How much does it cost to have an arcade machine in your house? Well, if you're starting with a decent PC and a high-end 3D card, it costs about $50. You see, that's the price of NFL Blitz, the number one arcade game of 1998, now available for the PC in darn near all of its coin-op glory.
For those who don't know, NFL Blitz is a seven-on-seven football game. That's right, it's a "game," not a sim - NFL Blitz makes no pretension to be realistic or statistically accurate. Instead, it reduces football to its primal essence - running, passing, and most of all, hitting - and it does so in an environment that is blissfully free of rules, regulations, and referees.
As an inevitable result, many PC gamers are sure to dismiss NFL Blitz as "kiddy football," appropriate only for foul-mouthed, button-mashing teenagers high on sugar, caffeine, and God knows what else. Who can blame them? Previous releases in this genre of games, most notably Acclaim's NBA Jam series, were little more than parodies of the sports they portrayed, and playing them quickly devolved into hyperactive twitch fests.
But NFL Blitz goes way beyond games like NBA Jam by incorporating real strategy into its gameplay. With its 18 different offensive plays (each of which has multiple variations created by using motion and/or double passes) and nine defensive alignments, NFL Blitz offers plenty of room for outwitting and outplaying your opponent. Through careful observation, you can easily identify weaknesses in your opponent's attack, and through experimentation, you can find ways to exploit those weaknesses - and that's the essence of an engaging strategy game.
At the same time, NFL Blitz offers an intoxicating mix of blazingly fast gameplay, high-octane graphics, and ear-splitting sound. It's an arcade game, after all, and as such has to have the audiovisuals to grab your attention and gameplay that's approachable enough and addictive enough to hook you the first time out. And NFL Blitz delivers on all counts. On our test system (a P200 with a Voodoo2 card installed), NFL Blitz is difficult to distinguish visually from its coin-op counterpart. The textures are crisp, the player animations are perfect, and the frame rate is consistent and fast (the Direct3D version is also smooth but a little less polished). This is a beautiful game to watch. The sounds are also virtually identical to the arcade version, with big, brash effects and real-time commentary that is both enthusiastic and impeccably timed.
But in the end, it's the gameplay itself that sets NFL Blitz apart from other sports games, and for that matter, from other games in general. Unique sensations abound: the thrill of completing a 50-yard bomb just as the clock expires; the visceral rush of sticking a running back five yards behind the line, then picking him up and tossing him to the ground again for good measure; or the "hands of God" effect when you find yourself spinning, jumping, and stiff-arming your way through the opponent's defense without any idea of how you're doing it. NFL Blitz is a game that you will play and enjoy time and time again, whether you're going it alone against the computer or taking on a friend using the two-player (one computer) mode.
Are there any drawbacks to the PC version of NFL Blitz? I can think of only two. First, the control leaves a little to be desired, especially if you're using a gamepad (which is the controller type most ideally suited to the game). While the game is perfectly responsive to all button commands and to north/south/east/west movements, its response to diagonal directions is less than perfect, and as a result, the PC version lacks some of the "wiggle" moves of its arcade counterpart. The second shortcoming is an omission: Unlike the N64 version of the game, there is no play editor available for PC NFL Blitz. This is obviously ridiculous - the PC version should include at least everything that they cram into a console version of the game (on a cartridge, no less!) - and it cost NFL Blitz two points on its value score.
Still, this is a fantastic sports game, the best I've played on a PC in ages. Don't drop the ball on this one.