Version tested: Xbox 360
Welcome to Blitz: The League, where the rules are: there are no rules! Well, no, clearly there are rules. American football is a sport showered with a glittering pizzazz and promotion that our dreary rugby matches can only dream of. However, its rough and tumble nature is entirely at odds with the fundamental stop-start tactical style of play. You can't go two yards without being told to left-jink the ball in a 1-7-8 Godfather Part II full-on park-the-car-around-the-block squeeze-play and even the supposedly anarchic Blitz embraces those basics. The actual ‘no rules' part we're talking about here applies to the use of excessive physical force to get things done. It's an almost unique concept because, let's face it, that's certainly something you're not going to see in its chief competitor, Madden, any time soon, not since Electronic Arts gained exclusive rights to the NFL license.
Midway's response to this loss is to play dirty. It made up teams with fake player names, but most appropriately, it thumbed its nose at lawful, regulated play by allowing dirtier tackles than a communal mud bath in a German nudist camp. Slamming mercilessly into the quarterback when on defence, or violently stiff-arming an oncoming defender, isn't just a means to an end, it's essential to win. It's also a brutally visual treat. Knock down a player enough times and you'll eventually be subjected to a CSI-style close-up x-ray of bones shattering with a sickening crack.
It's all tied into its major gimmick: Clash mode, which is really nothing more than an obligatory special meter. You gradually fill the bar by performing successful manoeuvres on field and then use it to slow down time in order to perform deft dodges, impossible catches and hard-hitting tackles with a button press. Or you can fill it to the top in order to unleash an invincible special move that knocks anything out of your path. To be honest, though, it's debatable if it adds anything essential to the game. It gives an advantage, sure, but when you're obviously encouraged to use it constantly it becomes a little passť over time.
Eat My Touchdown!
The latest iteration of Blitz hasn't forgotten its arcade roots, playing a faster-paced game than your standard American football. Teams are reduced in numbers and, instead of requiring the standard ten yards for a down, it asks for a more expansive thirty. Meanwhile, the default two minutes per quarter allows less time for strategy and more time for busting heads. As far as tactical play is concerned, you're given a sufficient playbook to choose from to keep things varied and a small list of audibles provides basic last-second coverage. Control-wise, there's none of your swing-o-meter depth here, really. Tackling and dodging are mapped onto the A and B buttons and passing is achieved by the usual method of selecting the appropriate player assigned to each face button. If you understand the fundamental rules of the game, it's easy to pick up.
In terms of AI, the computer initially keeps up with your abilities, tackling and dodging as they see fit and switching between running and passing plays depending on the yardage. However, they do have a tendency to go for suspect plays, playing either a mean or a dopey game depending on your own score. Also - in my experience, at least - they nearly always chose an easy field goal after touchdown, whereas, in comparison I found it nearly impossible to lose a two-point conversion, simply by tossing the ball quickly to a waiting team-mate in the end zone. It still plays alright, though, and, of course, there's still the Live side of things to keep it challenging.
Off the pitch, you're given the opportunity to train players by spending winnings earned on buying new equipment, and assigning an automatic three-week training regime to each player to improve his relevant stats. It's a series of simple choices bringing to mind the kind of mode present in something like the classic Speedball: nothing too complex but at least it's there. Outside of that, the publicised story mode plays out your team's antics in short potty-mouthed cinematics, also introducing the option to use slight underhand tactics to gain advantage on the field (sending prostitutes to your opponents' rooms could be the new putting salt on fries). Though, really, it's take it or leave it when it comes to your interest in actually winning a division title.
Given that this is all about the shady side of the game, you're also given the option to use various illegal medicines to drug up your players in the locker-room or on the sidelines in order to keep them up to strength. Juicing a player after a serious injury gets them up and playing far quickly than healing naturally, but you run the risk of getting fined later. Again, while the sentiment matches the tone of the game, it's a basic premise enough not to leave you floundering in tactical hell.
American Football Pie
Presentation-wise, the 360 gives the matches a hi-def gloss we've come to expect. Even if it's nothing outstanding, they shine well on a HDTV. What doesn't are the cut-scenes, which quite often look graphically awful, easily betraying their last-gen origins (this is a port of an old PS2 and Xbox title, don't forget). Given, too, the arcade nature of Blitz don't expect anything beyond a few bog-standard viewpoints and a basic replay option in order to study previous plays
You'll also quickly tire of the trash-talking cut-scenes that pop up before or after nearly every down - amusing once, but kind of tedious the hundredth time someone disses your ball skills. They can be switched off, thank God. Meanwhile, Achievements are the standard kind we've come to expect from sports titles (pass the ball this much, win so many games etc...) with both online and offline modes catered for.
As a less in-depth alternative, to Madden, you can't really fault Blitz. It stands somewhere between the feature bloat of that immensely popular series and EA's own faux-urban NFL Street games. However, whichever way you put it, Madden still comes out on top. The latter game doesn't really get the knocks that FIFA does over here, making it the respectable choice for the complete American football experience (especially if you're considering the recently released and well-received Wii version). What Blitz does do a good job of is keeping things fast-paced and relatively simple. Well, as simple as things get in American Football. Madden has a big-name license, countless trademarks and a dozen different modes. Blitz has added swearing and the chance to shatter a man's finger bones into pieces. For a quick-paced stop-gap to the main contender, it's worth a look.
7 / 10