Developer: Midway Games
Release Date: October 13, 2008
In 2005, the NFL and the NFLPA signed an exclusive agreement with EA granting them the sole right to make NFL licensed games until 2012. This was an unprecedented move at the time because until it happened, anyone was free to make a football game that featured any aspect related to the NFL. The agreement guaranteed EA with the lion's share of NFL gamers, since everyone was barred from putting out an NFL game that would compete with Madden or NFL Street. Some publishers like Sega and Sony (makers of the ESPN NFL 2K and NFL GameDay series, respectively) simply gave up on the prospect of making an unlicensed football game and moved on to other sports.
Midway Games, developers and publishers of the NFL Blitz series, saw things differently. Already at odds with the NFL about the content in their Blitz series, they decided that the unlicensed route was more beneficial for them since they could now present a more brutal version of their game. Everything that the organization banned, such as excessive celebrations and late hits, was going to be put back in, along with a few other things that no football game ever thought of doing. The result was Blitz: The League, and the gamble paid off, with critics liking the game and fans feeling the same way. Three years after the release of the first game, Midway has brought it back with Blitz: The League II. Does the game still provide the raunchy, over-the-top fun of the original, or is the style now past its prime?
For those of you unfamiliar with how a typical game of Blitz works, imagine a regular game of football. Reduce the number of players on the field to seven on each team, and increase the yards needed per set of downs from 10 to 30. On top of that, take away just about every rule and penalty the game has ever seen, and you have yourself a typical game of Blitz football, where roughing the passer is accepted, brutal late hits are part of the game, and fumbles happen more often than not. The result of this is a faster-paced game with lots of risks taken and a high point average per game.
Those are the basics, but ever since it was able to distance itself from the NFL license, the Blitz series has added more to the football formula that make it a more brutal version of the sport. For example, late hits used to be tackles that you would inflict after the whistle had been blown, but now, late hits can include kicking a guy in the crotch, giving him a kidney punch, or stepping on his hand while he's down. Dirty tackles can bring down a player's performance stats and possibly have him fumble the ball. Excessive taunting and touchdown celebrations are highly encouraged.
The Blitz titles also have a Clash feature. During the game, big plays and big tackles build up a meter that can slow down time during offensive situations. If special things are done ? such as ball catches, stiff arms, taunting and tackle evades ? you acquire Clash icons. After a certain number are built up, you can pull off an unleash move that guarantees a broken tackle and could give you a clear path to the end zone. On defense, Clash allows you to hit bigger tackles and increases the chances of injuring your opponent, while the unleash move guarantees a forced fumble by the opponent.
You also have injuries. Whereas other games would tell you that a player has a broken wrist, Blitz shows the bones break or the muscular tear in great detail. It's a gruesome effect, but it works well. Finally, you have two different ways to heal injuries. Dislocated bones can be realigned and snapped together, and other injuries can be fixed by an injection of questionable substances. This time around, the healing system is a little mini-game where the level of accuracy could end up either boosting player stats or dropping them. The mini-games are tough to get accurate percentages early on, so expect your injured players to have low stats at first until you practice it and get the timing and accuracy just right.
Campaign mode is the highlight of The League II, just like it was in the previous version. This time, the story revolves around a player dubbed The Franchise. The initial goal was to have Franchise play for the newest team in the league, the L.A. Riot. However, when Franchise decides he wants to play for his hometown team instead, the league commissioner becomes his biggest enemy and tries to do everything in his power to make Franchise's life a living hell, including an arranged stint in prison.
As with the prior title, it's still surprising to see a fully fleshed-out story mode in a sports game. The story isn't the greatest out there, some parts are predictable, and some scenarios, such as a club fight, have been used in the previous game, but it's still more entertaining than just getting a team to the championships.
The character creation mode for The Franchise is limiting but still a very fascinating take on the process. You can't change the look or voice of Franchise, but you can determine his position and starting attributes by going through a press conference at the beginning. Each answer gives your player different attributes and different positions. While you'll wish you were given more control over the player's looks, the press conference idea is cool enough that you'll want to use this method to create players in other titles.
Outside of this, however, the processes in Campaign mode remain largely unchanged from the last game. You can design your own team, complete with logo and uniform details. Every week, you can train specific players to boost their skills before the weekly skirmishes. You could also buy new equipment to upgrade their stats or perform specific in-game tasks to get equipment. The ability to buy drugs for performance enhancement is still here, complete with the risk/reward system in place for doing so, and you can still bet before games. All in all, the system is largely the same, but since it worked out pretty well the first time around, the minor tweaks and changes don't cause any harm.
There are a few other gameplay modes that The League II has to offer. Quick Play is the standard versus mode, where you and another player (or CPU opponent) pick teams and duke it out on the bloody gridiron. Tournament mode does the same thing but with more teams and an ultimate winner decided at the end. You also have a Training mode, where you learn the finer details of the game mechanics while your agent constantly barks encouraging words at you or berates you.
