Release Date: August 26, 2003
Buy 'NFL FEVER 2004': Xbox
From its very first season, Microsoft's first party football series has been a bit behind the pack in terms of game play and features, which was to be expected for the first season or two, due to the short development time. It was also brand new, with no predecessors to work off of, unlike Madden and SegaSports, whose titles have been around for years and have been fine-tuned to near perfection. After a few years of football games under its belt, MS now has a lot to work with and can start fine-tuning the game play. Also helping out Fever 2004 is the great online play thanks to XBL and the brand new XSN sports features that are exclusive to this and all first party Xbox titles, at least for now. So things are looking good on paper, but was MS able to do what it needed to get Fever 2004 up to the high standards set by Madden and ESPN Football?
Right away, Fever will stand out and get people's attention with its slick graphics. Fever has some very good looking player models that sport a lot of polygons and fine details. MS really tried hard this year to get players' faces looking as close to real life as possible, but more work is still needed, as a lot of them don't look that much like their real life counterparts. They're not bad by any means though and are far better then the scary looking face models from the early Madden titles on PS2, but they are still a pretty long way off from ESPN Football's amazingly realistic faces.
The lighting in Fever is another story and looks very accurate to real world lighting, right down to the color of the lights. Lighting is very important in games to help create a believable 3D world, and Fever does a very good job of this. Fever also excels in texture detail; pretty much all of the textures in Fever 2004 look great and are highly detailed, much more so than any of the ones in Madden and ESPN. The ones on the player models themselves look great and have some nice bump mapping to give the jerseys added detail and realism of mesh. For replays and non action shots, Fever makes good use of a Depth of Field blur effect. This really looks good and helps give Fever a televised look to it.
On the downside, the stadiums could use more details and polygons and look a bit dated compared to ESPNs. Also the animation is pretty choppy and seems to be missing some frames here and there. Sadly, it's bad enough to affect the game play from time to time too, which I will talk about later. Rounding out the graphics is a dust effect: every time a player walks on the field, little dust clouds pop up at their feet. While the dust/cloud effect itself is well done and looks ok, it is far far FAR overused and even appears when a player is just walking around. It would be one thing if the games were played on a dry, sandy field with little to no grass. On a fully grassed field, however, it just does not look right to see a ton of little dust clouds at the bottom of every player’s feet every time they take a step. I am no grass expert but I am pretty sure the grass used on a pro football field is not that dusty. Overall, Fever 2004 is a good looking football game, despite its sometimes choppy animations.
Unfortunately, NFL Fever 2004's game play still has some problems and needs more work. Some of these problems are due to the choppy animations, which at times can make passing and running pretty tough. Most of the game play issues just need more polish and fine tuning. Fever 2004 is not much different than 2003 in terms of game play, which sadly needed to be a good bit different to help catch up to the big boys. Fever sports all of the same basic features that all other football games have, so I won’t go into detail on them as there is little to no differences between the ones in Fever and the other titles.
Fever does bring some exclusive features to the table though, and this year, the two biggest are "Read and Lead" passing and XSN Sports support. Read and Lead passing basically gives you full control over your passing, letting you tweak the system settings to allow you as much control as you want over the passing game. Also, it lets you throw to a spot down field and have the receiver adjust his route dynamically in real time and try to move to where the ball is going. This whole passing system works pretty well and really adds a nice layer of depth to the passing game; it also gives you the option to use more standard forms of passing like the classic one-button pass that football games have used for a while now.
While this feature gives Fever more of a sim element, the game plays nothing like a football sim. Fever's game play is a mix of sim and arcade, with it leaning more to the arcade side of things. That’s not to say it's totally unrealistic, but compared to the hyper realistic Madden and ESPN football titles, Fever is far more arcade. Hardcore sim fans will hate this aspect about Fever and will easily choose either Madden or ESPN football over this. Casual football fans who do not care about an ultra realistic game of football will want to take a hard look at NFL Fever 2004. The game play, while more arcade based, is very fun and fast-paced. The games are pretty realistic and by no means "Blitz" like. This title also plays great on XBL, and XSN Sports really gives it added replay and depth.
Speaking of XSN Sports, Fever 2004 is the first title to support this brand new free service from MS. As most of you know, XSN sports is the first console online gaming league system that is exclusive to Xbox first party games (at least at this point in time). Basically, XSN lets you set up online gaming leagues on your PC via the website, XSNsports.com, for first party Xbox sports titles.
Once you set up a league or join one, in Fever's case, you can view all kinds of stats and updates via an interface that is a lot like the one you will see on ESPN.com and other sports websites. You can view all the games you played, the scores on the score board of your games, and other games in your league as well as other leagues. Also, you can see all the stats for the players, and even real-time in game score tickers. I have to give a ton of credit to MS for coming up with something like this, as they did an amazing job on Xbox Live last year, and with Live 2.0, that service keeps getting better and better. XSN Sports is just as well done and actually makes setting up full online leagues easy and painless. The features that it supports are awesome, and any sports fan with XBL will be in heaven with all the options and replay value that XSN adds to the games. MS has done it once again and came out with a top notch service. Many kudos to them.
As good as XSN Sports is, it is much more impressive when the games that support it are well made. In NFL Fever 2004's case, there needs to be a bit more work done to get it up to a level where it can compete with the other football titles out there. Right now, the game play is still lagging way behind both Madden and ESPN Football. As it stands now, Fever is more a football game for the casual football fan who does not care about a ultra realistic simulation of the sport. Hardcore fans of football should avoid Fever and go with one of the other titles, but casual fans should really take a good look at NFL Fever 2004. While it does not compete with the other titles in realism, it does hold its own in fun factor. It's still a fun football game and plays great online, especially with the XSN service which adds a lot of value to the title. Hopefully, by next season, MS can fine tune the game play enough and add in more features to really give the big dogs a run for their money!