Blitz The League II Review
Written : Thursday, October 30, 2008
By: Alan Pettit (GT: The Pants Party)
The Blitz franchise and I have a long history together. I first encountered it at the arcades when it first launched ten years ago under the NFL Blitz name. This was well before the current deal the NFL has with EA giving them sole rights to the NFL teams and logos. Back then the game was quite mild though the premise was there; longer first downs, flashier plays, less rules and bigger hits. It was also ridiculously expensive, costing either a quarter per quarter of play in the game, which were already shortened from normal football rules. My next encounter was one of the N64 versions, most likely NFL Blitz 2000 if I recall correctly. This "sequel" didn't have much to add from the previous version except an unforgiving AI that would seemingly increase its difficulty and defensive ability in the later part of the game to mount ridiculous comebacks. That remains the only game I have thrown out my window, over the fence and into my neighbor's yard.
Luckily this franchise has changed a lot over the years. Switching from NFL Blitz to Blitz: The League because of the EA deal which prohibits any other publisher from using NFL licensed names or current players; this paved the way for Midway to go wild and create teams like the Los Angeles Riot and New York Nightmare, as well as optioning retired NFL Players like Lawrence Taylor (Quentin Sands in-game) and Bill Romanowski (Bruno Battaglia in-game) to appear; much like 2K has done with their All-Star Football franchise. The hits are dirtier, the game is deeper and the AI is smarter instead of being cheaters like it used to. The direction this franchise has taken is incredible and makes for an excellent change from the Madden franchise, especially for older gamers who remember the mild violence from the arcades of their youth and wish to revisit that to a much bigger degree.
The action on the field looks great.
The biggest change from NFL Blitz is the addition of a campaign mode; complete with over-the-top players and the situations they get themselves into. Many of these will run parallel to actual instances from the NFL, most notably a QB named Mike Mexico (a parody of Ron Mexico, an alias supposedly used by Michael Vick) and the secret achievement related to injuring him in a game, "Pitbull Payback." The campaign in Blitz II focuses on the first "two-way" player in League history, meaning you play both offense and defense as the same person. Nicknamed "Franchise", you will begin the campaign by refusing to sign with the League Commissioner's favored team, instead insisting that you play in your hometown. From there you will create this hometown team including the name, colors and jerseys. I decided to make the Detroit Lions so I could see a team by that name win some games. From there you will hold a press conference and answer some questions about your style of play. Depending on the answers you give, you will be position on offense and defense and receive some stat boosts to things like strength, passing ability or speed.
The campaign is comprised mainly of playing and winning games. During the games, depending on how well you play (or more specifically, how dirty), you will earn money to spend during the off-time. You will be able to upgrade your training facilities, increasing player stats and decreasing the time players will be injured. You will also be bale to buy supplements that will range from perfectly legal to highly illegal; though the more illegal drugs you use, the more scrutiny your team will take from the League. You will also earn new sponsors and impress women by playing well which will earn you perks such as better equipment and facilities, or increased stats for your team. You are also able to bet on your own games and will earn a nice reward if you win the bet. The bet consists of you covering a "spread" which means if negative, you are favored and must win by a certain number of points, or if positive you must either win the game, or lose and remain within a certain number of points.
The gameplay is extremely simple, taking on the "arcade" aspect of the franchise. The only "technical" aspect I supposed would be the Clash meter. As you gain yards, cause turnovers or land big hits this meter will fill. Holding the left trigger will use your Clash meter and have various effects depending on the situation. While tackling, the intensity will increase and you'll have a better chance of injuring your opponent or jarring the ball loose. While passing or catching, you will go into a bullet-time type of effect and be able to dodge defenders with ease. You can also earn "icons" by doing certain things like taunting, performing endzone celebrations or landing a big hit on the other team's captain. Once you have filled all the icon slots, you will earn an Unleash bar which is used just the same as the Clash bar, but this will give you one huge, unstoppable move. If you need a crucial touchdown, this will deflect any tackle attempted. If you need a timely turnover, this will almost guarantee a fumble.
Oh, that is gonna hurt.
Using the Clash and Unleash bars will more often than not result in my favorite aspect of this game: injuries. When someone is injured, the game shows a short clip of what the injury must look like from the inside. If you've ever seen the TV show House M.D. then you'll know exactly what I'm taking about. These range from simple concussions where it visualizes the player's brain jiggling around, to a nasty spinal cord injury where the vertebrae all pop out of place. If you've ever wondered what a ruptured scrotum might look like from the inside, you're a sick, sick person. But, this game has you covered as that is a possible injury and inflicting ten of those will get you another secret achievement. Injuries are most often caused through the Hit Targeting system. Often when going for a bit tackle, the game will slow down and you will be able to choose from two to four icons on your opponent's body. Once you choose, you will then need to mash the A-button to increase the hit intensity. The area hit, A-button mini-game and your player's strength will determine what type or injury is caused.
