awareness, make him more injury prone, or you can risk getting a dirty test result leading to fines.
Midway did an excellent job at creating an original league from scratch. The league is based on a 3 division system, with the worst teams in Division 3 (where you start out), the average ones in Division 2, and the cream of the crop in Division 1. Your goal is to work your way up to the division 1 championship in a single year - something no other team has done before.
Each team you face has a star player, and many of these stars suspiciously resemble those from the NFL. Tito Maas, a star WR for the Arizona Outlaws, seems to be a combination of Terrell TO Owens and Randy Moss (TO Moss?). Quarterback, Mike Mexico, resembles Michael Vick, whose nickname is Ron Mexico. At any rate, by the end of the campaign the league and a few of the players will nearly feel as real to you as the NFL and its players. Going into the game I was skeptical that Midway would be able to pull of a league that would make you not care about the NFL, but they certainly succeeded in this area.
On the field, the game plays very similar to traditional Blitz games. It is a very fast paced game of 8 on 8 football. New to the game is a \"clash meter\" that can be used to pull off some crazy moves on both offense and defense. Use it on offense to go into \"bullet time\" - slow down the defense and blow right past them. On defense you can utilize it to pull off some extreme hits. In addition to the clash meter, if you pull off enough big moves, your meter turns into an \"unleash meter\" which is slightly bigger and badder than the clash meter. It can make you invulnerable on offense, or enable you to pull off some wicked hits on defense that are likely to cause a fumble or injury.
Speaking of injuries, they are hands down one of the coolest aspects of the game, and nothing is more satisfying than crippling the opposition\'s star player. Landing a nasty hit that causes an injury will cause the game to go into slow motion and zoom in on an interior view of the player showing you the injury. Watching spines shatter, muscles snap, or teeth go flying is more fun than it probably should be. Unfortunately, it\'s not as fun when it is one of your teammates, but luckily you can choose to juice him up to get him back on the field in just a few plays. A fractured leg is nothing a shot of juice cant fix!
One thing missing from the traditional Blitz game is the ability to smack down your opponent at the end of the play. Older versions allowed you a few seconds to hit or throw around your opponent. While you can no longer do that after every play, they did introduce brawling. If you hit your opponent with too many dirty hits it will start a brawl mode in which you have 10 seconds to land as many dirty hits on your opponent, while they try to do the same to you. The winner of the brawl is given clash icons to help build his meter into the Unleash mode.
Unfortunately, the game is lacking in some areas. First off, there are essentially no statistics to speak of completely inexcusable for a sports game in this day and age. The only stats to be found are a handful of league leaders in each of the major stat categories, such as yards passing, rushing, receiving, and defense. It is a puzzling omission as it could not have been difficult to include detailed stats for your players. Another irritating thing is that you are not allowed to make any roster moves of any kind. You can not substitute players, trade them, or move them to different positions. This is partly because there are a few scripted on the field incidents during the story mode that would not be possible if that person was on the bench. However, it does not explain why no roster moves are allowed during Quick play games.
Another problem is the lack of depth. Once you finish the campaign mode that is pretty much it for the game. There is no franchise option - you can not start a second season with your team. Your only option is to play quick play games, or play through the campaign mode again.
Visually speaking, Blitz looks very good. The original stadiums are imaginative, unique, and very well done. The motion capture elements especially the hits, are some of the best in any football game to date. The player models are solid, but aside from the differences in hair styles and skin color they all look relatively the same in the face. Some of the cut-scenes look fairly dated, and it was one of the rare games where I actually thought the in game graphics look better than the FMV on the whole. However, the bottom line is that the game looks very clean and crisp and the graphics are solid.
For the most part the sound is also decent. The voice acting includes ex-NFL player Lawrence Taylor who provides the voice for the NY Nightmare linebacker, Quentin Sands. The music is a blend of hip hop and rap, which matches the feel of the game. A few of the sound clips played during the game can get old after 30+ games, and it would have been nice if Midway utilized the custom soundtrack feature. However, the only real downer in the sound department is the announcing. The old Blitz games used a fun, over the top announcer to deliver the play by play, and it worked very well. Unfortunately theyve replaced him with easily the most snooze inducing announcer Ive ever heard on a sports game. It is an odd choice for a game that is anything but snooze inducing.
The good news is that none of the flaws detract from the fun of the game - it just makes you think how much further this series can grow. Where it truly succeeds is in showing that you do not need an NFL license to make a football game that is an entertaining experience. Blitz: the League is a game that would rate high in the fun factor column, but just misses the mark in the depth column. Its a fun diversion from the standard fare, but you likely wont be throwing away your copy of Madden 06 or ESPN 2K5 any time soon.