CrunchArcade: Back on the Gridiron

It is hard to believe it is August already. That means summer will soon be turning to fall. Kids go back to school, the weather gets cooler and the leaves change color. But most of that doesn’t matter to a lot of guys, because fall means football season. But in the world of video games you don’t have to wait until September for the kickoff. The games are already here! This week we look at the latest titles to get you ready for another season of college and professional football.

NCAA Football 08
EA Sports
Platforms: PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Xbox, Xbox 360
ESRB: Everyone

ncaacover.jpgWhether you’re looking for a quick game between your favorite college rivals, or want to build a dynasty that will head to the New Year’s Bowl Games year after year, NCAA Football 08 will take you there. The game once again offers controls that have a lot of depth but aren’t overly complicated — so you don’t have to feel like you need to study a playbook to get good at this one.

The dynasty mode lets you search for the top high school recruits, so you can build your powerhouse team. Plus, this year’s game features an all-new campus legend mode, that let’s relive your dreams of being a big man on campus. You’ll start off back in high school for the playoffs and then head to the college, as an underclassman where you’ll have to work to earn that starting position. While you won’t get to go to the weekend keggers (not that any college football player would do such a thing), you won’t have to go to class or watch your grades (no comment). And best of all you can even fast-forward any play in which you’re not a part of — this is the ultimate ego trip after all. And you can save and share your greatest moments on the virtual field too, and create a video that can be downloaded and shared with friends (which we frankly find a little creepy).

On the PS3 and Xbox 360 the game takes advantage of the systems’ powerful graphical capabilities, so you’ll almost think you were watching a real game. Almost, but not quite. Still, this one has some great visuals and while most games take advantage of HDTV; NCAA Football 08 is the kind of game that lets you show off the powers of the new consoles on HDTV. And even if you’re sticking with the last generation, you’re still in luck too. This is one of the few original Xbox titles out this year, and even this version looks mighty fine.

Madden NFL 08
EA Sports
Platforms: PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Xbox, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, GameCube, Nintendo DS, PSP, Game Boy Advance, PC
ESRB: Everyone

maddencover.jpgIt isn’t officially late summer until the arrival of Madden (which will arrive on August 14). And to say that this game is available is in a variety of platforms is an understatement. Every year Madden is among the very best selling games across any and all platforms — and only the power of a Grand Theft Auto or Halo can even come close to stealing the number one spot from this franchise, which has been around for two decades and is still going strong.

Now the question remains: why year after year does this game continue to get the fans excited? Is there really enough new each year to make it worth buying? Well, the short answer is yes. What Madden NFL 08 is able to do with each new version is introduce just enough new features to keep the fans coming back, while continually tweaking things that didn’t quite work the previous year. So important is Madden to EA Sports that the game is continually in development, and at this point somewhere Madden 09 is already underway!

And the big question: what is in this year’s edition? Well, the game that EA has shown has several new features including a so-called “weapons system,” meaning those special high-profile playmakers that are household names, and make the difference between a good team and a right team. The in-game skill icons can let you determine the individual players on-field strengths and weaknesses, so you can quickly react and exploit opponent weaknesses before every play. While this could involve having to really know the players, Madden fans expect no less.

Likewise, the new front office mode has been further refined, so you can take control of the various aspects that involve running an NFL franchise — and more importantly keeping said franchise profitable. This might mean constructing a new stadium and raising concession prices as well as hiring a new coaching staff and drafting players. In other words Madden is the best of all worlds for serious football fans. You can take the role of an individual player and hit the weights to get beefed up and go for glory, play quick games with friends online or run the whole show as a true control freak. Whatever you want in professional football, well, Madden probably has it.

All Pro Football 2K8
2K Sports
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
ESRB: Everyone +10

allprobox.jpgIf for some reason Madden isn’t your game – and honestly if you’re into football, we’d have to question your decision – then 2K Sports offers an alternate look with All Pro Football 2K8. This is a good game, but it is sort of like buying generic soda. Yeah, it’s close but it leaves a bit of a bad aftertaste and it just isn’t quite as good as the real thing.

Basically this one is about playing the various legends of the games, including such players as Johnny Unitas, Dick Butkus, Joe Montana, Mike Singletary, Reggie White and Walter Payton. What makes it really cool is that you can recruit a team of these players – but don’t look for every top tier player as just as many are missing as are included. Still with the players that are included you get to see their signature moves. More importantly this game uses a new and refined attribute system that focuses on the various stars specialized skills, making so that no two players will ever be the same. All this makes for a game that is a worthy opponent to Madden. Add in the online leagues and tournaments and the Big M might have some reason to be worried.

However All Pro comes up sort on a few levels. First the soundtrack is going to be love it or hate it, with much of the music focused for a vastly younger audience than Madden (so young that players might not even remember the likes of Johnny Unitas). Worse is that the fact that there is a decent season mode, but the games lacks a robust dynasty mode, especially given the likes of these players. Finally the commentary tracks are about as canned and generic as… generic soda.

Blitz: The League
Platforms: PlayStation 2, Xbox, Xbox 360 and Wii (Coming soon)
ESRB: Mature (Blood, Strong Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Drugs, Violence)

blitzcover.jpgWhen Electronic Arts scooped up the NFL license it made it hard for other game developers to even stay in the game. In 2005 Midway came up with Blitz: The League, an over-the-top style football series that was akin to the over-the-top style games that now-defunct publisher Acclaim used to be famous for making. In other words don’t look for any real-world superstars, team logos or famous stadiums. Instead you’ll find a more “cinematic: look at the world of professional football – where winning by any means is still winning.

The arcade style of football had been going strong as Blitz for a few seasons, then dropped and finally revived for the PS2 and Xbox in 2005. When it came back it was meaner and more brutal. The gameplay featured impossible hits, career-ending injuries and animations that certainly weren’t for the squeamish. Yet somehow many fans found this to be the way video game football should be played. It wasn’t realistic, but it was intense. Updated, Blitz: The League was released last year for the Xbox 360 with improved graphics and a few new features. Unfortunately the game isn’t getting a new season for Xbox 360, but because the team roster is fictional there isn’t a whole lot of need to update what already works so well.

The PSP version, Blitz: Overtime was released last year, and while it was good port of the game, it suffered from load times that seemed to last longer than the Superbowl half-time show! And while it hasn’t been officially announced, there are rumors of a Wii vesion of Blitz: The League this fall, which should take advantage of the system’s unique controller. Could football get any better?