Depending on the injury, some players will only miss a few plays thanks to the game's Triage mini-games. Smaller things like concussions, dislocations, bruises and less serious breaks can be fixed on the sidelines and get the player back in. There are two mini-games, again depending on the injury. Anything involving bones will require the bone to be set back in place. You will move the left and right thumbsticks to match along the edge of a circle, then two arrows will appear and you will need to jerk the sticks quickly in the direction of the arrows. The better you have followed the arrows, the quicker the player will return. The other game is much like Pin the Tail on the Donkey, except the Donkey is a shaking, injured player and you are a shaking, scared physician with a needle. The target area and the needlepoint will be randomly moving about and you will need to try and hit the bull's-eye as it were. The closer you get, the faster they will heal. Some injuries are of course too severe to come back from without a few game's rest. The fabled ruptured scrotum is one of those, though again you can speed the recovery process by upgrading your medical facilities with your earnings.
The graphics for all of this excellent gameplay are very good for the most part. Most impressive by far are the weather effects. Rain and snow are gorgeous and the resulting weather slicks on the field are great. The player models are also very well done and the injury cutscenes are also make for some good viewing. Every time I watch one I can't help but let out a groan and say "oh man!" out loud. My wife still asks "what?" every time to hear what crazy injury I've cause (or received) this time. She thought I was lying about the ruptured scrotum thing until I made her watch one. One thing that was very disappointing was the cheerleaders. For as slutty as they are (and trust me, they are very slutty), their faces look like poorly molded clay at times. There are also bad clipping errors and what little clothes they wear will phase in and out of their bodies at will. The stadiums, crowds and sideline players don't have too much detail but the camera focuses mostly on the field of play so it isn't very noticeable.
I sense broken ribs in this man's future.
On the complete opposite end is the audio, which is mostly awful with a few bright spots. The color commentating is done by Frank Caliendo who I really don't find funny to begin with though he has somehow become famous for his impressions, namely John Madden. However, playing a game and hearing "You know what? I went to a bar and aahahaghahhdhddaad!" and other such quips the entire time really got old quick. And that is pronounced just how it is spelled, and he does that on almost every one. Yeah, Madden tends to get excited and ramble a bit, but I could have done with just good jokes and not incoherent mockery. When he says actual jokes like "when it's raining like this your balls are going to be just as slippery as their balls, so no one really has an advantage" I actually chuckled, but those were rare. Then there's Jay Mohr as your agent. His "cocky" persona just comes off as completely annoying and if I were Franchise, I'd have punched him in the stomach and found a new agent right away. One the other hand, the soundtrack is cool and the other voices are done amiably well.
The achievements are a bit hit and miss here. You get a nice chunk of points simply finishing campaign mode and some extras for getting MVP honors in all the divisions, though the two girlfriend related achievements will require two playthroughs of the campaign which wasn't necessary. The injury system accounts for most of the secret achievement for knocking out certain players and eventually racking up all 31 injuries which may take some time, especially for the leg/foot injuries which are rare due to the distance you need to be when diving for the tackle. Other than that, the achievements are like most football games just spread out for random tasks like kick returns for touchdowns, big numbers of yardage, high numbers of passing or rushing touchdowns and various things like that. Nothing too exciting but a very manageable list. There are some online achievements, but not too many and aside from winning with every team in the game, most could be done in a single night. The famous "Clap" viral achievement is back though which is always a good time.
Terrible commentary from Frank Caliendo and a poor performance from Jay Mohr as your agent. The soundtrack and bit players salvage it but most of your time is spent in-game listening to Caliendo act like an idiot, unfortunately.
The player models, injury snippets and weather effects are all awesome. The stadium and background renders are below average and the cheerleader face models are terrible.
Very simple controls, good tutorials and strategies that are easy to pick up. The AI doesn't ramp up the intensity like it used to in the old Blitz games which is nice as you can get a lead and keep it.
This is a very fun game and a very good option to get some edgy, enjoyable football in for an older crowd. Madden is undeniably a good football franchise as well, but there's just something about a ruptured scrotum that really calls to me.
Not a great list but nowhere near the worst I've seen. Manageable online achievements, large sums from the campaign mode and fairly simple random achievements are all appreciated. Getting all the injuries will take some time and knocking out some of the other one-shot achievements take some strategy as well. You're probably looking at 20-30 hours depending on how lucky you get with injuries and how quickly you can boost the online achievements.
I'm not sure delivering season-ending injuries and watching the House-style snippets that show the carnage could ever get old. I got my first (and only) broken neck injury just before finishing this review up and it was beautifully brutal. The secret achievement for getting all 31 injuries would be tedious if it wasn't so fun to watch them unfold. The rest of the game matches that level of excitement as well. Driving down the field to take the lead is a blast and putting up big stops on defense is exhilarating. The intensity level that Blitz runs on gives way to a much more involved experience than something like Madden or All-Pro can deliver and I really appreciate that in today's market of yearly expansions for sports titles. Throw on top of that some great visuals, simple controls and a deep campaign mode and you've got yourself a winner in my book.