Reviewed: Februrary 22, 2006
Released: February 7, 2006
Many years ago, I heard about this amazing gaming craze that was sweeping through the United Kingdom in the form of a game called Championship Manager. Touted as the ultimate soccer simulator, Championship Manager was supposed to be so utterly addictive that it was becoming an epidemic among the UK’s younger set; people were losing jobs, marriages were breaking apart, children were being neglected, their economy was even taking a hit.
As an avid soccer video gaming fan, I just had to get my hands on a copy of this nefarious game. Well, after a lengthy bit of searching, I did finally get my hands on a copy Championship Manager. Shortly after, I found myself asking “Why?”
You see, I was shocked to find Championship Manager to be nothing – zilch – zippo – like I had imagined. In fact, I could not even see how Championship Manager was even considered a video game at all. No graphics, just text screens? No action, just simulated game results? What the hell are those people smoking to like this stuff? To this day, I still cannot answer that question. But, there is no denying that the popularity of Championship Manager has sparked interest in game companies worldwide.
Not the least of which is EA and Tiburon, who over the past few years have been molding their Madden Football “Dynasty” modes reflect the team building and omnipotent coaching decisions of Championship Manager. In fact, it is to the point where the Dynasty mode has pretty much become a game in and of itself.
So, it is only natural that EA decided to take the game one step further and actually break the coaching aspects out into a brand new game franchise. So, by combining a little Madden and a little Championship Manager, we have EA Sports’ latest outing, NFL Head Coach.
With one of the deepest coaching experiences to ever hit the North American shores, NFL Head Coach is bound to set the fantasy football stats-nerds jumping for joy. But once they find out just how dull and monotonous the gameplay winds up being, they will probably make a hasty retreat for Maddenville.
First off, when discussing NFL Head Coach the word “gameplay” does not really apply. Head Coach touts itself as a coaching simulator, and as so it ends up more resembling a day at work than it ever does take the form of a video game. In fact, I can safely say that hour-for-hour, Head Coach is definitely more mentally taxing, more frustrating, and way more boring than even the worst days at my normal day job – and I am an Engineer for a multimillion dollar supplier of military aircraft engine parts.
You see, when NFL Head Coach says it puts you in the coach’s position – well, it really puts you in the coach’s position; interviewing for jobs, accepting a position, hiring staff, sending out scouts, drafting new talent, selecting playbooks, and much, much more. Sound like a rich, rewarding experience – almost like NFL Head Coach might be a lot of fun, right? Well, Ye…er…No. NFL Head Coach is neither rewarding, nor is it any fun. It’s just plain boring.
I mean think about this: Sitting at a desk for 3 hours (literally) picking up phone calls, answering lists of multiple choice questions, setting practice schedules, and checking emails – all the wonderful harmony of dry elevator music and throat clearing noises – yep, sounds like an awfully boring day at work to me. And considering that you have very little choice in what to do (or when to do it), NFL Head Coach just takes you along for a long, boring ride.
Scouting – from the desk. Recruiting – from the desk. Interviewing – from the desk. For the first 4 hours, everything is done from your friggin’ desk. Most gamers will be having anxiety attacks by the time they actually are allowed to reach the practice field.
But then the practice field is no treat either, because without the ability to control player movement – other than helping call the plays of course – the hands-tied feeling only gets worse.
Surely, the team-on-team exhibition and season games must be better, right? Well yes, naturally the idea of going head-to-head with an actual team is a bit more motivating than practicing against a scrimmage team. But with offensive and defensive coordinators making the play calls for you – and you simply deciding whether to comply, or override and risk losing heir trust and loyalty – it just is not a whole lot of fun.
And have I mentioned the loading times in NFL Head Coach? I swear I spent more time staring at a minute or more of loading screens for the Xbox to cue up ten seconds worth of phone call.
On the bright side, the loading screens treat you with a series of famous (and some not-so-famous) quotes from some of the biggest names in coaching. Some are inspirational, some are funny, some are even a bit dirty – but these “Coachisms” as they are called, are really are the best part of NFL Head Coach, and that should strike you as being a bit sad.
My office sure looks good. Fairly static, but good. Three-dimensional even. The characters look good, too – I mean this is Tiburon, so they do know how to make football players and stadiums look authentic. And really, the menu interface has a nice, modern look as well.
But that pretty much sums up the graphics, because there really is not much focus placed on the aesthetic look of the game – and it could have easily pulled Championship Manager’s text-only tip and gotten away with it.
Did I already mention the fact that for the first 4 hours, the only sounds you hear is the occasional jingle of the phone overtop the distant elevator music (what did we used to call it – muzak?) and the random throat clearing noise.
Thankfully, the practice and game sounds are ripped right from Madden – so they bring in a certain level of authenticity and quality to the otherwise insomnia-curing drone of the desk jockey work.
To be honest, I could only take about 6 hours of the slow-moving tedium that is NFL Head Coach before I had to set the game down for good. Maybe if the game moved a bit faster, featured better music, or let you at least play the in-game sports (even as a minigame maybe) – maybe then I could recommend the game to others. But when you have to say maybe three times – it just isn’t a good game.
I thought maybe it was a personal bias, so I scanned the other media sources and found that most reviewers are having a very difficult time with NFL Head Coach.
EA, especially Tiburon and the rest of the EA Sports division, definitely know how to pump out a fun and exciting game – NFL Head Coach is just not one of these games. But really, what was EA thinking? When most gamers have been more than happy with Madden’s Dynasty mode for all these years, having a game like NFL Head Coach just isn’t necessary – why waste the time and money?
I mean, the whole Championship Manager thing might work in the UK, but only because those UK people are weird, and find pleasure in stuff called Blood Pudding, Bangers and Mash, and Cricket. I mean c’mon, their footballs are round, people – isn’t that proof enough of their weirdness?
So is everyone going to dislike Head Coach game as much as I did? Probably not. I am sure there are handful gamers out there who think on a completely different level than the rest of us, know football stats inside and out, and can have the patience to sit through hour upon hour of tedious loading screens. Thankfully, those guys probably don’t have wives or girlfriends to worry about, so NFL Head Coach won’t cause any broken homes on this side of the pond – like Championship Manager did in jolly old England.
All joking aside, NFL Head Coach might have been better received it appeared on the scene as a newly added mode within the Madden franchise – because as it stands, it really isn’t worth your hard earned cash.
Sorry EA, after a string of touchdown titles over the past year, NFL Head Coach comes up a fumble.