The shape of non-NFL football games continues to evolve. We've already seen what other developers will be doing with their pigskin games this year, but many of the hardcore football gamers have been keeping an interested eye on Midway's upcoming title. Originally announced just after the EA/NFL deal in December of last year and, at that time, curiously tied to old ESPN Playmakers' series, Midway's pigskin game has since evolved by taking a step backward, mainly by reviving the beloved Blitz name in its title. Blitz: The League will look to retain that old-school flavor that Blitz fans demand, while taking the series in some exciting, and punishing, new directions.
In our time with Blitz: The League, the thing that stood out the most about the game was the absolutely brutal nature of the action on the field. Only two teams were available during our play sessions--the Chicago Marauders and the Arizona Outlaws--and the field the two teams met on was a muddy, murky mess (in keeping with the brutal nature of the game). Similarly, player models were huge and intimidating. The between-play cutaways, showing the hulking players throwing insults and threats at one another, added to the overall gritty atmosphere. All of this, when combined into a presentation package, will look remarkably different from anything you'd likely see in an NFL-licensed game.
Of course, irking the powers that be in the NFL will likely be half of what Blitz: The League is all about. It's a title that won't shy away from the brutal nature of the sport, like the things fans see on the television each Sunday, such as bone-smashing hits, as well as the things the NFL would rather you never hear about. We've all heard about rampant performance-enhancing drug use in pro sports--specifically in the NFL. In Blitz: The League, you'll see it in action and you'll control when it will be doled out. If your star player gets injured on a play, you'll have the opportunity to either take him out of the game or shoot him up with some sort of shady drug. The reward of him staying in the game, however, will be tempered by the risk of potentially losing him for a much longer period of time if you choose to go with the chemical fix.
You can expect a maniacal pace to the game, thanks in part to the 10-second play clock and the streamlined play-calling screens. Instead of taking you to an entirely new menu for choosing a play, the Blitz: The League's play-calling screens will be suspended vertically on either side of the screen and will feature three plays at a time, along with simplified diagrams that will give you an overview of how the plays will run on the field. There will be no primary receiver or blocking assignments--just the basic formation and a number of arrows showing receiver and back routes. It's strange to see the game in action the first time, but we were able to adapt to the unfamiliar style after a little while.
The big gameplay innovation in Blitz: The League will undoubtedly be the clash and unleash moves. As you move the ball downfield, you'll be awarded with clash "juice" that will fill up a meter in the corner screen. Practically any success on the field can be rewarded with clash juice, from mundane things, like catching a pass or making a first down, to more outlandish activities, such as hitting a coach or even (gulp) a cheerleader. You can make this clash juice work in your favor in one of two ways: by holding down the left trigger you can slow down the action on the field to a bullet-time-like effect, allowing you to sidestep tacklers or find open receivers. On defense, using clash juice will allow you to make harder hits, and maybe even pick off a pass or two. On either side of the ball, clash juice will drain fairly quickly, so you'll need to use it with care.
If you preserve your clash juice and the meter fills up, you'll be able to earn special "unleash" moves, essentially money plays not unlike the gamebreakers found in the NFL Street series, except these are controlled by the user. Unleash moves are available to you on both offense and defense. On D, an unleash move might be intentionally injuring a certain player (such as a quarterback), which then causes him to be removed from the game. Some examples of unleash moves on offense will be guaranteed tackle avoidance when playing as a quarterback, illegal stiff arms for running backs, and guaranteed catches from wide receivers (provided you can get the wideout in position to make the grab). The user-controlled nature of these supermoves are a crucial differentiation for Blitz: The League, in that they will provide a lot of power when used in the game, but will require a certain amount of skill in order to pull off successfully.
What would a Blitz game be without over-the-top animations? Blitz: The League will include plenty of violent graphical treats for fans, including punishing quarterback sacks, outlandish touchdown receptions, players assaulting one another using their helmets as weapons and, of course, touchdown celebrations galore. As one of the producers told us, they even looked to the real NFL for some touchdown celebration inspiration, citing Randy Moss' infamous mooning of the Green Bay Packers' fans at Lambeau Field in early 2005 as one example. Though the NFL frowns on such "me-first" displays, they'll be front and center in Blitz: The League. Looking for more controversial bits? How about a foul-mouthed offensive coordinator who will shout advice (and insults) from atop his perch in the coach's booth; or a variety of gruesome-looking injury animations when players go down on the field; or the ability to pick and choose your cheerleader squad from a number of real-life FHM models.
Amid all this controversy, the plotline for Blitz: The League's main campaign mode is actually pretty straightforward, and one that sounds like a mere exaggeration (albeit a drastic one) of the real NFL. It goes like this: a hothead owner (think a Daniel Snyder type), finally fed up with his team's losing ways, fires everyone on staff and hires you as the guy that will save the franchise. In the league draft you'll take on a young rookie, fresh out of college and looking to make a name for himself, while also hiring an experienced veteran who's out to prove he still has what it takes. The dynamic between these two forceful personalities, as well as your games against the 17 other teams in the league, will be the backbone of a plotline that will twist around the seedy underside of the Blitz: The League's universe. Expect to spend plenty of time on the field, but also in various spots throughout the city, such as prison cells and nightclubs. We do know of the involvement of New York Giants' legendary linebacker Lawrence Taylor, who will play a part in the game, though not as himself. Could LT be on the cover of the game as well? Time will tell. No word yet on if the plot will be driven by cutscenes, in-game movies, or text, but we're hoping to see more of the Blitz: The League's storyline at E3.
While we didn't see any online features in our preshow look at the game, we understand Blitz: The League will feature full online support on both the PS2 and the Xbox, including the ability to take your created campaign team online to take on teams created by other players.
Though the game has been in development for around two years now, there's still a lot more to see of Blitz: The League before its release later this year. We expect to see an official trailer at E3 and we'll have a full report on the game from the show floor.