Xbox 360 (PS3)
It’s been three years since I have touched a football videogame, unless you count Tecmo Bowl on the Virtual Console. The reason is simple: it was 2004 when Visual Concepts last gave us a 2K NFL game. ESPN NFL 2K5 was a dream game for anyone who wanted to play the genre, but might not have an intense interest in the sport itself. The game was engrossing, easy to control, and the epitome of what a sports title should be. It was a sad day for gamers when EA bought out the NFL license, and since then we’ve been stuck with vaguely upgraded Madden titles. Now the wait is over, and through some creative finagling we are given the next step in 2K’s football lineup. It’s just too bad that All-Pro Football 2K8 jumps the gun and we end up with an interception that makes the latest Madden look like a golden child in comparison.
Here’s how things went down for this game. Without an NFL license Visual Concepts had to go into the vaults and pull out retired players to fill out the roster. The idea is great, but the horrible execution gimps the most compelling gimmick of the title. Hall of Famers like Jerry Rice, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, and the Juice himself Orenthal James Simpson are in the game. But you won’t be adding them all to your team. You are severely limited in your options in setting up a true all-star line. The pain is only slightly alleviated by having O.J. join your Assassins team, oh sweet irony.
The players are put into categories, and you get to choose from a list. You get to select two Gold Star players (those that even a novice to football will recognize), three Silver Star players (if you watched at least one episode of ‘Sports Center’ you should know them), and six Bronze Star players (I think I might have heard tell of someone on this list). The idea is to provide a balanced team, which is fitting when playing during the season mode. The issue here is that you can’t trade up by taking only four Bronze guys to get an extra Gold or Silver. You’re stuck with the setup. To make matters worse, when you play with a friend locally you can’t just stack up the most amazing lines to battle it out. The game makes you stick with this setup. Speaking honestly as a non-football fan, but diehard gamer, I was appalled at this decision. The thought of this game when it was announced had me giddy with thoughts of Elway, Marino, OJ, Randall Cunningham, Ronnie Lott, and whoever else on the same team.
There are some other changes and missteps in the game besides this. I did briefly notice that there are no stats, which is going to be a huge hole in a sports game. Being a hockey and golf fan I know how important stats are to us sports fans. Instead each player is delegated what I like to call “special powers.” Instead of a stat number a player might be designated a “Leadership Bonus.” It’s a pure video game system that doesn’t bother me in the slightest, but it’s worth noting as a slight slap in the face of fans who might be interested in cross checking the stats of players before choosing their team.
I am happy to report that once you’re on the field and playing a game things are nearly as enjoyable as you remember from three years ago. Never one to read a manual or use a tutorial unless forced, I jumped straight in to a game. The control was intuitive, and the best part is that this feels like a football game is being played. Breaking through the offensive line to get a sack results in a fist pump because you damn well earned it. The players react according to their roles, and even when being brought down a halfback will fight for those extra yards. The visual style and animations come in handy for delivering a true football experience. The one issue is that when playing through a full season there’s no variety – well, except for the inexplicable reason why the computer can have as many Gold and Silver Star players as they’d like! – between games. All-Pro is meant to be a multiplayer game.
Yes, the right thumb stick features heavily in the gameplay. It should go without saying that this is standard now, and while Visual Concepts took a few steps back in other departments they are keeping on the heels of Madden with this game mechanic. You can do some nice scrambling with the right stick, get your ball carrier through a tight hole, and of course take down your opponent as he tries to slip by. All of this is to be expected, and it works fine. You also use the right stick for kicking. The mechanic works similar to a swing in Tiger Woods PGA games. Pull back on the stick to get things started, and swing forward when it’s time to kick. The straighter you move the straighter your shot. It’s simple, fun, and rewarding for those with the skill.
As for what there is to do, All-Pro Football 2K8 is a barren wasteland. There are 16 games in a season, and then the playoffs. That is it. Once you’re done you start all over, and there’s no championship game. You can’t trade players, there’s no franchise mode, and the injury system seems a bit ridiculous. It seems a bit much to ask a player to deal with an injury during a season when all other aspects of the sport are abandoned. Wait, I take that back, not everything was abandoned. From what I can tell all of the rules in All-Pro come straight from the NFL. If ever there was a chance for 2K to take the game to a higher level that would be it. Not arcade style play, but just some minor tweaks to the rules to make it more enjoyable.
Presentation wise the game is a mixed bag. The graphics are a sore spot, seeing as how they look like a high res version of football titles of two or three years ago. That aside the animations are phenomenal. Taking Marino out of the pocket he scrambles realistically, and just as you’re about to get your head removed a beautiful long bomb is lobbed. If you’re too focused on catching the ball you might miss the glorious hit your QB takes as he eats some dirt. But things are all good because Jerry Rice just made a beautiful diving catch for the game-winning touchdown. Moments like that will make you forget the last gen graphics and your longing for a franchise mode.
I liked the time with the game I’ve had. The problem is that after 2K5 I demanded nothing short of pure love. There are too many fumbles to make this game anything more than a nice attempt. But there’s hope for the future. The features that aren’t in this version can be added in 2K9, and the gameplay is already as solid as you could ask. So with some upgrades, a lot more versatility in team creation, and a few changes throughout 2K Sports could reign supreme in the football world again. As gamers that’s all we ask.