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GF! Archival Version Copyright 1995-2004


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by Microsoft

Ups: Best-looking football game ever; great passing game, lots of arcade fun. 
Downs: Abysmal running game, stats are a joke, only hotseat multiplayer
System Reqs:
Pentium 200, 32 MB RAM, 4x CD-ROM. 


Let’s say there’s this football team, and a pretty dismal one. It finishes the season with a 4-12 record. It stinks. It can’t run and it can’t pass. Can’t defend and can’t begin to compete with the elite teams in its division. Stung by constant humiliation and losing its previously loyal fan base, the team fires its coaching staff, overhauls its personnel, and begins anew.

Let’s say that in the next season this team somehow manages to match its division rivals in passing and defense, looks damn stylish doing it, and, despite a few glaring weaknesses, finishes at 10-6 and makes the playoffs. Not bad at all, you’d say, and with a bright and shiny future.

Well, that team is a lot like Microsoft’s NFL Fever 2000, the 10-6 arcade football game. For a rookie, NFL Fever is a surprisingly solid--and sometimes brilliant--effort. It’s gorgeous, it’s loads of arcade fun, and it even plays (with a few exceptions) a pretty good game of football. And since NFL Fever is priced at $19.99, it’s abundantly clear that Microsoft is going after EA’s PC sports game empire (and specifically Madden) by employing the Wal-mart strategy that made Deer Hunter a million-seller.

Chief amongst NFL Fever’s virtues are its 3D graphics. Simply said, this is the best-looking computer football game ever. The players are exquisitely modeled, their movements are silky-smooth, and the attention to detail is unsurpassed—you can quite easily read the names on the back of the player’s jerseys, and player animations are excellent and distinctive. Big backs like Bam Morris or Jerome Bettis are brawny and bulky and hammer away like power backs, and sleek ones like Garrison Hearst look slim and quick and put on a lot of jukes and spin moves. But it goes beyond that—I mean, Brett Favre looks and moves like Brett Farve and Randall Cunningham looks and moves like Randall Cunningham. It’s all very impressive. Weather effects are quite atmospheric—playing a game on a snowy day in Soldier Field or a rainy one at Candlestick (I’m still boycotting 3Com) gives a real "you are there" feel to the game, and seems to affect gameplay, though I’m not sure about this. Also included in the game are an enormous collection of animations of ferocious hits and post-play celebrations, all integrated seamlessly into the gameplay. The animated hits are especially cool, and manage to be spectacular without crossing the line into NFL Blitz territory. Adding to all this graphic goodness is an excellent replay feature that allows you to zoom, rotate, and get all kinds of cool screen shots of your favorite plays.

Sound is very good as well; there’s a suitably crunchy amount of collision noise, the occasional smartass fan pops off, and there’s a blessed lack of in-game music. As for the announcers—well, Dick Stockton’s play-by-play is typically unobtrusive and pretty well-blended, but Matt Millen’s color commentary is no fun. Typically, Millen’s commentary consists of belaboring the obvious—"Boy, that quarterback sure must be angry that the receiver dropped that"—or saying negative things about quarterbacks and kickers. Matt, buddy--Alex Karras ran that well dry twenty years ago. Get a new schtick.

The game’s got a nice set of options, too. You can play a single game or a whole season (though it lacks a career mode), and you can choose from rookie, veteran, or pro difficulty settings. If your team is lacking in talent, you can create your own players and pick them up as free agents, or just make unfair trades with other teams (my personal favorite). There’s also an easy-to-use player editor, so you can transform the 1999 Bears into the 1985 Bears if you so desire. If you think the game’s default playbook is unimaginative, you can design your own wack plays and playbook. (But you probably won’t—the default playbook contains scads of plays. So many, in fact, that I use the playbook feature mostly to prune them down to a manageable size.) And the game also provides a practice mode, so you can drill your players like a little Lombardi. Unfortunately, the only way to play others is by hotseating it; there are no network, modem, or internet options. Fix this, please.

Gameplay is a mixed bag, so I’m going to break it down into its component parts here, listed from best to worst.


First of all: if you don’t have one, get yourself a decent gamepad. You can play with the keyboard, but it’s not something I’d wish on anybody. (Of course, the game is designed for the Microsoft Sidewinder, and the default settings are pretty decent. You can of course reconfigure if you wish.) If you’re using a good gamepad, NFL Fever has the best passing game I’ve yet to see in a computer football game. Period. End of discussion. My favorite part of the passing game occurs as your QB strolls up to the line and prepares to take the snap. At this time, you can call up a diagram of your receiver’s routes while you scan the opponent’s defense. This allows you to spot mismatches and single coverages, and you can even check off if the play looks doomed. There’s nothing like looking over the Denver defense on 3rd and long and realizing that the seam pattern you’ve called is wide open; on the other hand, it’s hell to look into double coverage. No kidding, reading the defense is the key to the passing game-- listening to Jaws on Monday Night Matchup has finally paid off.

