Blitz: The League Updated Hands-On

We do another cycle of the juice with Midway's upcoming unlicensed football game.

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The NFL Blitz series did for football what NBA Jam did for basketball. It delivered a football game that kept a lot of the feel of the sport--the back and forth, the hard tackles, the basic strategy--without getting bogged down in rules and regulations that essentially force you to already be up on the game of football to have a good time. Over time, the NFL Blitz series lost its luster. But this year, Midway is bringing the series back in a big, big way with Blitz: The League, a game that eschews the NFL license in favor of neck-snapping tackles, vicious injuries, and a wild storyline that you'd never be able to see in an officially licensed product.

The core of Blitz's single-player experience is its campaign, which lets you create a team, name all of its players, and edit things like uniforms, eye black, and even the look of your cheerleading squad. You'll also select coaches, a team doctor, and one rookie player and one veteran, who will both figure heavily into the game's story. Your selections have an impact on your team's style of play. You can pick various shades of conservative or aggressive, as well as build a team that's better focused on passing or running. The story opens with your team rebuilding itself after a losing streak--and a busted-up quarterback--breaks it down to the lowest of the league's three divisions. Your basic goal will be to pick up your team, dust it off, and eventually win all three of the league's divisions. But along the way, you'll get into nightclub scuffles, see the inside of a prison cell, and even send escorts over to the opposing team's hotel, tiring them out for the game ahead.

Incidentally, that last move is something that the game's cover athlete, Lawrence Taylor, claims to have done in real-life. LT will play the role of the tough, all-around neck snapper, Quentin Sands of the New York Nightmare. He's the most feared player in the league, and you can bet he'll figure into the game's M-rated story in one or more major ways.

The game's story will also tie into how you play on the field, as you'll be given additional in-game challenges that you'll need to accomplish to proceed. Some of these might be covering the Vegas point spread. Some might ask you to injure an opposing player. All in all, the game's story is said to take around 15 to 16 hours to complete, and it will have a few divergent paths to discover.

The Vegas point spread plays into a larger gambling system that lets you wager your current cash on your games, and you'll need to beat the Vegas line to bring home the bacon. The grip you earn can be spent in a number of different ways. The first, and cleanest, route to take is new equipment. Things like new gloves will raise your ball handling stats, while shoulder pads will make players more durable. Or you can take a shortcut and spend the money on performance-enhancing substances for your players. Just like real life, the players are subject to random drug testing, and if you get caught juicing up your players, you'll get fined, and the player in question will have to remain clean for an unspecified duration.

Once you get past all the off-field stuff, Blitz: The League plays like a more complex version of the classic games in the series, retaining the fast action that made the series famous while adding a level of depth that serves to make the game faster, more reckless, and, above all, exciting. Players don't catch on fire anymore, but that system has been replaced by another, called "clash." An onscreen clash meter acts as a sort of second turbo meter, but this one is used to pump up your existing moves. Hitting the clash button while aggressively tackling another player turns the move into a dirty hit. Clashing on offense brings the game down into a bullet time-like slow-motion, giving you a clear view of the field for better passing. The increased reaction time doesn't hurt, either, and offensive players play a little tighter in clash mode. Quarterbacks are less likely to be intercepted and can dodge incoming tackles more easily. Receivers are more likely to break tackles and catch balls. But your clash meter is very short, so it's not something you can constantly rely on to improve your game. Over the course of play, you'll earn icons for various moves, from clash catches to showboating on your way to the end zone. Collecting a certain number of tokens turns your clash meter into an unleash meter. Unleash moves are juiced-up clash moves, and here's where you'll start to see vicious injuries, insane tackles, and some really dynamic catches. Unleashing such a move turns your meter back into a clash meter, and the quest to collect tokens begins anew. All in all, the game's systems feel like they work off of each other very well, giving the entire game an interesting level of fast-moving strategy. But most importantly to fans of the series, it still basically feels like a Blitz game, and fans of the series shouldn't have any trouble picking the new gameplay twists up.

In addition to the campaign and basic two-player games, Blitz: The League will have online play, letting you take any of the league's teams or your created campaign-mode team online to play against others. You'll be able to wager money online, just like you can when playing alone, and the game will dynamically put together a point spread for online games based on the stats of your players. Money earned via gambling is a statistic that will be tracked in the game's leaderboards, which are said to be quite deep. Unlockables and secret codes have been a part of Midway's sports lineup since the days of NBA Jam, so expect to see a big-head mode, among others. Also, an emulated version of another arcade sports classic, Tournament Cyberball 2072, will be one of the game's early bonuses. Unfortunately, Cyberball can't be played online. Lastly, Blitz: The League will have support for 16:9 and 480p displays. Given the quality of the game's graphics--especially on the Xbox--this is definitely good news.

All in all, Blitz: The League looks like it's poised to reclaim the glory that the series once held...and then some. The game is currently in the final stages of development, so pending those tweaks, some more balancing, and, of course, the last round of bug fixes, the game should be hitting stores in mid-October.

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