Combining the award-winning NFL Blitz gameplay with the fast-and-loose world of the Arena Football League must have really seemed like a good idea at the time. Midway even went through the trouble of licensing the name and likeness of Kurt Warner, 1999 Super Bowl MVP and former AFL quarterback. But the game doesn't really do much to differentiate itself from NFL Blitz 2000, save for the obvious change in field size necessary for an arena football game and a few other minor interface changes.
For those of you who aren't awake at 3am to catch AFL games on ESPN2, the league plays what is essentially a scaled-down version of NFL football. There are fewer players on the field, the arena is about half as long as a normal football field, and there's no such thing as punting. If a field goal doesn't make it through the goalposts, it bounces off a net and back into play. Arena Football Unleashed is based on standard AFL rules, but you can alter those rules as you see fit. You can change things such as game time and first-down distance. Also, the standard NFL Blitz rules (or lack thereof) apply, so anything goes - from dives over the line of scrimmage to stomping on the small of your opponent's back. The game plays nearly identically to NFL Blitz 2000, with its audibles, kick meter, and four-player abilities. Some of the old Blitz plays even appear in altered forms. The post-play violence has been pumped up to the level that Blitz had before the NFL forced Midway to tone it down, so moves like the Quan Chi stomp from Mortal Kombat 4 are in the game, as well as lots of punches and kicks. When it comes to features, the game is comparable to NFL Blitz 2000 - featuring offensive and defensive play editors, an arcade mode, a tournament mode, and a season mode.
The textures of the field, the wall around the field, and the players themselves are all pretty ugly. Everything has a very blocky, unclear look to it. On the upside, the game runs at a quick pace. The sound is filled with the same grunts and screams of pain you'd expect from a Blitz game, and the play-by-play is handled by Larry Beil, the official voice of the AFL.
The play-selection screen is significantly more difficult to navigate than the NFL Blitz games. Unleashed shows you four plays at a time, and the plays have been broken up by formation, with two pages of plays under each formation heading. So you have to scroll through the formations then look at the second page of plays for that formation to get a complete view of your available plays. Luckily, you can disable the ten-second play timer.
Fans of the Blitz series simply needn't bother with Arena Football Unleashed. It's a scaled-down version of Blitz 2000 with a few changes, but these changes don't really enhance the game in any way - unless you're a die-hard Arena Football fan, of course. Stick with Blitz 2000 or, if you're just now getting interested in arcade-style football, wait for NFL Blitz 2001 to come along later this year.