Football has always been a violent, dangerous sport. Heck, President Theodore Roosevelt even tried to ban it altogether back at the turn of the 20th century, such was its cruelty and brutality. Naturally, it’s also by far the most popular pastime in the country, generating passion amongst its fan base at the collegiate and professional ranks that is unmatched – or even comes close – by any other sport.
Of course, as professional football evolved from sandlots to dual-purpose stadiums to billion-dollar coliseums that are shrines to its power, its image has also followed suit. As the NFL’s popularity and revenue rose from minor league to that matching a small nation’s gross national product, so did the league’s obsession with its public presentation being slick, polished, and family friendly. After all, dollars can be tied directly to consumer perception, so any unhappiness that its fans may have with the players or teams will directly impact the bottom line.
Blitz: The League is true to its old-school roots, which translates into some breezy, speedy fantasy football fun.
There have been attempts to expose the alleged seamy underside of the game – steroid abuse, wanton illegal behavior, cutthroat contract decisions, and so on – by books, films, and TV shows, but never in the gaming space. That is, never until the NFL decided to allow Electronic Arts to buy the sole rights to produce NFL-licensed games for every platform. Instead of allowing a long-time franchise to die – Blitz, after all, had been kicking all kinds of ass in arcades and consoles for years prior to EA’s bombshell – the folks at Midway decided to regroup, take a deep breath, and re-establish the series with a brand new agenda. Introducing all sorts of game mechanics, plot points, and vicious personalities that never would have seen the light of day, Blitz: The League is a celebration of nastiness that also restores the trademark frenetic gameplay fans of the series have loved for over a decade.
The campaign mode is the core of the game, putting you squarely behind the fortunes of a team that’s at the bottom of the Blitz-created fictional league, and needing to work its way up – and fast. Seems the mayor and the owner of your created team have a deal in place for your club to get a free stadium in return for a championship. Naturally the owner sees free money bouncing around his brain, and will take any steps necessary to ensure that those goals are accomplished (even if they’re illegal and/or immoral). This sets the tone for the entire game, as at various points you’ll be able to set up steroid cycles for up to three players at a time, treat injuries with illegal substances, and sign players whose behavior is corrupt but performance is spectacular. It’s football with a snarl and a syringe, and chances are that you’ll be at least a little bit uncomfortable at many different points during your career.
Instead of modeling their gridiron universe after the real one, Midway has created one based on similar to international soccer leagues (and frankly I love it and wish American sports would consider something like this, even though that’s a pipe dream). There are three divisions, and winning the championship of the bottom one promotes that winner to the next one, with the ultimate goal being to win the top league. That’s the objective of your career, and it’ll take 35 to 40 games to do it. Naturally, the lowest rung is pretty easy to get through; in fact, I managed to pull off a perfect 11-0 record without batting too much of an eye. Heading into the second league, though, the action and difficulty ramps up significantly, and the opposition takes a lot more liberties (OK, I’ll just say it – they cheat their butts off). By the time you’re playing in the majors, it’ll take some superhuman efforts to pull off the victories.
So while the unfamiliar names, locations, and story choices may (or may not) resonate, series vets will likely feel right at home on the field. Ever since the first iteration, Blitz has always been about speed and random luck, and both of these make their return in spades. There are all sorts of wild, random bounces that will occur at any given moment, and there are few actual rules in place as penalties don’t exist. First downs take thirty yards, and there are seven players on each side, so clearly this ain’t no Madden-like simulator. Smashing into a receiver is encouraged, as pass interference will never get called. On defense, you can purposefully gear up for a dirty hit that will cause injuries on plenty of occasions. Speaking of injuries, when they happen, the action will freeze for a moment and you’ll get an up-close X-ray vision into snapping bones and muscles – if you’ve got a queasy stomach, it’s probably best to look away when these things happen.
Offensively, your best strategy is almost always to ignore the run in favor of a bombs-away passing game. More often than not, a successful aerial attack will generate the touchdowns and wins, even if your running back is the best player on your team. Gamebreakers, special actions that can be executed after charging them up via good plays, can be saved for those occasions where a big play is most needed. All in all, the gameplay on the field hasn’t changed much at all over the years. This is most welcome, considering the overhaul of every other aspect of the title.
The only real disappointment with Blitz: The League is its old-looking visuals. While it was only recently released for the 360, this is virtually the same game that came out last year on the PS2 and Xbox consoles, with the only real addition being Achievements. This ain’t no next-gen game, so don’t expect it to be. There’s also an online component, but it’s virtually bereft of players, which frankly I don’t understand. The few games I was able to get going ran fine, even if almost each person I played quit before the game was over. Evidently my longtime Blitz skills were too much to bear for the minimal community. It’s too bad, really, since most of the time I spend on Live in other games I’m getting my butt handed to me on a regular basis and I take it like a man.
All in all, Blitz: The League is true to its old-school roots, which translates into some breezy, speedy fantasy football fun. Gamers may or may not gravitate to the dark and nasty tone, however. If you’ve already played last year’s current-gen game, there’s no real reason to pick this one up unless you’re a fan and obsessive about Achievements. However, it’s got hours of single-player campaign games and is always a terrific multiplayer game, provided you can rustle up a friend in person or online to compete against. After all, that’s where the franchise has always shined – two buddies, side-by-side, smashing each other’s virtual players into the turf. Good times, indeed.