There was a time a few years back when we thought we'd never write the following phrase: 2K football is back. After releasing the excellent NFL 2K5, then losing the NFL license to EA Sports, it wasn't always clear if 2K would ever make it back to the sport with which it made its name. In January, the return was official with the announcement of All-Pro Football 2K8, a game that would bring the 2K football series into the next generation of game consoles while simultaneously looking back at some of the greatest players to ever play the sport. Today, we got the first look at what All-Pro Football 2K8 is all about and can safely report that it will be a console football experience unlike any you've played before.
You've heard the names of the 240 former NFL players that will be playable in APF 2K8; names like Montana, Marino, Elway, Rice, Sanders, Payton, Biletnikoff, and so many more. And if you've ever wondered how a team made up of that kind of talent would play, APF 2K8 is the game for you. That's because the moment you fire up the game for the first time, you'll be building your own personal dream team of football legends. Throughout the rest of the modes in APF 2K8, you'll then be testing that team (and all of its permutations) against the other legends found in the game.
So in a game full of legendary talent, how do you distinguish one player from another? How does APF 2K8 qualify the differences between top-tier runners like Earl Campbell and Roger Craig? Or between linebacking legends Derrick Thomas and Nick Bouniconti? In fact, the game does so in a couple of different ways. The first method involves splitting players up into three different tiers, indicated in the game by either gold, silver, or bronze. To give you an idea of how the talent breaks down, consider how the game separates the quarterbacks along these three tiers.
Gold: Dan Marino, Joe Montana, John Elway, Johnny Unitas, Otto Graham, Roger Staubach, Sammy Baugh, Steve Young, Troy Aikman, Warren Moon
Silver: Archie Manning, Bart Starr, Joe Theismann, Ken Stabler, Len Dawson, Randall Cunningham
Bronze: Andre Ware, Bernie Kosar, Bill Wade, Bobby Herbert, Bubby Brister, Dave Krieg, Greg Landy, Jeff Hostetler, Jim Harbaugh, Jim Hart, Jim Zorn, John Brodie, Ken O'Brien, Lynn Dickey, Mark Rypien, Neil O'Donnel, Steve Bartkowski, Steve Grogan, Tommy Kramar
When putting your team together, you'll have room on your roster for two gold, three silver, and six bronze-tier players. How you mix up the players on your team by position is completely up to you, which is where part of the fun and the strategy in APF 2K8 comes into play. There's nothing to stop you from spending your two gold picks on Walter Payton and Barry Sanders, lining the pair up in your backfield on every play, as well as driving your opponent nuts trying to figure which Hall of Famer is going to get the ball next. Or you can load up with Montana and Jerry Rice as your gold picks, then grab a few more silver-tier receivers like Drew Pearson, Herman Moore, or Irving Fryar to give your opponent's secondary a run for its money. 2K Sports producers told us that one popular strategy among QA testers is to actually spend a silver or bronze pick on a kicker like Jan Stenerud or Al Del Greco because you never know when that legendary leg will mean the difference between winning and losing.
Few football fans people are going to argue that field generals like Marino and Elway aren't gold-tier talent, but that doesn't mean they played anything like one another in the NFL. This brings us to the second method 2K is using to differentiate players from one another. Forget arbitrary attribute ratings; the team behind APF 2K8 is looking to define players by what they did on the field game in and game out. To do so, they've used a "special abilities" system that better defines how a player will play on the field. For example, Dan Marino has special abilities like "pocket presence," "quick release," "4th quarter comeback," and "laser arm," while the speedier Elway's special abilities include "cadence," "scrambler," "speed burner," and "rocket arm" among others. All of these different special abilities--of which there are more than 80 spread across all players and positions in the game--will bear out differently once the game begins. For example, the "fourth quarter comeback" ability will give QB's a boost to all abilities once the game enters its fourth and final act.
