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nflfever2002_boxshot.jpg (8493 bytes)

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by Microsoft

screen16.jpg (3867 bytes)When the original NFL Fever 2000 came out for the PC, we liked it for a lot of reasons. At that time the PC football game market was dominated by the Madden monopoly, and it was nice to see anyone attempt to break into it. NFL Fever did so with a stunning debut. It was exceptionally pretty—at that time the best-looking football game ever, and its passing game was passably realistic and a hell of a lot of fun. But it had some real weaknesses too, including a nonexistent stats tracking feature and a broken running game—as in it was impossible to run, even against really bad teams. No problem, we thought—give the boys at Microsoft a year to tweak this stuff, and when NFL Fever 2001 comes out, we’ll have a game that can really give Madden a run for its money. But then, alas, we heard there would be no more NFL Fever for the PC. Instead Microsoft would be designing these games for some damn thing called the Xbox, which to us PC football fans in the pre-Dreamcast/PS2 world seemed like the worst thing in the world.

screen10.jpg (4173 bytes)Well, two years later the first iteration of NFL Fever for the Xbox, NFL Fever 2002, has been released. Overall, it’s still a lot of arcade fun, and it still looks great. Even better, the running game has been fixed and a great stats package included. But it’s not a very realistic game, and I doubt it even aspires to be one—mostly because it’s far too easy to throw long TD passes and break off long punt and kickoff returns. NFL Fever should probably be called Big Play Football, and if you’re OK with a game that rewards just about every offensive possession with a touchdown, you’ll like it just fine. On the other hand, hard-core realism fans should probably stick with Madden.

screen6.jpg (4342 bytes)NFL Fever comes loaded with features, including a very nice training camp that familiarizes you with the game’s controls and allows you to unlock fantasy teams. The game’s practice mode is both very useful and easy to use, and allows you to try out plays before facing a live opponent. The game also includes a dynasty mode good for 25 seasons with drafts and a fantasy challenge mode that will pit you against some very challenging fantasy teams like the War Elephants, Skeletons, and Hackers. You can also unlock fantasy teams to play and fantasy stadiums to play in. The game’s powerful player editor allows you to create players or even edit existing ones, and a general manager feature allows you to wheel and deal to your heart’s content. All told, NFL Fever has features to equal those of any other game out there, including an excellent stats package. The game’s interface is solid, though it could use a little tweaking.

screen99.jpg (4478 bytes)But the best thing about NFL Fever is its graphics. It just looks great, with the best eye for detail of any NFL game and varied and very smooth animations. Player models—though a little bulky—look even more photorealistic than the NFL 2K series, and player animations are spookily accurate. Running backs make beautifully fluid cuts, receivers dive gracefully for passes, linemen lock up and muscle each other around. Crowds and sideline details are especially good, and very much better than Madden’s inexplicably hideous ones. All the game’s stadiums are nicely drawn and atmospheric, except for the ones that have no atmosphere. The game’s sound effects are also top drawer—there’s much grunting and bashing, and big collisions will make you cringe. And while the game’s voice commentary has all the usual weaknesses of video football commentary—it’s repetitive, it’s sometimes wrong, and it’s a little hokey—these are also the usual weaknesses of real-life football commentary, so what did you expect?

screen1.jpg (4665 bytes)So, the game’s packed with features and damned good-looking. While these are definite pluses, in the end a game will stand or fall on its gameplay, and NFL Fever’s gameplay has its ups and downs. Let’s begin our discussion of NFL Fever gameplay with an examination of its strongest suit, the running game.

screen15.jpg (5109 bytes)NFL Fever’s running game model is excellent, which was a pleasant surprise. Gone, it seems, are the days when you just could not run in console football games, and in NFL Fever you can actually win games with a ground control offense. Especially against the AI, you’ll have to mix in the occasional pass here and there since the AI does a good job of spotting tendencies and reacting to them, but a good running team can grind it out and control the clock. Controlling the runner is smooth and easy, and with moves like turbo, spin, shoulder charge, straight arm, juke, and hurdle, you can bust a lot of moves on a defender. None of these moves is too overpowering, however, and just pushing buttons and wiggling the controller won’t get it. Defending against the run can be a challenge, especially since loading up on the line leaves one unrealistically vulnerable to the long pass (more on that later), and taking control of a linebacker helps a lot in run stuffing.

screen11.jpg (5713 bytes)If NFL Fever were nothing but a running game, I’d give it five stars for both realism and playability. But the passing game—especially the long game—is far too effective against defenses, especially defenses even marginally worse than the offense. It’s a sad fact that you can as the Chicago Bears run a Cover 2 zone against the Detroit Lions all day, and Herman Moore will still catch three long touchdown passes in a game, something he has not managed to do in what, all of the last five years? And this happens even at the highest difficulty levels. It’s a strange thing—the short passing game seems to work pretty well. It requires fine timing to run well, and a defender can even force a number of interceptions if the offense throws short into a crowd. But the minute a receiver running a fly route gets a step on a safety in single coverage, it’s over. And since receivers come open on fly routes against deep coverages far too often, NFL Fever often degenerates into a track meet won by whoever controls the ball last. There’s little incentive to coordinate a precise drive down the field when you can just fade back and huck away with a much better chance of success. I’m sure this was done for the casual gamer who actually believes that Charlie Batch can throw six touchdown passes in a game, but it’s a real disservice to the hardcore football fan that that a game with as much beauty and potential as this one does not include a realistic setting.

screen4.jpg (5755 bytes)Special teams play has its problems as well. There are far too many long returns—especially kickoff returns--in the game, and you’ll quickly learn that a well-turned spin move or two can get you beaucoup yards an most any return. Again, these sure are thrilling, but they’re not really like football. As with everything else, the kicking game has excellent control, even though it’s much more difficult to kick a field goal, even a short one, than it should be. It takes a while to get the hang of this, and it’s practice time well-spent to get it down.

screen23.jpg (4880 bytes)As far as general gameplay observations, I’ve found that the opposing AI is actually pretty good, and does react to your style of play. If you grind it out, it will put eight in the box and dare you to throw. If you throw a lot, it will drop its defenders into coverage. The game allows you to call audibles and run hot routes, and gameplay is quite fast—faster than Madden’s for sure. Though some have complained about this, I don’t mind at all. The NFL is fast, and being forced to make quick decisions on any given play is a large part of why so much can go wrong—or right—during a game.

screen20.jpg (4018 bytes)Overall, NFL Fever is a good-looking, feature-packed, fun football game that casual fans will love for its high-scoring shootouts. Unfortunately for realism fans, it’s far too easy to make big plays in the game, and they’ll be frustrated by a game that comes very close to answering their prayers in almost every other way.

Rick Fehrenbacher   (11/25/2001)


Ups: Looks amazing; great fun; lots of features; solid running game.

Downs: Far too easy to throw the long ball.

Platform: Xbox