In order to mix things up a bit, the title also has bonus modes that add different twists to the main game. Butterfingaz, for example, has each side constantly fumbling the ball anytime someone gets hit. Lucky 7s gives you seven chances to score a touchdown before the attempt becomes worthless. Prison Ball plays on a shorter filed with no kicking whatsoever, while Make It, Take It lets you keep possession of the ball as long as you keep scoring. You also have a mode where the likelihood of injury is increased due to lack of helmets and a mode where late hits and injuries score points just like touchdowns and field goals. Overall, the modes are fun to play when you want things to be a little goofier, but don't be surprised if a mode like Butterfingaz gets played as much as Quick Play.
The online multiplayer handles itself well … when it works. Voice chat comes through clearly, and there is no lag during gameplay. However, during a few play sessions, there were a few times when the server lost the connection in the middle of the game, causing losses to appear in the records. It's frustrating to have a loss on the record when this happens, especially if you were in the lead. Hopefully, server stability will improve before the online community goes away.
Controls are fairly simple in The League II. On offense, the A button hikes the ball, while the face buttons are used to throw to designated receivers. When the ball is caught, the A button makes you jump while X executes stiff arms and the right thumbstick performs jukes. On defense, the A and B buttons select between defenders while X tackles. On both sides, the left trigger enters Clash, while the right trigger does a turbo boost.
Basically, if you've played football games before, this will all feel familiar, though there are a few twists here. Kicking isn't handled by the right thumbstick but by button presses, and hitting the correct buttons in sequence increases the kick's power while hitting incorrect ones decreases power and accuracy. Also, users can break tackles by jamming on the A button when the prompt appears. Finally, during certain moments, the camera will zoom in on a specific body part for a tackle. Moving the thumbstick and jamming on the A button when highlighting that specific area will cause injuries to the targeted body part. Oddly enough, my only real gripe with the controls is with the menu. For some reason, the thumbstick is unresponsive during menu selection, forcing users to manipulate menus via the d-pad instead.
The sound in The League II is very good, though it suffers from a few flaws. The music is the usual assortment of hard rock and rap that sports gamers have been accustomed to hearing for years, which is perfect for the football mindset you have to get into. Sound effects are good, even though all you'll really hear are body collisions and grunts. Since the bone-breaking and muscle-tearing injuries are presented in a quieter environment, though, they amplify the injury and make it seem even more gruesome than what's presented on-screen.
The standout sound here would be the voice acting. During campaign mode, Jay Mohr does a terrific job as the sports agent for Franchise. Some may say that he's simply channeling his role from "Jerry Maguire," but for a role like this, that's definitely a big compliment. In between each play, you'll hear players talk to each other about getting their acts together or taunting the opponent while they're beating them up. The play-by-play announcer isn't the most informative one at times, but he gets the calls just right. Comedian Frank Caliendo, however, really steals the show. As the offensive coordinator, he does fine, though he doesn't have any memorable lines and gets cut off if the player chooses plays quickly. As the color commentator, however, he does a great job imitating Madden, including his voice inflections and comments that ultimately lead nowhere. While this sounds great, keep in mind that this is all for campaign mode. Outside of this mode, you don't get the color commentary, which adds a bit of humor to the gruesome football you see on-screen.
Graphically, The League II is an improvement over the previous Xbox 360 port of the original game. Character models are more detailed, with better cloth textures and better shine to the helmets. As the game progresses, those uniforms get dirty and muddy, which looks great from the normal camera angles but gets less dazzling when you see them up close during injury cut scenes ? although the graphical detail in the muscles and bones is excellent. It can be argued whether or not those are rendered FMVs, but the effect does the job of making you feel the pain as you see the injury happen in a CSI-like fashion.
The stadiums are rendered fairly well. The design of the buildings isn't as fantastic as the ones seen in All Pro Football 2K8, but the weather effects, such as rain and heat haze, more than make up for that shortcoming. With all of this happening, The League II still falls short of Madden NFL 09 in a few areas. As previously mentioned, the models look good, but that only applies to the football players themselves. The cheerleaders don't look all that great, even though you only see them in between plays. Also, the player models still don't sport as much detail as those found in Madden. This is especially true of the facial expressions which, while exaggerated, don't seem as natural as those in the competing series. Finally, the blood effect from certain late hits doesn't seem as natural as other effects.
It's readily apparent that Blitz: The League II is not a game for football purists. The use of power-ups, lack of penalties and dirty play is enough to make them cringe. However, for fans of arcade-style sports games, The League II is pretty good. It's not exactly the best-looking football game out there, the sound isn't exactly mind-blowing, and there are definitely some bugs and flaws, but it succeeds in being fun. It's a little more fun than the previous version of Blitz: The League and loads more fun than NFL Tour. As long as you're looking for an arcade-style football game that is enjoyable to play with others, give this title a chance.
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