Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Tiburon
Release Date: January 8, 2008
In 2004, EA decided to have a little fun with its exclusive NFL license and created NFL Street, a stripped-down, arcade-style football title that offered a viable alternative for anyone who found the Madden games to be too complex or stats-driven. While it wasn't the greatest title ever, Street did manage to pack a lot of fun into its simple package, and it took nostalgic gamers back to the days of NFL Blitz and NBA Jam and their high-flying, high-octane style. Inexplicably, just as the Street series was hitting its stride, EA pulled the plug on the franchise, and Tiburon's first offering for the next-gen consoles is the lackluster and totally underwhelming NFL Tour. Instead of an enjoyable romp through the streets with your favorite teams, this title proves to be one of the most boring, shallow and unfulfilling experiences in console sports in a long time.
The old NFL Street franchise thrived in creating unique playing fields, from abandoned warehouses to decaying parking lots, and each field contained its own challenges. Indeed, one of the most amusing things about the game was figuring out how to use the crates, cars, etc., to your advantage and your opponent's detriment. Gone are those wonderful playing surfaces rife with character; instead, NFL Tour puts you on what can best be described as an outdoor Arena Football field, complete with Plexiglas walls and immaculately groomed Astroturf. This sterilization of the "street ball" franchise has really taken off the edge of excitement, and it is a harbinger of what else the title has to offer.
The title's main event is the Tour mode, in which you create a character, assign him a position, select a team and then take on all comers in various stops around the U.S. This mode is meant to be the title's bread and butter; instead, it stands as a testament to how much can go wrong in one try. First off, the character creation options are sorely lacking, with the player only being allowed to select from a certain preset number of heads, body types and awful nicknames. Also, once you edit your character's appearance, you are asked to assign skill points and then … that's it. Once you've allocated the points, you are done forever, so make sure you get it right the first time because there's no going back.
You'd think that if Tour wouldn't allow you to increase skill points, there would be other ways to raise your game, like buying new clothes to increase your stats, or letting you poach players from other teams. EA has already taken this track before in games like Tiger Woods PGA Tour and The Bigs, so it would make sense to include it here. No such luck. Once you've picked your team, that's all there is, Jack, so here's a hint: Don't sign up with the Dolphins.
In Tour mode, once you take the field, you play a seven-on-seven game against another NFL squad, with each team featuring its actual offensive and defensive lineup. If you've always wanted to experience the shiftiness of L.T. or deliver Urlacher's bone-crunching hits, here's your chance. The games themselves vary from simple timed affairs to challenges where you have to come from behind or win using superior defense. Each tour stop has its own stipulations for victory, and tackling a variety of modes is initially quite fun. However, since you have to play a block of games with the same rules, the novelty wears off quickly, and toward the end of the game, rather than coming up with new challenges, it just repeats the old ones. Gamers will probably enjoy this mode for about the first two or three tour stops, but they'll quickly realize what a shallow affair this truly is.
When you take the field, you're given a massively restricted playbook and a bunch of dimwits for teammates. On offense, stick with the passing plays, as running is almost always a sure sentence for a loss of yards. Defensively, you may as well blitz on every down because playing coverage is a sure way to get your team nickel-and-dimed to death. Furthermore, there are about three or four offensive and defensive plays that seem borderline unstoppable, and running them over and over again bears no ill consequence unless your opponent calls the one play in its book that's the rock to your scissors. Once you discover these hidden gems, you can simply spam them over and over until the clock strikes zero and you move on to the next game.
In the old Street games, players could use a variety of taunts and ball tricks to rack up points, break tackles and fill the Gamebreaker gauge. All of that has been stripped away and replaced with button-mashing/timed button press minigames and the nearly useless "Smash Meter." You see, whenever the ballcarrier is being tackled, the player can begin mashing the A button to try and break out, or tap B when near a wall to try and run up and over the tackler. Conversely, defenders can press A when closing in to execute a big hit (and possibly a fumble), or stab X as a runner wriggles away to make one last lunge at his ankles. This system gets frustrating, however, as superstars like L.T. can break away from a series of tackles and take it to the house pretty much whenever they want. As you climb the difficulty ladder, the frustration level really picks up because the CPU will start breaking every tackle you throw, while stopping you cold every time.
If you're so lucky as to build up a number of impressive offensive or defensive plays, you will fill your Smash Meter, which turns out to be a useless gimmick. The Smash Meter can only be activated while on defense, and even then, it doesn't guarantee a fumble. Gone are the elegant and tide-shifting Gamebreakers of previous EA titles, replaced by a generic and ultimately worthless substitute.
In order to drive the pain of playing this game from pounding to excruciating, players are subjected to Trey Wingo's insufferable commentary, which has got to be some of the worst ever recorded for a game. Wingo barely has a perfunctory sense of what's happening on the field, but most of his other comments pertain to the ever-so-important topics of fishing and Earl Grey tea. Actually, consider yourself lucky when he's discussing fish and tea because the rest of the time, he will be yammering on about how repetitive video game announcers are … as he himself repeats the same line for the fifth time. I never bothered to count how many phrases Wingo recorded for the title, but if the number is more than 10, I would be shocked. Rest assured that one of the first things to do when playing this game is to reach for the mute button. You'll thank me later.
Aside from Tour mode, NFL Tour throws a couple of other shallow offerings your way. In addition to a standard exhibition game, you can play Smash & Dash or Redzone Rush, though neither one will hold you for long. Smash & Dash is essentially a one-on-one game of keep-away, with one player running around a circular arena with the ball while the other player attempts to tackle him. Every successful tackle produces a fumble, and if the defender manages to scoop up the ball, things continue on with the roles reversed. Redzone Rumble is another one-on-one battle, with players taking turns trying to score from the 20-yard line while the other guy tries to make the stop. Usually, this mode boils down into one dramatic moment where the tackle is either made or broken, and then it's all just formality from there until you line up and try again. Each mode will likely keep your attention for no more than 10 minutes, depending on how long it takes to hear the delightful "Achievement Unlocked" chime.
Online play offers simple ranked or unranked matches, but the action is very smooth and has no signs of lag. Also, playing against another human being rather than the computer allows for a much more exciting game. If you insist on playing NFL Tour, you may as well do it online, where things can be at least mildly fun.
Historically, EA has done a good job representing the athletes in their games, but NFL Tour's character models are truly hit and miss. While guys like cover athlete Shawn Merriman and Joseph Addai are pretty dead-on, other superstars such as Peyton Manning and Tom Brady aren't even close. The stadiums you visit are also more or less the same, with the only real changes coming in the patterns on the Astroturf and the designs on the awning. While the cityscapes are supposed to resemble New York City, Chicago and the like, they seem generic and boring — not that you'll be seeing much of them anyway, as once you're on the field, your view never extends beyond the boards that comprise the out-of-bounds areas. The whole package is pretty ho-hum, which I suppose is about par for the course, considering the rest of the game.
As I sit here, I wonder what on earth made EA decide to abandon the Street franchise, which was just reaching its prime, for what's found in NFL Tour. Perhaps the NFL didn't like the "urban" feel of the games and demanded things be toned down, or maybe the developers just didn't know a good thing when they had it. Regardless of the reasons, NFL Tour is a game that offers very little flash and even less substance. This title is a sack, a fumble and an interception, all rolled into one.
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