Publisher: 2K Sports
Developer: Visual Concepts
Release Date: July 16, 2007
Back in the good ol' days of the Sega Dreamcast, 2K Sports launched the NFL 2K franchise to both critical and consumer praise. Finally, there was a viable alternative to the Madden juggernaut, and people who believed EA's franchise had gotten stale could pick up a great (and cheap) pro football game. The NFL 2K series managed to gain a pretty solid following, and a lot gamers consider NFL 2K5 to be one of the best football games ever made. Sadly, the franchise also died that year, as EA locked up the exclusive NFL license, ensuring that theirs would be the only brand to which football fans could turn for authentic pro football action. 2K Sports has found a way to break back into the pro football market, however, and they've returned with All-Pro Football 2K8. The problem is that the 2K guys have been out of the game for a while, and just like any football player who hasn't seen a snap in three years, they're realizing that it's awfully difficult to make a comeback.
The charm of All-Pro Football is that rather than playing with current NFL teams and rosters, you get to create your own dream team of football's all-time greats. Offensive stars like Dan Marino and Barry Sanders move the ball down the field, while defensive powerhouses such as Dick Butkus and Reggie White line up to stop them. One of the most impressive things about the game is that the developers have taken the time and effort to dig up legends for every position on both offense and defense. While you'd expect to see guys like Steve Young and John Elway, you might be surprised to find the game also includes Ray Guy, Too Tall Jones and Ronnie Lott. It's truly a star-studded roster, and nearly all of football's greatest players have come to play.
The immensity of the roster is both a blessing as a curse, as you are given a taste of greatness but can't fully embrace it. You see, since the game uses no NFL teams or players, your very first task is to create your very own team and stock it with stars. You don't get to just cherry pick the best players, though; there's more science to it than that. You see, every legend is rated with either a gold, silver or bronze star. Gold star guys are Hall of Famers, silver would be the Pro Bowlers whose names you may be familiar with, and bronze are the better-than-average pros who may only be known to football historians or fans of the team from which they hail.
Each player also gets special abilities, such as Signal Stealer (pressing the Square button before the snap may allow you to see the opponent's play), Leadership Bonus and Brick Wall (superb blocking skills). When setting up your roster, you're allowed to select two gold star players, three silver, six bronze and that's it. Once you've made your selections, your roster is locked; there are no trades or free agents in the game. All of the positions that aren't populated by "name" players are filled in with scrubs, and you can set your offensive and defensive philosophies, pick your team name, city and colors, and then you're off.
On the one hand, this method of creating a team forces you to make very careful choices (load up on offensive talent and your defense will give up a ton of points, but spend all your points on defense and you may struggle to move the ball), but on the other hand, it's incredibly rigid. You won't see how well your team fits until you get on the field, and by then, it's too late. While you can create as many teams as you'd like, it can be incredibly frustrating to have to scrap a team and start all over because you realize that your run defense just isn't cutting it.
Further frustrating things is the fact that there are very few gameplay modes to be found in All-Pro Football. While you can play an exhibition game or jump online, the season mode leaves much to be desired. When you start a season, you progress through a normal 16-game schedule and then onto the playoffs. The strange thing about this mode is that you'll almost immediately start to see how the deck is stacked against your team. You'll quickly begin facing teams that have a greater number of "legends" than you do, and mismatches become common. Perhaps the worst is facing a team with six gold star players as you try and figure out how to stop them all with your no-name stand-ins. Supposing you do manage to make it through the entire year and win the Super Bowl (or not), that's all there is to it. The season mode is done, and if you want to do it again, you have to start over once again. There is no franchise or dynasty mode here; it's a total one-shot affair.
Once you get on the field, fans of the NFL 2K series will feel right at home. The controls and general feel of the game remains essentially unchanged from previous titles, and anyone who's been refusing to succumb to Madden for the past few years and is still playing the life out of NFL 2K5 will be able to jump right in and go to work. Newcomers to the series, however, will face a bit of a learning curve. Defenders will often get "sucked into" blocks if there is an offensive player nearby, and it always feels like your ball carrier can only run at about half the speed of the defense. Also, you have to hold the X button in order to "charge up" your special moves and take full advantage of your players' skills.
These and other gameplay nuances are fairly easy to get used to, but the one thing that may give you trouble for a while is the kicking system. In order to start a kick, you have to pull back on the right analog stick, swing the stick forward in time with your kicker's leg, and try to get the timing and impact just right. The whole process is more complicated than it needs to be, and a slight misplacement of the right analog stick can lead to you horribly shanking a field goal or a punt.
The graphics do very little to remind you that you're playing a next-gen title. I know that old football players were ugly, but I don't think this is the kind of ugly they were talking about. A few of the player models accurately model their real-life counterparts, but most of them just look like the kind of creation you come up with you're making your own character who you may be trying to make remotely resemble Joe Montana. One area where the graphics manage to shine is when the action heats up on the field. Tackling animations and blocks look great, and gang tackles are especially impressive. However, there just isn't anything in the game that really makes the visuals pop, and if you aren't paying close attention, you'll just think you're playing a late PS2 title.
The lackadaisical approach to the graphics also spills over into the sound, and there's very little audio goodness here to pump you up for the big game. The soundtrack is a mishmashed fusion of hip-hop, rock and house music, and it falls pretty flat on all accounts. (Fans of Rush will likely be offended by the "re-imagining" of "Tom Sawyer.") In addition to the unimpressive soundtrack, all of the players share the same generic voices. I'm not saying that they need to get every real-life legend to provide his own voice for his digital counterpart, but it's somewhat disheartening to hear the exact same voice come from two or three players in a row in the huddle. Beyond the character voices, the rest of the in-game sound consists of the same standard crowd cheering, booing and chanting you've come to expect, so again, there's nothing to make you sit up and take notice.
All-Pro Football 2K8 is the kind of game that needed a lot more work before it was released. While it's great to play as football legends, the roster creation system is incredibly restrictive, and it's impossible to field the kind of team of which you've always dreamed. There are also no unlockables or rewards, so there's very little incentive to keep playing and trying to improve. Furthermore, the lack of game modes, the lackluster visuals and sound, and the gameplay quirks that are unique to the 2K series make this title difficult to recommend to anyone who isn't already a devoted NFL 2K fan. I would love to see future installments of the series include some sort of "Hall of Fame" mode where you could relive some of the great NFL moments like The Catch or the Music City Miracle, not to mention expanded franchise and dynasty modes. The developers also really need to do more to make this a next-gen game, as the current presentation shows flashes of brilliance, but mostly muddles in mediocrity. While the football players represented in this game may be legends, the title itself falls fall short of any kind of legendary status.
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