October 20, 2007
Is that the sound of EA alone in their room crying about how they spent all that money to corner the football gaming market, only to have 2K Games fire back with a football game? Yes, I believe it may be. A few years ago EA made an exclusive contract with the NFL to have exclusive rights on their logo, teams and players with their Madden franchise. This left consumers with little choice on their football gaming, and although Madden has been a good and successful franchise, it still puts consumers off to not have options.
I bet you're wondering, "If EA has exclusive rights to football, how did 2K make a football game?" and you'd be over-simplifying the matter. As I stated earlier, they only had exclusivity on NFL property. Teams, logos, stadiums and active players. This left the door wide open for the 2K brain trust to realize, "Hey, why don't we use retired players and just make up a bunch of teams, logos and stadiums?" Now, I don't know why it took them so long to think of it, since their last outing was NFL 2K3, but it was well worth the wait.
Don't get me wrong here, Madden is a great franchise and using real-life players is fantastic, but this game also uses old-school players that we haven't seen in a long time instead. There's something very exciting about playing as greats like Barry Sanders (Go Lions!), Dick Butkus and Joe Montana. The downside obviously is that you can't use the classic 49er's team-up of Montana and Jerry Rice, instead using the brand new American's or Cyclone's team-up of Montana and Rice. The chemistry is still there, but the magic is a bit lost.
Now, using fake settings is definitely nothing new. Franchises like the Street and Outlaw ones have given us fun, new places and ways to play the sports we love. All-Pro chose to close that gap a little with the melding of real players and fake settings. The players and rules are taken straight from the record books, while new features like the "charge" feature that can unleash a player's special ability make it all feel fresh. Charge the special move of certain Quarterbacks for instance and they are granted "Laser Arm" which greatly increases accuracy or with some Running Backs you will get "Battering Ram" to break tackles with ease.
Another new feature is the "Star" system that clearly defines who the best players are. Big-time superstars are designated with a Gold star, with Silver and Bronze stars going to players who were still great, but never quite reached the level of greatness as the Golds. When you first play the game, you can use a few pre-set teams, or create your own team. You get to choose two Gold, three silver and six bronze players with a few generic fill-ins for the rest of the spots. This gives a lot of options to set your team up with. You can go with a great running back and a nice offensive line or a quick quarterback and clutch receivers. You can also go the opposite way and setup a defensive powerhouse. In addition to the players, there are quite a few different team names and jersey setups to choose from, or you can create your own.
The gameplay is mostly fluid, as it should be by now, but there are still some glaring flaws. Football games have been getting better every year, but 2K Sports took a few years off and forgot to learn some of the new techniques. Normally a 3-step drop for a Quarterback actually takes three steps. In All-pro, it's done almost in one motion. The same problem is found in most of the movement, everything just happens a bit too quickly. Catching is also very glitchy, even with a designated button to initiate the catch, you could throw a Hail Mary pass that bounces off four players from each team, only to fall harmlessly to the ground. With all these legends in the game, someone should have caught it. Kicking is also a disaster, 2K Sports continuing their love of the control stick with a simple down motion to start the kick, then you have to time the up motion with the kicker making contact with the ball. Aside from only having a split second to get a perfect kick, the screen turns on a slant as you kick, and it takes a while to figure out that you must also kick on a slant to make up for this.
The graphics are not quite on par with Madden, though they are fairly good. The game overall has more of a Blitz feel to it, and the graphics somewhat reflect that. While Madden mostly has sharp, clean lines, All-Pro seems to have some jagged edges here and there. The stadiums are all very unique (playing at the Beasts' stadium for instance has a large monster smashing a section of the stands, which also happens to be on fire), but they almost seem like an afterthought. The backgrounds that don't have any action to them look like cardboard cut-outs at times.
The players are all translated from life to screen very well. You don't have to worry about a geriatric Joe Montana trying to make passes, all of the models are from the players' glory years, rather than a current representation. However, 2K did not take care to incorporate the characters' personalities in the game, something I feel did a great disservice to these legends. Score a touchdown with Barry Sanders for instance and he doesn't give a quick celebration with teammates and go sit complacent on the bench. No, instead he drops down and does a spectacular endzone dance and flaunts in front of the other team. Very disturbing to see some of these greats acting like today's brazen and egotistical players.
The audio quality of the game is pretty decent. There is no recognizable voice talent, most notably found with the announcers in sports games, but the generic voice calls are well done and the hits all sound like you're right there getting beaten as well. The game's soundtrack is more of the generic garbage from the Madden franchise, with a few more "urban" tracks thrown in. Luckily you only deal with that in the menus and season screens.
The online play is much better than Madden, mostly because EA servers are so bogged down with all their games. 2K has a smaller following, allowing a better online experience. Finding a friend is very simple, which is a bonus. There are a number of lobbies to sit in, and you can select someone and challenge them. If the challenge is accepted, the game begins. I only lagged once during my time online, and that was when my wife started a download for an entire season of Scrubs. Once it got going, the play smoothed out and both ran fine at the same time.
Achievement-wise, this is one of the most frustrating sports titles to date. There are the generic game and season records that can be achieved with any player, but the rest of the off-line achievements are split between using gold, silver and bronze players. This forces you to create at least two separate teams to get all of them, since there are more than two gold player achievements, but only two gold spots on a single team (and the same dilemma for silver). There are some online achievements, which most people do not enjoy, but considering their online system is setup to find friends, those can be played out easily. However, the minimum quarter length is 5 minutes, which makes it a bit of an endurance test.
Overall, some welcome competition to the Madden franchise, but it definitely needs some work. I'll be looking forward to future editions, hoping they can learn a bit from Madden on the gameplay side of things. A fun game once you get the hang of it, but the beast that is Madden still has the football genre under lockdown as far as I'm concerned.
Terrible, generic music makes the time before you get into the games annoying, but the in-game sounds and announcing are done fairly well.
Pretty good overall, with some minor flaws here and there. Most of the stadiums don't have enough detail, but the players and action look good. Could definitely use some work, but it's passable.
The players feel jerky at times, notably with the Quarterback right after the ball is snapped. Catching and Kicking are pretty awful as well. Overall not terrible, but those few major flaws greatly hinder the experience.
A fairly unique football game without straying too far from the game's roots. It's not quite Madden and not quite Blitz, but more of a happy medium. Quite a lot of fun once you get used to the controls.
Some you'll come across simply playing the game, but forcing you to use a specific gold, silver or bronze type makes them somewhat annoying. Online achievements are also a negative. Not too terribly hard, just might take you a while.
A very good first outing after a long absence for the 2K Football franchise, but it feels at times like they didn't study up on the improvements that Madden has made during that time. Either that, or they just made their game a little more unique than we are used to, and it all feels "wrong" in a sense. Good game, but it will either need improving or some getting used to before it becomes a household name.