Hey Sports Fans...
I suppose it was inevitable. In my idiotic (dare I say quixotic?) Summer quest to complete as many easy achievement games as I can, I’ve needed to knock out as many titles as possible. And as many of you have suggested, some of the easiest gamerscore available comes from early Xbox 360 sports titles. You know, the ones from 2006-2008, before publishers and developers knew how to effectively apply the achievement system? Particularly where 2006 is concerned, several sports titles have less than ten achievements, and in many cases these can be earned by playing only a couple full games. To make matters even easier on my end, these titles have virtually no resale value, meaning that I was able to buy most of them for one or two dollars. So with about ten bucks and a few stops, I assembled a small stack of acronym-laden, white-labeled titles. Game on, right? Well, not so much…
The problem for me is that I hate modern sports games. I can think of nothing I’d rather do less than manage a draft sequence in Madden, or complete a career in Tiger Woods; and I’d sooner edit a dictionary than simulate the college coaching experience. Don’t get me wrong: I love sports, most of them anyway. I’ve got favorite teams in every major professional league, and having graduated from a football school (Virginia Tech), I love the NCAA. However, when it comes to video games, I want escapism. Maybe it’s just me, but vaporizing battleships as an overpowered space marine seems a little more interesting than adjusting the spin rotation on my third relief pitcher’s curveball. The larger issue for me (and many others, including the GB editorial team) is that modern sports games are almost all simulations. They are designed for the hardcore fans, the same demographic that obsessively watches its fantasy leagues and lives for statistics. For people like me, who just want to pick up a controller and go, there’s not much fun to be had. I used to love the sports titles that came out before things got complicated, games like Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball, Madden 1994, Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey, and NBA Jam.
That said, where these games are concerned, I don’t feel right going in-depth on an editorial level. Instead, I’ll keep my comments focused on the achievement experience, which in many cases proved quite brief. It’s worth mentioning that 1) I played each title a minimum of six full games, and 2) I cheated like crazy to get almost all these titles’ points. That last point seems ethically questionable, but really, all of these games give the ability to adjust player stats, AI behaviors, and rule applications. Frankly, many of these achievements would be near impossible if you were to play the game “normally.” I’d wager that nobody would earn half of these 1000g sets if not for some manipulation. Anyways, on to the games:
NBA Live 2006
I started the sports marathon with EA’s NBA Live 06. There were no big surprises here: hip-hop anthems pumping, bright lights, and a confusing set of menus. Looking at the achievement guide, there were only 12 achievements: 4 from beating the AI on various difficulties, one for creating a player, one online, and six season-related achievements. The first set proved frustrating, as they require players to beat the AI on each difficulty setting, with none of the achievements stacking. So, not really knowing how these games worked, I tried again, and again, and again to beat the computer on “Superstar” level. I never came close, and short of chucking my controller through my monitor, I did some research. Not being familiar with modern sports games, I didn’t know I could assemble a super team and completely gimp the computer’s stats. Once that was taken care of, I had no problem polishing off the rest.
It was odd, however, that despite assembling an all-star team of the best players in the game, it took four season simulations before I won the NBA championship. Then again, with the Miami Heat’s 2010-2011 performance, I could see where a “superteam” might not be guaranteed the victory. Still, after about 5 hours (including my clueless phase) I had the full 960g. Yes, you heard that right: 960g, not 1000g. Because EA loves to shut down servers, getting any online achievement that dates before 2009 has become impossible. Even though I was only robbed of about 40 points in a game I paid $0.99 for, I still felt cheated. While better writers have commented on EA’s online policies, it’s nothing short of infuriating that EA bypasses Microsoft’s system so that it can track gamers individually, and then shuts them out of games that are no longer profitable. While it’s true that many fans do buy the same game year after year, it should be optional. What if I loved the rosters from 2006 (as I did in Madden ‘06)? If so, I’m out of luck. One final note about NBA Live ‘06: it has the creepiest sweat physics I have ever seen. Players have rivulets of fluid coming off them that makes them look like the monsters from the Siren series. Ew…grody…
Well, after getting what I could from EA’s franchise, up next was its competitor: NBA 2K6. I had always heard that 2K had been creating the better basketball experience, and even knowing next to nothing, I can see how that has remained the case. While EA creates flashier menus and provides an obscene amount of licensed music, 2K’s gameplay is far more streamlined and accessible. More to the point, shooting, stealing, and physics react like one would expect. NBA Live, on the other hand, uses an unintuitive system where different button presses are used for different types of shots. Editorial opinions aside, NBA 2K6 might have the easiest achievements I have found since I started this dumb project. In only one game, I earned all five (yes, only five) achievements. I wasn’t even going for all of them, but the game must have figured that I was going to get them anyways, because it awarded me the one for earning 140 points in a game after I’d scored roughly 30. Still, I’m not one to complain. Long story short: adjust AI sliders, play as an all-star squad, set quarters to 8 minutes, and earn 1000g. My total time was less than an hour.
