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NFL Head Coach

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox
Genre: Sports
Publisher: EA
Developer: EA Tiburon


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Xbox Review - 'NFL Head Coach'

by Nicolus Baslock on July 11, 2006 @ 1:38 a.m. PDT

NFL Head Coach is the first 3D strategy sports game that challenges gamers to build and manage every aspect of a football team from the ground up. A simple conversation system and an engaging 3D graphical interface allow users to immerse themselves into the lives of an NFL head coach. As head coach, you develop a team strategy, execute it on and off the field, and try to build a winning organization year after year. Your status as a coaching legend will rise and fall based on all of your actions as you strive to become the greatest head coach of all time. Behind the desk, on the practice field, or while wearing the headset on game days, take the reins of your favorite NFL team and lead it to victory.

Genre: Sports Management
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Sports
Release Date: June 20, 2006

For the uninitiated, it is important you understand my love for American football. The majority of my life has been spent playing the actual game, watching it, or meticulously memorizing plays in video game representations. A long-time Madden aficionado and fantasy football fan, I always approached the team management process with a certain level of consistency not held by many (who are sane, at any rate). Detailed charts help me outline potential players in drafts as I size up every possible combination for the future, if development goes as planned. I have memorized the playbooks of every offensive system in Madden, having mastered defense long ago, so as offensive coordinators come available, I choose what I feel would be realistic and best suited for my players. Of course, I could just cheat and change my playbook, but I was always looking for that next level of football managing realism not seen before. it was with surprising excitement that I waited for Electronic Arts' NFL Head Coach for the chance to live my dream of becoming an NFL head coach.

As the game begins, you create your digital likeness, which you will find hardly resembles you at all. For a game about being a head coach, there seems to be a strange lack of personalization options at the outset, which foreshadows how the rest of the game will play out. The lack of options is irritating, but later, you are expected to take some time to change a few additional aspects of your coach's appearance. From there, you interview to join a team. The questions help to both summarize your philosophies and style as the team tries to see if you are the perfect fit. You are then given a choice of five teams, each offering differing amounts of money and contractual obligations. The teams have detailed information about the key players, the previous year's record, and most importantly, the salary cap.

Although my team of choice (the San Diego Chargers) offered almost nothing, I received an enormous offer from the Green Bay Packers. Just like a real coach, I passed up my dream for the big money and began sculpting a winner in my attempt to be the greatest coach of all time … or at least, I tried to.

The biggest and most noticeable problem with NFL Head Coach is that EA envisioned that a sports simulation game should require all transactions to occur within a set number of moves. For instance, when in your office mode, you are only given two chances to move around your depth chart before you must move on to the next event. How is this realistic in any way? Does Bill Belichick seriously spend two hours making two roster updates (that's how long the game feels it takes) and then just sit and stare into space for the rest of the day? Also, you have almost no options past what the game says you can do at any given time. During the season, you cannot trade, sign players, or do anything past roster tweaks and play making.

After years of Madden allowing people to actually play a game that is enjoyable, it's unbelievable they would pare down one of the most interesting aspects of any sports management game to a two-week span. Even then, you are limited to the aforementioned set number of moves. What's stranger is that during the season, you are sent emails from general managers that really want a trade. I had close to 20 emails in a few weeks' time that I could not even look at because of the absurd design of this game.

Meetings in NFL Head Coach are set up in tiny, tiny blocks, and you move from one meeting to the next; however, you need to see a loading screen for 15 seconds between each meeting. It. Is. Like. Seeing. A. Period. Every. Time. You. Want. To. Do. Anything. There are some inspirational quotes from great coaches, but within two hours of playtime, you will have seen all of the quotes about 10 times over. What is worse is that you will sometimes flash forward to the next meeting, get there, and find out that no one wants to speak with you … so you must go back to the loading screen.

While navigating through all of these irritating menus, you will eventually construct a coaching staff and team. Coaches should have similar philosophies, or else they will do nothing but whine during team meetings. This is no exaggeration either, as one coach of mine started calling me out in meetings. By this point, I'm already pretty frustrated with the game, so this additional attempt at "realism" backfired horribly. Is it so difficult for the digital running backs coach to do what I tell him?

Beyond that, it's time for practice. Here you choose the plays to run based on what your offensive and defensive coordinators think, or, if you are like myself, you will choose your own plays, because who needs a computer telling you what to do? The management part of practice is that players must be given the appropriate amount of reps to be prepared for the game, while seeing as many plays as possible. If you physically sit and perform the practices, two things occur: Your players will be better for game day (a stats boost), and they will not get injured. The injury statement needs to be made because if you try to simulate through the monotony of these practices, your players will be injured at a ridiculous rate. During one simulation, I had nine starters get injured, mostly for silly things. Eventually, you will make it to game day, but by now, you will probably be tired of meetings and practices and would have just simulated to this point anyway, injuries be damned.

If you had not already quit, game day might make you. As your coordinator tries to help you make calls, you are merely watching the action from a myriad of terrible camera angles. Even the traditional angle suffers because you are not given the option to pan back and forth to see who your players are. After choosing the play, you can call audibles and hot routes the way a real NFL head coach cannot.

What's irritating is that instead of just using the traditional Madden controls, the developers have attempted to introduce their own unintuitive interface for game management. Although there are generally the same options as a regular game of Madden, the interface does not work for both sides of the ball. Offense is easy, as you have the play clock and are setting your own cadence. However, on defense, any time you want to make an adjustment, you must go through a series of menus. Sometimes you get the play in, while most of the time, you sit there exasperated as a big play will open up for the opposing team's offense because of the poor controls in this game.

Because the menu system is slow to navigate, I sometimes found myself missing the option I wanted, and I'd have to go right back through the system to get the play I wanted before the offense snapped. It's basically all just an exercise in futility, as players run to the ball far slower than you could have if you were taking control of them yourself.

During games and practice, there is a incredibly simplistic method of telling players to work harder or to tone it down. With only two options, I felt like I had absolutely no connection to my players and could honestly care less about how they felt. Additionally, you can tell individuals how you want them to run a play, but it just seems flat when you have so little true interaction with the players.

When "the demanding life of an NFL head coach" requires a slim eight-page manual filled mostly with pictures, it's pretty clear how much depth we're talking about. The biggest problem is that NFL Head Coach is always going to be directly compared to Madden, a comparison it just cannot stand up to. It features too few options, too little control and too many load screens. There are moments when the game shines and you will actually be really excited to play. The chess game that is NFL play-calling can exhilarate at times and frustrate at others. Unfortunately, with NFL Head Coach, it seems to do mostly the latter. Although your first touchdown will make you excited, the next play will probably just be a kickoff return by the opposing team for a touchdown of its own. NFL Head Coach is not a terrible game, but it just fails every time it should succeed. Perhaps it's just the high standard set by Madden, because NHC on its own might be great, but as the comparison stands, so too does the score. Perhaps next year, EA can figure out how to make this game fun.

Score: 6.4/10

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