Once the play begins, you’ll be able to watch every route develop. That’s right, there’s no blind passing in NFL Fever. It’s great to watch the safety commit to double coverage on your flanker, then throw away from him. Some routes seem to work better than others, though. Seam, post, and slant routes are pretty realistic—if you can get a man open, you’ll usually get a completion—otherwise, forget it. On the other hand, streak patterns are damn difficult to complete--OK, it is hard to throw long in the NFL, but I’ve only very rarely completed any long bombs. And forget screen passes; they just don’t work. On the other hand, out patterns are a bit too easy to complete, and if you’ve got a merely decent tight end, you can make a living off of him.

For all its upside, the passing game does have a few serious glitches. First, the receivers drop way too many balls, especially at the veteran level. This is clearly done to make the passing game less effective, but it would have been much more realistic to have more cornerbacks tipping passes away or QBs overthrowing than to watch Cris Carter drop three straight passes. Has that ever happened in real life? And quarterbacks have a little too much "escapability". I first noticed this while watching my ten-year-old son and his pal play a Bills/Vikings game. Both of them were fading twenty yards back rolling out of the pocket, and waiting for the defense to break down. At first I thought, well, with Flutie and Cunningham, that’s plausible. But after some experimentation, I found that even slewfooted signal callers could scramble pretty well.

Playing pass defense takes a while to get the hang of, but can be reduced to this simple maxim: always pressure the QB. As we’ll see, the running game is underdeveloped in NFL Fever, and since there’s no reason to fear the rush, you can bring it on every down. And you better. If you don’t pressure the QB, they’ll pick apart even nickel and dime defenses. If you go into a third and long defense, make sure you have at least two players blitzing. Otherwise, you’re toast.

In most defenses, you’ll control the middle linebacker by default. Though you can switch to control other defensive positions, I’ve found the MLB to be the most effective defensive player—he gets to make a lot of unblocked stops. Even better, I’ve racked up a load of interceptions by dropping my linebacker back into zones and covering tight ends man-to-man over the middle, something the computer defense doesn’t do very well.


Excellent and realistic, with a two-click interface that’s both intuitive and elegant. The distance on punts and field goals is very realistic, as are the yards on returns—though at easy level, you’ll return more than a few all the way. Unfortunately, the only nasty bug in NFL Fever resides in its kicking game. Sometimes your center will not snap the ball on punt plays—and you can do nothing while time runs out, you take a delay of game penalty, and you lose five yards. Grrrrr.


Ok, I’m a Bears fan. And along with my love for Da Bears and Da Coach, I love, as all true Bears fans do, the running game. From Wille Gallimore to Gale Sayers to Walter Payton to Neal Anderson, Bear fans have lived and (mostly) died with the running game. There’s still something vaguely distasteful to us about heaving the ball around. Oh, we’ll tolerate it when it pays off, but we’ll take a 100-yard rusher over a 400-yard passer any day of the week.

So imagine my distress with NFL Fever’s running game, which is quite simply broken. At the easy level, this isn’t a problem. NFL Fever plays like an arcade game at that level—it’s a snap to complete passes and break off long runs. But at the more difficult levels, passing becomes more realistic and running becomes damn near impossible.

Don’t tell me to try spin moves and lowering my shoulder and straight-arms; I have, and I still end up with a 1.4 yard per carry rushing average—on a good day. A big part of the running game’s problem seems to stem from the atrocious blocking—defending players don’t just shed blocks, they seem to pass through them like wraiths. Defenders also react unbelievably quickly; I know holes close fast in the NFL, but I’ve hit a gaping hole with my runner on sprint, only to have him tackled for no gain by a linebacker who seems to materialize out of nothingness. It’s as if someone at Microsoft got their game genres confused and programmed defenders with RPG-like magical attributes. It doesn’t help any that you never get the spot on offense; if your back lunges forward for three yards at the end of a run, you can bet they won’t be counted.

And the computer doesn’t do well running the ball, either. Most of the computer opponents I play on veteran setting—including the Falcons and Broncos, with Davis and Andersen—have not managed to average over a yard per carry. That’s right, not even a measly yard. I wish I could claim this was due to my superior defensive ability, but I’m trying to break myself of the whole lying thing. I repeat: the running game is just broken.

Another thing that’s broken with NFL Fever is its statistics. It doesn’t have them in any meaningful way. There is no way to keep individual stats, so there’s no way to win a rushing crown (which would probably take about 320 yards), no way to see if you’ve broken passing records, no way to tell which of your running backs is getting it done. This is made doubly perverse by the fact that you will occasionally be given individual stats in-game. Huh?

Are we getting the picture here? A game that’s real purdy, priced for the Wal-mart shopper, and that highlights the pyrotechnic passing game over the honest, workaday running game and statistics favored by real aficionados. Like me. NFL Fever is, purely and simply, a beautiful arcade football game that comes tantalizingly close to being a beautiful realistic football game. The development team clearly put most of its efforts into the areas of the game that would make it a big seller---graphics, passing, arcade fun. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if next year’s edition of NFL Fever puts just a little more effort into the hardcore aspects of the game—running and stats—it could easily go from a 10-6 game to the Super Bowl.

--Rick Fehrenbacher