Reviewed: December 6, 2004
Released: November 7, 2003
With the football season already winding down toward the inevitable playoffs and Super Bowl I was surprised to see Midway arriving late on the scene with their yearly football offering. Normally the new crop of sports titles arrive when the season is just getting started, and this year timing is more important than ever as Midway’s NFL Blitz Pro plans on taking on the Big Three.
Most console quarterbacks have already jumped on the Madden, ESPN, Fever bandwagon, but I suppose there are a few Blitz fans out there who have been patiently waiting for the yearly installment of turbo-charged NFL action. What they might not be expecting is the all new serious spin Midway is putting on their NFL franchise, a twist that Midway is applying to all their sports games this year with surprising success.
In the past the Blitz series has been known for arcade-style football that breaks the rules and offers lots of gratuitous over-the-top action rather than a realistic treatment of the sport. Midway has decided to shift the series into the more mainstream style of gameplay and actually go up against the established contenders in the genre. They’ve already proven the concept works in their NHL Hitz Pro game and they’ve done it again with Blitz.
NFL Blitz Pro Key Features:
Blitz fans will most likely be surprised at the full field of 11 players and the new hard-hitting AI that makes this game every bit as challenging as the other NFL titles on the market. The defense is rock solid, partly due to the extra players and partly because of the tweaked AI that makes the offense work for every last yard.
The offense has been tweaked with a new improved running game that lets you mix in spins and jukes to avoid the new D. The fire and forget passing of the past games is now a read and lead and pray you connect with your receiver. Whether you are attacking by ground or air the challenge has definitely been stepped up a notch.
The playbooks have been revamped to include plenty of new team-specific plays and audibles giving you a much broader scope of plays to choose from. Plays are more realistic than past games and many are based on actual NFL formations. This is as close to real football as Blitz has ever gotten and while it’s not a 100% equal to those other NFL games, it does an admirable job for its first attempt.
Even with the added complexity of the gameplay the controls are just as intuitive as always. You’ll definitely want to study the manual to learn some of the more subtle elements, and the load screens will often provide additional hints and reminders about critical controls and features.
New to the Blitz series is the Franchise Mode, which definitely extends the single-player lifespan of this title. It contains all the basics but doesn’t delve too deeply into any of them so those looking for an in-depth NFL management simulation might need to look elsewhere. This is certainly a great place for rookies to get their feet wet.
One nice feature is the Create-a-Player where you can create your own athlete from scratch and take him through an NFL career. You can earn money during the game and use it to improve your stats and help you advance through your career.
There are enough bonuses to fill a locker room and you will need to earn plenty of points in normal gameplay so you can spend them in the Blitz Shop. It will take you months of gameplay to unlock all the new game modes, bonus stadiums, and fantasy teams.
Blitz Pro looks really great for a Blitz game but I’m afraid ESPN NFL Football has spoiled me as far as graphics and overall TV-style presentation is concerned. Even so, Blitz offers some stunning stadium visuals that you can really appreciate during the intros to each game. There is plenty of signage, animated crowds, and the fantasy courses are wilder than ever.
Players look fantastic with detailed clothing and improved facial textures. The animation is painfully realistic if not often over-the-top in true Blitz fashion complete with taunts and end zone dancing. This is the violent and sometimes humorous football that we all secretly want to play.
Menus all look great with the traditional Blitz style and plenty of Midway Cheerleaders stuck in the corners. Playbooks are easy to read and easier to navigate. The overall presentation and structure is simple and straightforward.
The Xbox version is easily the best looking version of Blitz, and with the progressive scan support (yes it's there even though it's not listed on the box) everything looks crisp and clear with none of the aliasing or shimmering of the PS2. The framerate is also much smoother throughout the entire game.
Music is limited to some standard sports rock that we’ve all come to expect from sports menus and opening segments. Most of the sound package is dominated with all the hard-hitting sound effects to back up the hard-hitting action. Veterans of the Blitz franchise will love the tried and true grunts and groans that you hear as each play comes to a violent conclusion, but will surely miss the lack of trash talk. It’s still there but certainly not in the quantities Blitz fans are accustomed to.
Of course any sports game is defined by its commentary and Blitz has always been known for the lively banter of Tim Kitzrow. This year Tim is out and Midway has gone with their new commentary model used in recent games like Hitz and Slugfest. You basically have a serious commentator who handles the play-by-play, and in this case the commentary is quite accurate and keeps up with the action.
To play against this is the color commentary provided by fictional ex-jock, Gator Jones. These two guys exchange some of the best banter and random jokes that you will hear in any current sports game. The best part is the commentary continues during the load screens making some of the lengthier waits tolerable.
You get all of your standard gameplay modes in Blitz Pro including; QuickPlay, Exhibition, Season, and Tournament plus the new Franchise mode. The Create-a-Player is definitely a nice addition that gives the game an almost RPG-like quality and lets you get attached to a single player. The Blitz Shop not only a great idea, it’s the perfect interface for accessing all the bonus content Blitz Pro has to offer and will keep obsessive gamers occupied for months.
Of course the real value to Blitz Pro is the multiplayer modes. Whether you are playing with two or four people, Blitz Pro is the ultimate party game. There is a lot of fun to be had whether you choose a quick single game or challenge other console quarterbacks to a full-on tournament.
While the Xbox does offer four-player gaming out of the box (no multitap required) Midway has inexplicably chose not to offer any Xbox Live support. This means there are no leader boards, real-time online weather, roster updates, or other downloadable content not to mention head-to-head play. Considering this is an option on the PS2 – a system that is certainly not as “online friendly” with any structured community – I am very disappointed with Midway for taking away a huge part of the overall package. After all, Blitz’s biggest strength is multiplayer gaming, and with every other sports title going online this year a lack of online support is just inexcusable.
NFL Blitz Pro had to be a scary endeavor for Midway. In their attempt to recruit gamers from the serious side of the genre they risked alienating the arcade quarterbacks that have made their extreme vision of NFL a household name. Blitz Pro walks a fine line between serious sim and classic Blitz action and maintains a perfect balance from start to finish.
The main thing holding this title back is a total lack of online support that will keep your team rosters suspended in time, your opponents in the same room, no real-time weather, and no hope of downloading additional stadiums or teams. Technically, I can complain about a lack of HDTV and Dolby Digital support, features that the competion are offering, and there are other aspects missing that serious sports gamers will condemn, but overall, you won’t find a more fun or well rounded football game for casual and serious gamers alike.