NFL Fever 2004
System: X-Box
Publisher: Microsoft 
Developer: Microsoft
Released: August 2003
Genre: Sports (Football)
Capabilities:
Memory Unit, Custom Soundtracks, System Link, X-Box Live online play, Communicator Headset

Review Written: September 22, 2003

Microsoft wowed everyone with the Xbox launch debut of their first party football title, NFL Fever 2002. It ranked right up there that year with Madden and the then NFL 2K series, and became an instant favorite among fans. However, last year Microsoft didnít really add anything special to make a few of the annoying gameplay flaws (such as easily making long bomb passes) disappear. While the developers added quite a bit of new features such as the XSN sports network integration, and the innovative ďread and leadĒ passing control, the burning question is will it bring the series back up on par again with the big dogs? Letís take a look and find out.

Iím going to hop right into the biggest addition to this yearís game, which is the read and lead passing control. How it works is after you select which receiver will get the ball, a target reticule will appear by the receiver on the field, and you then use the right analog stick to place it where you want the receiver to catch the ball. Once the desired spot is found a pressure sensitive press of the R trigger will determine if the ball is lobbed (soft press) or beamed (hard press) to the target reticule. Of this sounds awfully complex to you, then donít fret, I was the exact same way. The new training camp mode will give you drills so you can get the timing of read and lead passing down to perfection. It took me a few games to finally get a solid feel for the controls of this creative control scheme, and the only real downer is with all the time it takes to lead the target reticule to the desired location, donít be surprised to see the QB getting sacked a little more than usual.

All the in-game controls are a bit different from the typical pigskin title, with a few changes that caught me off guard. For example, with Madden and ESPN Football Iím use to tackling and diving with the ball carrier with the X button in the aforementioned titles, but Feverís default scheme has it set to dive the ball carrier with the hard-to-reach black button, whereas to tackle on defense is done with the B button, and the X button operates to change players on defense instead. I lost track of how many times I kept blowing plays where I kept pressing X thinking Iíd make a last effort tackle, where instead I just ended up switching players. To me, these default controls will take a bit more of getting use to than the read and lead passing itself. Yes, I guess I could have just toyed with control schemes until I found one that satisfied me, but I like to stick with the default controls because I always keep in mind itís the default scheme the developers intended the game to be controlled the best with. Unfortunately, thatís not the case here. Of course, if youíve played and adapted to the past Fever games then just ignore this bit of rambling, but for gamers looking for a fresh new gridiron game they can pick up and play, just consider this your forewarning.

NFL Fever 2004 has all you standard gameplay modes like practice, and exhibition games. A couple of new options under practice debut in the Fever series this year with the additions of Training Camp and Chalk Talk. The Training Camp is a series of drills to get you familiarized with the gameís controls, I find this especially useful to learn the ropes of read and lead passing. Chalk Talk is the equivalent of the tutorial videos found in this yearís Madden where one of the announcers will guide you in several video packages through offensive and defensive controls, and learning some of the more advanced techniques like pre-snap hot routes.

The main way to play, Dynasty Mode, has two options to play in. One is the classic team tournament where you vanquish the seven greatest teams of the NFLís past, one-by-one. The other is the standard Dynasty mode which plays nearly identical to most other Franchise modes, where you can play up to a total of 25 continuous NFL seasons complete with all the standard off-season options like retiring players, going through the draft, and whatnot. While it gets the job done for establishing a main single player game, it lacks the depth of the ones featured in its competitors. Sega and EA Sports introduced some great new features in their Franchise modes this year like the Owner Mode options in Madden and the email system in ESPN Football, hopefully Microsoft will take note and integrate some of these options in next yearís game.

One that area that did get a dramatic overhaul is the online play. The new XSN Sports Network is much like the 989 Sports Network games on the PS2 that also debuted this year. This gives you the options of setting up online tournaments and leagues. It also enables you to track all of your stats online from your PC, and send game invitations via the PC as well. All of these options easily outclass the miniscule of online offerings that ESPN Football has on the Xbox, so this is one area that Fever outshines the rest on the Xbox in comparison.

Visually, NFL Fever mustards the most of what the Xbox can handle. The player models look fantastic up close in the post-play cut scenes, and probably sport the most detail than any other NFL game this year. However, some of the players look a little off-par with their real life counterparts when they are seen on the sidelines without their helmets. Also worth noting is the texturing for the turf is amazingly realistic, I swear I have never seen a better looking playing field in all football gaming history. The tackle animations look pretty dang good too; I just wish there were a bit more of them.

The presentation is decent all around, I always appreciate the game listing the offensive and defensive starters, as it seems like it is a little more of an authentic telecast. I also like the post-game highlight reel that shows clips of several big plays of the game, though the feature is just begging for some commentary to run through it describing those plays to be perfect!

Kevin Calabro and Ron Pitts are at hand for commentary. While they do a bang-up job at calling the action on the field, their comments get repetitive within a matter of games and are nowhere near as continuous as its competitors. There is this one little tidbit I like where the coaches on the sidelines shout commands at you to help you out pick your plays. Fever has three types of soundtracks to listen too while browsing menus, one of the classic themes you hear on telecasted games, another of rock songs, and a third one of more techno type beats. If none of those suite your needs than you can always listen to your own customized soundtracks.

There really isnít that much of a selection of extra game modes here, other than the classic team tournament and the training camp drills. The Dynasty mode should get you by for a while, but this game doesnít have those fun extras that other NFL titles have today, like Madden with Mini-Camp and the 2-Minute Drill, and ESPN NFL with First Person Football. Fever definitely needs one of these to stay fresh with the competition, and maybe its plethora of online options will be what youíre looking for.

RATINGS

Graphics: 9.0
Sound: 8.2
Gameplay: 7.3
Replay Value: 7.5

Overall: 8.0

While Fever may not have that initial surprise factor that got its first game to perform so well, donít overlook it as a contender just yet. Itís kind of in the same situation as GameDay is on the PS2 this year. While both have a couple of gameplay flaws and may not have those extra amount of bells & whistles they make up for with the best online options available than its competitors. While NFL Fever 2004 is still a good football title in its own right, Iím still going to have to recommend its competitors over it because they outclass it in almost every area and have improved so much more than Fever has.

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