Name: Blitz: The League II
Genre: Sports – Football
Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 (Reviewed on 360)
NFL Blitz was one of my favorite games on the Nintendo 64. My friends and I spent countless hours trouncing one another with various teams in the game where late hits were fun, and crazy “go deep” plays were the norm. A few years ago, Midway tried bringing the Blitz franchise back with Blitz: The League. The game featured Lawrence Taylor and Bill Romanowski, along with steroids, hookers, grisly injuries, and over the top violence. Without the NFL license, developers, along with writers from defunct ESPN series Playmakers, were free to give their take on what “real” football must be like. Consumers ate it up, and now two years later, the sequel hits shelves just as many fair-weather Maddenites are putting down the game in favor of more current releases. Having never played the last iteration, I was curious as to whether or not Blitz: The League II could fill the void of ridiculous arcade football that’s been missing from my life since I was running “Da Bomb” with Brett Favre and Dorsey Levens.
I want you to know I love all kinds of football. Mutant League, European (that means soccer, not NFL Europe), Madden, actual outside play with real people football, whatever kind of football it is, I like it. The original Blitz games were full of fun, and the game never took itself too seriously. Blitz: The League II tries so incredibly hard to be hardcore that it misses the point, and the end result is a mixed bag of fun and frustration. While most people will tell you the best parts of the Blitz franchise are the crazy hits, I’m more likely to choose the “no way would this work in real life” plays. On the play-calling screen, the plays are given normal enough names, but when you actually look at some of the routes your receivers are supposed to run, including a few with double loops, you’ll see the game tries to stay close to its “extreme” roots. But crazy plays aren’t the only thing this updated franchise has in common with predecessors. The late hits that were so prevalent in earlier versions have been ramped up to the nth degree, and include things like punching a guy in the ribs, or kicking a man in the groin several times over to drain his stamina. Draining stamina means a player is more likely to get hurt, and that’s where this new Blitz tries to make its name.
Injuries are a part of football, there’s no denying it. Dirty hits are also a part of the game, and when you combine the two, you get Blitz’s Clash meter. If you manage a few good plays on defense, you’ll build up this meter, enabling you to lock into specific body parts on opposing players. Once locked in, you’re prompted to mash the A button to build up a potential damage meter (the more you fill it up, the worse the injury). The game then has a specific cut-scene for that injury, and you can do anything from burst a man’s spleen to giving bruised ribs to fracturing his skull. Clash powers work on offense too, but act more as bullet-time to break a tackle, than to injure a player. The animations are gory, and the foley artists on these sound effects should be commended (who knew a burst spleen sounded like a dozen eggs shattering in a water balloon?). But that’s about the only time the sound design works for me in this game. For a game built on bravado, there’s not much action on the field. Players occasionally curse at one another, but even crowd noise sounds average and muffled. Incomplete passes and tackles all sound like they did back in 1999’s Blitz, and instead of ringing nostalgic, it seems lazy.
When it comes to story, which is one of the lynchpins of the game, Blitz: The League II falls flat on its stereotyped face. You’ll play as Kid Franchise, a two-way player rising from the lower ranks of the League, to try and capture the title over the commissioner’s favorite team, the LA Riot. Along the way, Lawrence Taylor will join your team in a convoluted attempt to amp up the tension and create purpose for your player. It’s easy to see why Playmakers was cancelled after watching the story progress. Career mode is also hampered by the fact you have to get a specific number of wins to move on, and all your opponents are predetermined. Each time you play through the game, you’ll play the same teams in the same order, over and over. If you fail to meet the requisite number of wins, you’re stuck replaying the same team over and over again until you beat them. And no matter how good you are you will run across the “Eff You Game.” Anyone who’s played Madden knows no matter how stacked your team is during a season, the computer will randomly assign one particular game to be the game you cannot win under any circumstance. That will happen at least once during each of the three tiers of your career.
While there are some gameplay issues like not knowing whether or not you or the computer is currently engaged in Clash mode (only one of you can be at a time), for the most part, Blitz: The League II plays just earlier games in the series. You may play with a friend who complains about there being no running game, but honestly, Blitz is all about the big play, and while you can run the ball occasionally, you’ll want to pass more anyway since first downs are 30yds away instead of 10. Animations are sometimes a bit clunky, but it never took me out of the moment since I was playing an arcade style game, and I wasn’t looking for realistic movement from my players. Playing against another person also creates some issues with the defensive Clash meter, as they have the ability to mash buttons along with you trying to prevent the big injury, but it never seemed to be as responsive for the offensive player. You just had to be more proficient at the injury mini-games (popping dislocated shoulders back in, giving cortisone shots) to compensate.
When the clock ticks down to zero, Blitz: The League II is almost a decent game. There’s some fun things hidden amongst the hype, and had this game come out at some other point of the year, I’d almost recommend you buy it. Sadly, the lack of replay value, and plethora of better games makes this nothing more than a rental for a weekend when your local football franchise is on a bye week. There’s potential to capitalize on, but I’m not so sure even with improved gameplay if this game could ever be a day one purchase. Guess we’ll have to wait until next season to find out.