Blitz: The League Preview Midway's Blitz
The locker room. This is where it all goes down.Most times, what goes on off the football field is a lot more interesting than the action that takes place on it, and Midway is going to give us an up close look at the hard hitting action, the injuries, and the extracurricular shenanigans in its upcoming title, Blitz: The League. Free from the NFL's oppressive chains, the game's developers have decided to take the sport of football to an extreme level courtesy of Peter Egan, the writer of ESPN's show Playmakers. The game immerses you in the drama that occurs behind the scenes as well as on the sidelines, and when combined with the bone crushing arcade-style play that is this series' pedigree, what we're getting is one very intense football game where anything can and will happen. Clobber your opponents over the head with the ball, perform all sorts of arrogant end zone dances, and splinter bones with career ending hits. Just remember that you might be on the end of one of those crushing blows, and how you deal with it will either cement your legacy in The League, or put your busted carcass on the shelf. The battle for the championship begins Winter 2005.In-Depth Preview:As much as I love the NFL, it's quite a soft league. I'm not talking about the hits, because I can assure you that a shot from Michael Strahan would most certainly kill me, but I'm not a fan of the censorship and the odd rules. Players can't taunt fans, perform arrogant end zone celebrations (which I suppose equals taunting fans), and then there's that old chestnut the league likes to call pass interference. I mean seriously, what's up with that? Anyway, for years the NFL has been a nuisance (from where I stand) to Midway because of its Blitz franchise. Loved for the over the top hits and exaggerated rules, the series was toned down because the NFL disliked the violence. However, now that the league is sharing a glass of 400 million dollar lemonade with Electronic Arts, Midway has decided to take its series in a whole new direction. Thus, Blitz: The League was born, a hard-hitting and intense sports title that is a sweet marriage between the Blitz games of old and the standard game of football. Because EA gobbled up the NFL rights, all of Blitz's content is fictitious. This includes the league itself, the 18 teams, and all of its players, but the absence of the license doesn't hurt the game at all. In fact, all of this freedom is allowing Midway to really express itself creatively, and the result is an all new and original game that takes us out of the arenas andbeyond the line of scrimmage and into the huddles, the sidelines, the locker rooms.
It's nitty...but is it gritty?The developers' goal was to create the football game that the NFL doesn't want you to see, so instead of warm and fuzzy half time specials you're going to be watching some pretty dark stuff courtesy of writer Peter Egan, who penned the critically-acclaimed ESPN show, Playmakers. The result is a title that is more about life than just the game of football. You and I are going to be taken on a wild ride where anything can and will happen. We'll be trash talking on the field with other players, getting into altercations in bars, dealing with sneaky sports agents, scoring some drugs, and possibly going to jail. After all, scoring touch downs does not make a man. What he does with his life and the choices he makes does. The heart of Blitz is its Campaign mode, which is in a way comparable to a Season in another game except the road to this title's championship is actually a three tier tournament. You play as a team (the New York Nightmare, for example) that's coming off a horrible season, so there's a lot of work that needs to be done in order to put them on a winning path, and while the gameplay is reminiscent of its arcade-like predecessors, you'll be charged with making some very important decisions. For example, let's say you're playing a huge game. You've got to put this one away, but your QB's really injured. He can still go, but if he takes one more hit he could be out for the season. Should you shoot him up with pain killers and pray that he makes it through the fourth quarter, or do you bench him for the remainder of the game, allowing him to rest up so his body can recuperate in a couple of weeks? Not only are you playing with his life, but the team's future as well.I'd like to think that the odds are fairly good that he'll make it out of the game alive, but this isn't EA's Madden NFL. In Blitz, someone is going to bet busted on just about every play, so leaving him out there is almost like chucking raw meat at a bunch of wolves that haven't eaten for a week. He's going to get seriously $%$*&# up. Of course, this is what makes Blitz so much fun to play. The League's gameplay is sort of like an M&M. It's got a candy-coated exterior that represents some of football's more common rules, but its chocolaty center is all classic Blitz. It still takes thirty yards to get a first down, the action is sped up just a bit, and you can hit people after a play has ended. However, this version is a lot more violent because you're able to break bones and almost kill people. You can also "get in the zone", an altered state of being that allows you to evade the defense with style or annihilate the guy with the ball. It's actually this neat mini game where, after the feature has been activated and time has slowed down, you can pull off some fantastic moves by just randomly pressing a controller's face buttons. In a game like this, presentation is key and it appears that the developers have nailed it, starting with former NY Giants player Lawrence Taylor, who plays the role of Quentin Sands. Given the intensity he played with and the crazy hits he put on people, slapping him onto the game's cover was a smart decision.In addition to Taylor's likeness, Midway's done a nice job with the game's cheerleaders, which are supposedly "upgradeable" as a season progresses (so if you keep winning, you'll be able to get the best girls for the job). The company is actually using FHM models, and these beauties only add to the game's growing personality.While on the subject of upgrades, you can customize and enhance just about everything in this game, from your players to your stadiums. You can alter team logos, player names, tattoos, how they wear their jerseys (tucked or un-tucked), and what they wear on their heads. Then you can take this custom team and bring it online, where you'll be able to crush opposing players.There are also quite a few cut scenes, especially on the field, and these serve to add more emotion as well as potential consequence to upcoming plays. Most of them are just guys threatening other players, like the one where the defenseman is shouting at the QB. Unfortunately, in the few times that I've played the game the scenes kept repeating, so hopefully there will be a lot more in the final product.
The harsh realities of football are unleashed full force.Visually the game is 100% Blitz, because even with all of the new characters and cheerleaders there is no mistaking it for anything else. However, it just happens to be the prettiest and most detailed game in the series. Character models aren't blocky like they used to be, the stadiums look great, and some of the weather effects are quite impressive. Despite all of the Madden fans out there, I don't see EA's latest dominating the football scene. Blitz: The League is a totally different product that includes an interactive experience you cannot find anywhere else, so the masses are going to pick up Madden, but I also think many of them will want to check out Midway's product as well. Besides, while it's a bit more complex than previous games in the series, this title is all about arcade quality fun, which, in my opinion, tackles a dedicated sports sim any day of the week.