Blitz: The League REVIEW

Blitz: The League Review (Xbox 360)

Over the last 15-20 years in the film-making industry, there’s been a emergence of cartoons from the past being made into live-action movies. From “The Flintstones” to “Scooby Doo” to holiday classics like “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, more and more of the animated entertainment from my youth seems to be making itself onto the screen with real actors and images. While there is no arguing that many of these have been a success, there’s something about it that has always rubbed me the wrong way. The freedom that comes with the over-the-top actions and environments that are afforded to you in animation just seem to lose a ton of their appeal when I’m looking at real people.

The Blitz series from Midway has always been one of the cartoons of sports gaming. It was over-the-top and irreverent in nature and that was OK. It wasn’t trying to compete head-to-head with the Maddens of the world despite the fact that they were both football games at the core. Kind of like the way “SpongeBob Squarepants” isn’t trying to steal any Emmys from “Sex and the City”, despite the fact that they're both half-hour comedies.

When EA Sports snapped up the NFL license, the team at Midway made the bold decision to continue to make football games. While the rest of the competition shut down to regroup, the Blitz series pushed ahead. No longer handcuffed by the legal department of the NFL and their power, they decided to keep the high-impact game play that had earned their titles nicknames like “football on steroids”, but now it would fit that label – literally instead of figuratively.

In fall of 2005, Blitz: The League dropped on the last-generation consoles and was met with fairly good press and sales numbers that shocked a lot of folks. The team had decided to make a game that was everything about the NFL that many people had always assumed was happening, but the NFL didn’t want us to know about. They would place the spotlight firmly on the violence, gambling, and the drugs of every shape and size. They had made the game that the NFL didn’t want you to see.

Fast forward a year, and Midway is bringing Blitz: The League to the next-generation with its release on the Xbox 360. As exciting as it is to get another football alternative on the 360, it’s important to point out first and foremost ,that this is not a sequel to the Xbox version. This is essentially the same game we saw 14 months ago with a few cosmetic changes. That’s not a bad thing if you passed on the last release, but those who were hoping for something new will be disappointed.

In its most simple form, Blitz: The League is still what it was five years ago – an arcade-style, big-hitting, fast-paced, punch-in-the-neck good time. It is the definition of pick-up-and-play football. It’s not about the 65 Z Fly Right Bronco with a reset formation and the fullback in motion. It’s a lot more about hike, pass, hit, rinse and repeat. Although the visuals and the story in Blitz: The League are starting to move more towards reality, the product on the field is still a big cartoon. In the new Blitz style, good play is rewarded by filling the Clash meter. Think about the Gamebreaker from EA's Street games or loading up your Special meter in a Tony Hawk game. When the Clash meter is full, you can slow down everyone on the field (on offense) except for the player you are controlling with a simple squeeze of the trigger. On defense, you are not given the ability to slow down time, but instead it’s used as basically the ultimate hit stick. The hits you lay down when Clash is engaged are just flat-out foul. This is where you are most likely to see the injuries that Blitz: The League is becoming famous for.

If you’re not familiar with these, the game actually shows an X-ray perspective as the area in question is snapped like a twig. They are absolutely hilarious at times while still producing the wince that you would expect. Some of these injuries can knock a player out for quite some time, but some less serious bang-ups leave you with the option to pull out "the cream" and "the clear" to “juice up” your player. This will allow them to play through the injury. It's not exactly the soft, friendly Blitz of old, but it's probably a lot closer to reality.

All in all, it plays a pretty decent game of football. Well, to re-phrase, it plays a pretty good game of Blitz-style football. Make no mistake; these games are shootouts. While defense is a lot more fun to play then in years past, it’s still a pretty futile effort. Both you and the AI are going to put points on the board. The AI is actually pretty solid in using the style that is available to give you a competitive game. It does flirt with the evil “catch-up logic” accusations from time to time, but I would argue that it's almost necessary in this style of game.

Where you should find the bulk of your gameplay taking place is in the Campaign mode offered in Blitz: The League. Although you are running a franchise, it’s certainly not a Franchise mode in the classic sense of the term. It’s far closer to a traditional Story Mode that kind of plays out like what you see in the current professional wrestling titles. It’s told over a period of time and focused on a single goal.

The League in Blitz: The League is structured sort of like some European soccer leagues. There are divisions, Division 3 being the lowest, that you try to win your way through to get to Division 1. Basically, you win the Championship in Division 3, you move up to 2 and so on. They never go into a ton of detail on The League itself during gameplay, but it would be a nice added element in future releases. You start by creating a team and choosing an offensive and defensive player. They will be the focal point of the storyline that kicks off after your owner cleans house, leaving you to pick up the pieces and make him a winner.

The story unfolds via cut-scenes and various moments through the season that, while entertaining, funny and even sometimes very well-written, really seem to just be happening around you and you never really get a great sense that the action on the field is being woven into the tale that is being told off of it. Lawrence Taylor makes it into the 360 version in the role he was meant to play – Quentin Sands. Joining "LT" in this version is Bill Romanowski, who plays Bruno Battaglia. Bruno is not a new character scripted for Bill, he’s the same role as in the Xbox version, he’s just played by "Romo" now.

The Xbox Live experience is really a bright spot for this title as well. I think that’s a natural position, because these games are custom-made to talk smack with. A big hit is just a big hit when you’re flying solo, but the ability to jaw at someone just takes the fun factor up a notch. Games were pretty easy to find and I was pleased to see very little lag during the bulk of my games.

The game does look slightly better on the 360, but it’s not the jump in graphics that you would have expected in the migration the newer unit. The game still features some of the best animations going. Granted, the over-the-top nature of the product on the field lends itself well to this. The big shots certainly are not realistic, but they look great. I do feel that the graphics in cut-scenes lag seriously behind the on-the-field visuals.

Sounds in the game are vicious in more ways than one. The cracks and groans that you hear on the feel will really floor you sometimes. A couple of them almost make you a little queasy. Equally vicious is the language itself. Make no mistake; this game is for folks who don’t mind the occasional F-bomb. The vocabulary is as colorful as the uniforms.

Blitz: The League is like watching real football players playing cartoon football. They do things that human beings can not do. Their bodies do things in this game that just can’t happen on a football field. No, not “Mario running”; that’s those other football games. It’s an in-your-face, fast-paced car wreck of action. It’s brutal and flat-out ugly at times. Unfortunately, it’s also the game that was released over a year ago.

If you passed on the PS2 or Xbox releases last year, Blitz: The League is definitely worth a look on the 360. If you’ve played the game already, there’s not enough new here to justify a second purchase. What is here is some great groundwork for what could be an evolving franchise. I love the concepts. I love the fact that they stayed true to the Blitz philosophy, but gave it an edge. Perhaps the thing I love most of all is that they showed the industry that you can make a good football game that people will talk about and, more importantly, buy - even without the NFL license.

Blitz: The League Score
out of 10