Comedian Frank Caliendo is doing his best John Madden impression as you try to move the ball up on second down and long. Your starting running back is out for a couple of plays after getting his ribs blasted by a mentally ill linebacker with family issues. The center hikes the ball, and you bring your quarterback out on a rollout, looking for your tight end, who's managed to put some space between himself and his defender. You let loose with the ball, the tight end comes down with it, and he stiff-arms the defender closest to him and aims toward touchdown heaven...only to be blasted by a psychotic safety who very clearly was aiming for your tight end's scrotum. Welcome to Blitz: The League II.
The football game was announced earlier this year by Midway and is the follow-up to 2005's original Blitz: The League, itself a revamp of the classic arcade football series. The original Blitz: The League took the over-the-top hits and frenetic pace of the older Blitz games and gave them a 21st-century revamp, full of bone-snapping hits, trash-talking players, and rampant juicing, all set in a fictional football universe in which rules are little more than suggestions. This time around, the developers at Midway are aiming to up the ante with bigger action, faster gameplay, and more gruesome injuries.
The eight-on-eight brand of Blitz football is still intact for the sequel, complete with 30-yard first-down makers and scoring aplenty. The game has added a handful of new and/or renamed teams, such as the Atlanta 404, Philadelphia Brawlers, Vancouver Beavers, and...wait for it...Cleveland Steamers. In addition, a few teams have moved locales, such as the Orlando Hammerheads, who have moved to Miami and play in a hurricane-hit stadium that's thoroughly dilapidated. Some of the fictional big-name players from the original game (such as Quentin Sands, played by former New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor) will also find new teams in the game's campaign mode (more on that in a bit).
Although teams might move, the gameplay in Blitz II seems to be relatively unchanged from the original. The controls are very similar to the previous game, and any football fan will fall right in with the icon passing and very familiar running controls. What sets the Blitz series apart are features like the clash system. It's not new to Blitz--clash was in the original Blitz: The League--but unlike in the previous game, you'll have a lot more opportunities to both earn and use clash this time around. You earn clash by performing well on the field and can then use your clash to slow down time (by pressing the left trigger) to get around defenders, make catches, or make big hits when on defense.
Earning clash fills up your clash meter. If you earn enough, you'll be able to access the supremely powerful "unleash" mode, which, in true Blitz fashion, is sort of like clash mode on steroids. Hits come harder, jukes and stiff-arms are more effective; anything you can do with a player becomes that much more effective when you're "unleashed." However, it's only a temporary power-up, so you'll want to make sure that you use it when it counts most.
Though you can use clash on both offense and defense, the developers behind Blitz: The League II wanted to even up the power balance a bit. Arcade football games are typically all about offense anyway, so in an attempt to even the odds a bit, Blitz: The League II will give defensive players the ability not just to hurt their opponents but also to target the kind of injuries that they want to inflict. Here's an example of how it works: Your opponent's quarterback is dropping back in the pocket, looking for an opening receiver downfield. While he's scanning the field, you bring your linebacker in on a blitz and attempt a dirty hit by pressing the A button (on the Xbox 360 controller). Though your ability to target injuries doesn't kick in on every dirty hit, it happens enough to stay interesting. When it activates, time slows down and you'll be shown a couple of different areas that you can attack.
In the case of the quarterback, it might be his shoulder on his throwing arm or his ribs. After you've targeted a body part, it's simply a matter of mashing the onscreen button as quickly as you can. The more quickly you press, the more damage you'll cause to that body part, and it's shown in sickening surgical detail thanks to some gruesome cutscenes that render every twisting limb and snapping ligament. In the case of the quarterback, if you dislocate his shoulder, your opponent can come on field and try to set the arm back in its socket with a quick little minigame that uses both analog sticks. Accuracy will count here, so the more efficient you are while setting his arm, the fewer plays he'll have to sit out. Of course, you can also juice your players on the sidelines, which involves another minigame in which you have to be accurate with the needle to recover all-important stamina.
Playbooks in Blitz II will be customized by team, but they are still organized by intent rather than formation. For example, you might have power plays, which mostly focus on big sets and running plays, as well as balanced plays that feature a nice mix of air and ground attacks. Only three plays appear onscreen at a time, and there seems to be a relatively healthy combination of traditional and trick plays to select. In addition, though the player animations aren't among the best we've seen in football games, the game pace is quick indeed, and there's plenty of huge hits that will elicit a few shouts of appreciation (or grimaces of pain) the first time you see them. The game will also feature around 25 touchdown celebrations, a few of which will be unlocked right away; the rest you'll need to discover on your own by entering various button combinations in the end zone. Another big part of Blitz II will be weather effects. When playing in pouring rain or heavy snow, your players will sometimes slip and fall when playing on slick ice or deep mud.
The centerpiece of the single-player game in Blitz II will be the campaign mode, a story-driven mode that will feature your created player as an up-and-coming star in the Blitz league. To fashion your created player the way you like, you'll first hit a press conference, where you'll answer a series of questions designed to help you choose your player's positions and attributes. Your character will be the first two-way player in the league's history and, as the story progresses, you'll go up against your nemesis, the league commissioner, who wants to use your talent on his own team and is willing to go to practically any length--including sending you to prison--to see it through. Naturally, it wouldn't be a prison scene without a prison football game and, as a result, you'll be able to play in the pokey with 50-yard fields, no first downs, and no pads. Later you'll be able to unlock prison ball as a playable mode in the game.
The story mode in Blitz will feature such celebrity voice talent as the aforementioned Lawrence Taylor, comic impersonator Frank Caliendo (who voices your team's offensive coordinator, the prison warden, and lends his best rambling, nonsensical John Madden impersonation as the game's unnamed color commentator), and Jay Mohr (Ghost Whisperer, The Adventures of Pluto Nash), who plays your character's fast-talking agent.
During the season, you'll be able to train your players weekly for attribute bonuses, as well as administer both legal and illegal drugs--err, make that "supplements"--to your players. The list of fake supplements is long and their effects are varied. "Ziolphene" will help you move in and out of clash mode more quickly, whereas "Lastix" will let your player gain two stamina points for every successful clash or unleash move on the field. Using illegal substances will increase your team's risk of being fined by the league, so you'll want to find a balance between keeping your players hopped up and not bending the rules too much.
Beyond the campaign mode, Blitz II will feature a 16-player tournament mode, in which you'll be able to play in a variety of new and returning game modes such as Make It, Take It; Bone Crushers; and Prison Ball. The game will also feature head-to-head online play, along with improved online stat tracking, though there won't be online leagues. Instead, the emphasis for Blitz: The League II seems to be in its single-player game, which is full of severe injuries, late hits, and salacious storylines. The game is set for release this October; stay tuned for more coverage in the coming months. For more information on the game, check out SportsGamer's interview with lead game designer David Friedland.