Fun, With a Few Flags on the Play

Friday, August 24, 2007

It wasn't that long ago that football fans had a choice with NFL video games. That all changed when EA Sports signed a five-year exclusive deal with the NFL in 2004 that made the Madden series the monopoly of the virtual gridiron.

Other than Midway Games' Blitz: The League, a Mature-rated arcade football game without real players, pigskin fans have had no choice until now. Developer 2K Sports, creator of ESPN NFL 2K5, still considered to be the best NFL video game of all time, has circumvented the NFL license by turning to retired players. All Pro Football 2K8 has a roster of 240 former NFL greats (and some not-so-greats). Rather than choosing whole teams with rosters as in the Madden games, players pick from among "legends" and create their own teams -- including logos, uniform colors and stadiums (some of which are outlandish, including the Tangiers, which is a giant Vegas roulette wheel complete with silver ball for touchdowns).

The strategy in this game comes just as much from selecting the talent as from what plays you call. The legends come in three tiers, and players are limited to just two "gold" players, such as Barry Sanders and Joe Montana; three silver players, including Randall Cunningham and Irving Fryar; and six bronze players, such as Mark Rypien and Al Del Greco. Lower-level players round out the team based on positions. The game has a player editor that allows patient gamers to enter information to bring current NFL players into the fold. Not all of the players have the correct animations or moves; seeing Sanders celebrate after a touchdown, something he never did, is strange.

Visual Concepts doesn't offer many game modes. You can play a game, a season and online. There is no dynasty mode or mini-games. Gameplay is solid, which makes the title, even with its flaws, a fun experience. The price -- $60 compared with $20 for NFL 2K5 when it launched -- is steep for this bare-bones offering. That said, there's plenty to work with here for future iterations. This game could turn into something special. It's just not ready for this season.

-- John Gaudiosi

All Pro Football 2K8 Everyone 10+; Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 ($60)2K Sports/Visual Concepts

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