Full Review: Move over Madden, there are two new Sheriffs in town.
For those of you unsure of what I am talking about, I am speaking of none other than football. Football games on consoles are about as common as the telephone is in the home. Everyone has them. Now you might think that football is football no matter what or who makes it. Wrong. Football games are not created equal. Up till now, Madden, from EA Sports, has enjoyed a monstrous following due to its wonderful presentation and gameplay. Then, along came a little console called the Dreamcast, and with it came Sega's NFL 2K line of games. For the first time, EA had a competitor, except that since they were limited to the DC exclusively, they weren't really all that much of a threat. However, even on the lesser-powered machine, the 2K series stood its ground, and stood it proud. Now that Sega has gone 3rd party, EA is in danger of losing their dominance, but that is another story all together.
Amidst the battle of EA vs. Sega, a newcomer, Microsoft, enters the fray. Premiering on the brand new Xbox, NFL Fever 2002 is here and ready to hit helmets with NFL 2K2 and Madden 2002. NFL Fever brings to the table all the things that make console football so great -- modes, options, seasons, stats, and a whole slew of goodness. It is about this gem that I am writing of. It's not perfect, nothing truly is. However, Fever is pretty damn close. Let's dive in, shall we?
The first thing to note here is the incredible visuals. NFL Fever 2002 is by far the best-looking football game yet. Every detail down to the mesh on the jerseys is evident. The players are highly detailed, with facial hair and eyes that blink and move! Animation is smooth and momentum based. For instance, if your player is running one way and you want to reverse course, he actually slows down a bit before he turns. This adds realism and also a hint of strategy into the game. It's also useful for dodging defenders as well, nothing's more rewarding than making a defender bite it in the snow. Speaking of snow, the snow effects in Fever are awesome. Every single footprint from every single player is seen in the snow for the entire game. They eventually get snowed over as the game progresses, but they are there.
During games that involve rain, running produces splashes as you go. Though, perhaps the coolest thing about this type of visual treat is what it does to the player models. Normally, to simulate mud, the models would just all look the same. Not anymore. Each and every player on the field gets muddy specifically based on what they did, and it's just not who hit the ground either, it's where they hit. For example, if #35's left knee hit the ground a few times, then #35's left knee will be muddy for the duration, as well as being added to it each time he hits the dirt. It goes for everyone else on the field as well. This is the first time I have seen this level of attention to detail.
While I am on details, what about off-field details? The entire team of each side is on the sideline, plus more. There are coaches, players, assistants, and even cheerleaders. On top of that, you got your photographers. That's right. On the sideline there's telephoto zoom lens cameramen, camcorders, and a TV cam on wheels that moves up and down the field with the play. The entire crowd in the stands is animated as well as everyone on the sidelines, and at times, I think I caught some of the crowd doing the wave. Even certain stadium seating cast shadows on the field. It would seem that no detail was left out in this game.
Whew, now that the graphics and visuals are done, how does the game play? NFL Fever 2002 is one of, if not the best, football games to play. The running game is tight, with jukes, spins, fakes, and stiff arms galore. Passing is well done too, with icons that light up to let you know when someone is open. As for our beloved QB, the way he moves back when he drops into the pocket and throws actually looks like he is throwing the ball as hard or soft as he does. The use of turbo is a little less overdone. Using the turbo gives you a short burst of speed, but that's all. You'll have to really think about when to use your turbo here. As for the defense, let's talk a little bit about the AI. They are smart. Try the same play more than a couple times in the same situation and they will smack you around like yesterdays whore. This actually is good for the offense too, because now more than before, if they are looking ?pass?, a draw play up the middle will surprise them. Also, if they are crowding the line a pass over the top works a majority of the time. I say majority because the AI defense has an uncanny ability to change setups on the fly, meaning that you have one shot to execute before they close the door.
Modes are aplenty in NFL Fever 2002. You have your standard affair in exhibition, season, and manager modes. The season, called a Dynasty mode, lets you build a team up from the draft and take them through multiple seasons as you try to be the best in the league. Make trades, sign free agents, the works. All the NFL teams are present, with their accompanying stadiums, however, there are also teams and stadiums special to NFL Fever that can be unlocked. Feel like playing a game of football in the Roman Coliseum? I thought you might.
Last thing I need to mention is the sound. This area is the one spot where NFL Fever falls short a tad. The sound effects are great. Everything from player chatter to helmet clashing are well done. Hell, the players even trash talk the camera after making a big play or a big stop on defense. So where is the fallout? Simply, the shortcoming is the play-by-play commentary. That is a small quirk I suppose, but important nonetheless. The commentary in NFL Fever isn't bad at all; it's just not great. All these years of hearing and laughing at Dan and Peter in the NFL 2K series has spoiled me I guess. Overall, NFL Fever's commentary does a good job of calling the shots and picking up on who does what, but the dialog is a bit too much ?cut and paste? for my taste, for next years version I recommend they make it more fluid. Though, the commentary quirk is a minor setback in an otherwise perfect game of football.