Once you've got your star players chosen, you'll fill out the rest of your lineup with generic players, though you'll still have some control over what kind of players you get by choosing their tendencies. Each position will have three settings to choose from; you can set receivers to focus on deep threat, a balanced approach, or possession; offensive linemen can be set to pass block, balanced, or run block. How you focus your generic players' abilities will depend on the stars you've chosen for your roster and how you plan to run your game. For example, if you're running Barry and Sweetness in the backfield, you darn well better make sure your O-line is focused on run blocking.
With your roster worked out, it's time to complete your team by diving into APF 2K8's deep customization features. You can select the city and name of your team from a huge list of available choices. You can also tweak practically every aspect of your logo, uniform, helmet, and accessories. From adding designs like stars, claws, or lighting bolts to the sidewalls of your jersey to giving your team logo an entirely new color palette, how you set up your team's look is completely up to you. It isn't entirely accurate to call it as flexible a tool as the paint/vinyls tools in a game like Forza Motorsport 2, but there's enough variety so that your team will look almost nothing like your buddy's, even if you're both using the same team logo. The game will include about 100 different logo and team packages. If you find a package that works really well together, you can generate a code that you can share with your friends so that they'll be able to use your same scheme. When you add the ability to create players from scratch to that, you've got a deep football game that everyone can make their own.
It's important to note that all aspects of your team, from the stars that comprise your talented core to the color of the stripes on your shoes, can be edited at any time, even during the game's single-player season mode. Once you've created a team, it will replace one of the preset teams in the 24-team fictional APF 2K8 league. From there, you will play a 16-game regular season, then follow that up with a standard playoff schedule, culminating in a championship game. You'll also have the option to take your game online, where you can pit your dream team against another player's idea of the perfect football team, complete with the kind of online features you've come to expect from 2K Sports games: VIP team and tendency tracking; tournament and league support; and a new sports ticker that will help you keep track of real-life sports scores and stories while you're playing the game.
Once in the game, you're immediately struck by the size and detail of the fictional stadiums, as well as the number of characters on the field. The sidelines, especially, have tons of action going on that really add life to the surroundings. Player models are sometimes startlingly recognizable--such as Jerry Rice and John Elway--while others, like Brian Bosworth, are at least serviceable representations. The base player models will be familiar to longtime 2K football fans, with long, lean players and an upright running animation that felt instantly familiar. That said, there are some signature animations in the game, such as Roger Craig's high-knee'd running style and Walter Payton's scissor kick. Other visual touches that we noticed were improved were weather effects (such as rain drops bouncing off player helmets); weather looks to have a major impact on players too. During the opening of one game in a heavy downpour, we watched the poor kicker fall on his butt as soon as he made his kick off.
In terms of new mechanics, the game is boasting an improved kick meter that will require you to push forward with the right stick in time with the motion of the kicker's foot, as well as an intriguing new reach feature that will help you make tackles. To enable it, you simply push the right stick right, left, or forward, which will cause your controlled player to stick out a hand in the same direction and help you bring down a player that might otherwise get away. It's a great way to fill up holes that a quarterback might try to sneak through or to chase down a player who's running away from you in the open field (that's a horse collar tackle, but unlike in the No Fun League, it's legal in APF 2K8). You'll also be able to take advantage of your stars in the playbook by choosing plays that are centered around the best players on your team.
One of the best things we experienced with the game wasn't what we saw but what we heard: namely the voices of Dan Stevens and Peter O'Keefe, the excellent broadcast duo that has been the voice of the 2K football series since it's inception on the Dreamcast. The two sound as great as always and have brought a ton of new dialogue to their virtual broadcasts.
In all, All-Pro Football 2K8 is serious about taking an entirely new approach to football games. The lack of the NFL license won't result in a lurid, Blitz-style game full of snapping limbs and rampant drug use. Instead, the developers at 2K are focusing on making a game that leaves it up to the legends that fill out the game's roster. There's so much more to learn about the game before its release in a scant few weeks, so stay tuned. In the meantime, hit us up with questions in our official APF 2K8 forum.