Wednesday, July 25, 2007

All-Pro Football 2K8 (360)

These are easy impressions to write, really.

I'm not going to discuss the lack of modes in the game--we all know that already. I'm just going to discuss the one mode that IS available--season mode.

Before going into detail, though, here's the general tone: both geniuses and idiots worked on this game. The best moments are stunningly, wonderfully good, and the worst moments are bad enough to make you rip your hair out in frustration.

It breaks down very simply though.

For starters, the interface. It would be embarrassing in a freeware game, let alone a major release with a $59.95 price tag. It's just crap. Visual Concepts, when 99.9% of the world uses the "start" button to bring up menus, you're not being anything but goofy by using the "right stick flick" method. It's terrible design and it's completely unnecessary--you're trying to solve a problem that doesn't exist.

The interface is so incredibly bad that it killed my enthusiasm for the game before I even got to the game.

When you start actually playing, though, it's all different. Yes, the player models are too thin, but I never notice once they start moving, and when they move, the animation is glorious. It's the best animation I've ever seen in a sports game, period.

It's not just the regular animations (which are stellar). It's quarterbacks stumbling when they pull away from center, or punters slipping when they catch a snap in the rain. It's the incredible variety of tackling animations. It's the way players will take a second or two to gather themselves before getting up after a big hit. It's the way that players engage each other at the line of scrimmage. It's how players run to the line of scrimmage when running a no-huddle offense--not all at once, but individually.

One animation hitch: on incomplete passes, the ball bounces around for far too long (and off far too many players, frequently) before it hits the ground. Note to developers: incomplete passes should not deflect like the magic bullet in the Kennedy assassination.

Overall, though, the animation is fantastic. I played NFL2K5 for at least a hundred hours, and this animation far surpasses 2K5, which was already outstanding. And here's something to cry in your beer about: it's not like they worked on this game for three years. This is what 2K6 would have looked like if the NFL and EA hadn't screwed us over with an exclusive license.

Even after a three-year wait, though, it's still a visual feast, and even the stadiums join in, because they're spectacular, with tremendous amounts of detail.

Smart? Most of the time, the A.I. is brilliant. Blocking A.I., in particular, is superb. And the game models certain behaviors far better than I've ever seen. For instance, if you want to throw on the run, you better have that skill--if you're Len Dawson (who was about as mobile as a sofa during his career) and you try to throw on the run, almost every throw wil be off-target. The A.I. even seems to call a better selection of plays during the last two minutes of each half. It's not great, but at least it's not brain dead.

And there's one, glorious new change: kicking. After I've bitched for years about how kicking meters should have disappeared as soon as analog gamepads were invented, it's finally happened. To kick in APF2K8, you pull back the right analog stick to initiate the snap, then move the stick foward in conjunction with the kicker's leg.


It takes a few minutes of practice to adjust, and they could have easily gotten rid of the aiming arrow as well (by having us use the D-pad to change the kicker's alignment), but it's still excellent.

In general, the on-field action is filled with outstanding and memorable moments.

Then, as always with this series, we come to the Achilles Heel.

In NFL2K4 and NFL2K5, the end-of-half and end-of-game A.I. was either a gamekiller (2K4, which had the worst of end-of-game A.I. I've EVER seen in a sports game) or just poor (2K5, which seemed like a big upgrade in comparison). Now you'd think after Jeff Thomas shot his mouth off with the infamous "Just play the game and shut up" quote, they'd make sure that the end-of-game A.I. would be at least competent.

Unfortunately, if you thought that, you were wrong.

In only half a dozen games, I have seen repeated, absolutely egregious use of timeouts. Horrific. The A.I. seemingly has no idea how to use them properly in the last two minutes of a half. It's excruciating to watch, and in single-player mode, it may well be a gamekiller--too many critical moments in a game take place in the last two minutes for the A.I. to be an incompetent duff.

It's not like using timeouts properly is that difficult. It's just one of those things in this series that has been broken for years and never fixed.

If you play online, with friends, then the timeout A.I. is inconsequential, and this game will hold up for a long, long time. If you want to play single-player, though, it will drive you crazy--or, at least, it's driving me crazy.

Do I think season mode in APF2K8 will be better than season mode in Madden? Yes--I would be amazed if Madden were better. Is it worth paying $59.95 for what is essentially a mode instead of a game? That's a much tougher call, and because of that, I'd recommend renting first.

Site Meter