NFL Tour Updated Hands-On

We check out the latest arcade football game from EA Sports Big.

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Why exactly EA took the NFL Street series out behind the shed only to replace it with the upcoming NFL Tour is anybody's guess. After all, as arcade football games go, the Street series had its charms (as well as its flaws). Regardless, the folks at EA Sports Big must have felt as if a change was needed for their fast and furious seven-on-seven series, given that NFL Tour is set to emerge early next year on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. High-definition visuals and a new presentation style make this very much arcade football circa 2007, but the gameplay is old-school...straight outta the Street, so to speak.

With Ronnie Brown conveniently out of the picture, the Dolphins' run at perfection of another kind is still intact.
With Ronnie Brown conveniently out of the picture, the Dolphins' run at perfection of another kind is still intact.

What if you had a shot to make it? To hook up with your favorite NFL team, and go on tour with them? To play against the league's best and prove your skills on the field of play? To earn a shot at a real NFL contract? No, this isn't some Disneyfied Mark Wahlberg movie; it's the fun, if sort of silly, premise to NFL Tour's core single-player mode. Here, you create a player from scratch and go on tour with your favorite team, playing seven-on-seven ball against every team in the NFL on your quest to become the best of the bunch.

Creating your player is straightforward in NFL Tour. You simply choose a head and body style, as well as some basic gear for him to wear, and then it's off to pick your assignment on the field. You can play almost any position on the field: on offense, quarterback, running back, and wide receiver; on defense, defensive end, tackle, linebacker, cornerback, and strong safety. Each of these positions automatically assigns points to various attributes such as speed, catching, and so forth. Offense and defense have their own unique attributes (for example, passing on offense, or tackling on defense), and you'll have eight points to spend as you see fit on any of these attributes before you set out.

With your attributes set, it's time to take off and begin playing your way through the tour. Your first stop will be in the AFC West division, home to such "powerhouses" as the Oakland Raiders and, well, every other team in the AFC West. We dove right into the tour with our created player--the awesomely hirsute and ponytailed quarterback Doug Bonafide--on the Indianapolis Colts, and began to leave a path of Raiders, Chiefs, Broncos, and Chargers in our wake. If you've been spending most of your football-gaming time with Madden, getting into the NFL Tour swing of things will take you about, oh, two plays. First there's those simplified playbooks to adjust to, reminiscent of NFL Street's pared-down lists. On offense, you've got short and long pass, and run plays; on defense, it's man and zone coverage, and then blitz plays.

Considering that our created player was a quarterback, the other adjustment we had to make was to the "so old it's new" scrolling-style passing found in Tour. Instead of passing to receivers using assigned buttons, you have one highlighted receiver that you can hit with the A button. To move to the next receiver in your progression, you press the B button, then tap the A button to toss the ball to him.

With the rock in the hands of your ball carrier, you can check out the reversal system. On offense, you can elude tackles or perform wall moves with the B button, or shed tackles by pressing the A button at the right time; with correct timing, you can pull this move off multiple times to gain a few extra yards, or even break free of defenders altogether. For other tackles, you can get into button-mashing battles in which you're supposed to press the A button repeatedly; press it fast enough and you can put a defender on his back. Similarly, on defense you can attempt to reverse a player's dodge by pressing the X button at the correct time. Pull it off successfully and you'll be able to drag the player down--assuming he doesn't get a shot at reversing the reversal.

Although these reversals and button battles can result in big breakouts, the animations involved in these reversals can often drop you back a few yards from the point of contact, which means that you'll have to make up that yardage even if you break free from the original tackle. In fact, throughout there seems to be work left to be done on the gameplay. For example, all too often on the option play we were able to interrupt the toss from the QB and the HB, but we were rarely able to scramble back with a defender quickly enough to pick up the ball and get the turnover. Passes weren't as lofty as in the previous build of the game we played, but it sure would have been great to see streaking bullet passes every once in a while, especially when we really needed to nail a receiver in the numbers.

All of the games in Tour mode seem to go quickly, but the rules for the different games differ depending on the division you're playing. For example, in the first group you're playing two-minute halves, with the highest score winning the game. In the next set of games, the first team to score 24 points is declared the winner. There are other game types to be found in NFL Tour: Big D, where you earn points for big defensive plays, and in which offense takes points from the opposition; as well as Make It Take It, where if you score you keep the ball; and others. There are also custom rule sets you can configure however you like.

His teammates would never tell him so, but Frank Gore's football sense just isn't what it used to be.
His teammates would never tell him so, but Frank Gore's football sense just isn't what it used to be.

Finally, let's talk about the voice-over work. ESPN's Trey Wingo is all over this game, both in movies introducing NFL Tour mode and in play-by-play duties during games. Wingo keeps the banter light and (occasionally) funny in between plays; his delivery is fine, but many of his scripted lines aren't. Sure, one joke about the repetitive nature of sports-game commentary is clever. More than that and the joke begins to run a bit thin. Nevertheless, the actual sounds of football are pretty good, from the big bash of the tackles to the explosive fanfare when touchdowns are scored.

Once you tear through the NFL Tour mode, you can spend some time with the handful of minigames (Smash and Dash, which is like the old playground game "kill the guy with the ball"; and Red Zone Rush, where you try to score on your opponent one-on-one and then prevent him from doing so). However, you'll likely spend the rest of your time with the game playing via Xbox Live against real-life opponents. Due for release in January, NFL Tour will be aiming to satisfy football fans looking to scratch their post-08, pre-09 Madden itch. We'll be bringing you a full review of the game once it reaches store shelves.

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