Major League Baseball 2K6
Let’s shift over to America’s Pastime (for those of you paying attention, I do mean baseball). I have heard that 2K’s baseball franchise is a decent experience, but I wouldn’t know. I am admittedly not the biggest baseball fan. Hell, without a solid infusion of beer and hot dogs, I can’t stand to sit through nine innings. Part of that might be due to the fact that I’m a Chicago White Sox fan. Since the Sox tend to do almost nothing from year to year, there’s not much point in watching, assuming that I can even see the games here in Virginia. More to the point, the thought of simulation baseball makes my head hurt. (Seriously, I’m not being hyperbolic there.) Even in the most basic of modern baseball sims, there exists a multitude of variables, settings, button presses, and complications, which (from where I’m concerned) serve to add only frustration onto a relatively simple sporting event. However, I do love arcade baseball – if you can find a copy of Ken Griffey for the SNES, then play that jam. It’s still the one game that unites my family during the holidays... so good.
Anyhow, back to MLB 2K6. Even though the game has only five achievements, they are earned by completing feats that all but demand cheating and/or manipulation. Let’s face it, in the course of events, how likely is it for a pitcher to ever earn 15 strikeouts in one game, or for one batter to homer three times in the same nine innings? Outside of a serious fluke, it’s just not going to happen. So, in order to increase my odds, I had to edit the rosters. And by “edit the roster” I mean edit every player on each team’s roster. This took over an hour. Then, once I made my “super team” and my “punching bag team,” I got to work. Even with the ridiculous adjustment in skill, I barely managed to get the major achievements. It was by sheer luck I got the homerun/runs scored titles, and even with the “run up walls” cheat active, robbing an opponent’s homerun proved irritating enough to make my blood pressure soar. Let’s just say that MLB 2K6 did nothing to renew my faith in baseball sims. The grand total there: 4 games, 6 hours, and a whole lot of player editing... Never. Again. Ever.
If I had to choose only one sport to love, it would have to be (American) football. Of all the major sports, it’s the one I know the most about, and it’s the one that I have the most experience playing in video game form. Since I had owned Madden ’02 for the GameCube, it was also the sport I had the most recent experience with. Because old football games are stupid cheap, I picked up both Madden ’06 and Madden ’08, along with NCAA Football 2007. Let’s begin with Madden 2006.
There’s not much to say where Madden 2006 is concerned. It’s a Madden game. I hate to be so reductive, but if you’ve played one, you’ve played them all. I understand that there are roster changes, and slight mode variations, but I can’t say that the structure of how a football game is played has shifted significantly since the early ‘90s. But being an early Xbox360 titles, Madden ’06 joins MLB 2K6, NBA 2K6, and NBA Live ’06, in having very few achievements; 11 to be precise. The majority of these are for completing games, simulating seasons, and earning a bunch of yards. Ten of these achievements can be earned by playing three games (an offline game, a franchise game, and a super bowl). Since difficulty doesn’t affect achievements, there’s no need to even cheese the sliders on this one.
Unfortunately, the last achievement for the game requires more time than all the rest put together; much more. To earn the “Complete 30 Years of Franchise Mode” achievement – worth an astonishing 400g – you have to…you guessed it… complete thirty years of franchise seasons. For almost any sane person, this requires just simulating season after season of NFL play. If you are diligent about it, it can be completed in roughly 3.5 hours. Although I am talking about literally hitting one button for nearly four hours, it wasn’t so bad. I have a dual monitor setup which allowed me to watch TV while I did this. For 400g, I have done much worse. Hell, for 40g, I have done much worse.
Madden 2008 shows a clear evolution in gameplay over its 2006 predecessor. But wait, before you call me a hypocrite: it’s still a Madden football game, but the graphics, menus, and tech improved quite a bit in two years, as could be expected. Even with the noticeable improvements, I have to say I preferred the 2006 version, if only because I’m a Pittsburgh Steelers fan and the ‘06 squad was a Super Bowl team (and I loved the memories.) Still, if nothing else, Madden ’08 improved its achievement requirements to include actual tasks beyond “hey, just play this game and have some points.” And with challenges such as “complete 20 consecutive passes to one player” and “intercept five passes in one game” one would think that getting the 1000g would represent a huge time sink, right? Well, not quite. As it turns out, players can unlock achievements just by simming through each game. If the required event occurs, the achievement unlocks, even though the player didn’t do anything. You can earn at least half the total score by just “supersimming” the Patriots against the Texans a couple times. For the rest of the points, I took control myself, turned off the rules, and played a few games against weak teams. After about five games I had earned all the points. Perhaps the most frustrating achievement was the “earn 200 yards in kick returns with one player,” because it proved quite difficult to make a bad team kick off a lot in one game. Still, after about five hours, the job was done.
NCAA Football 2007
I believe I mentioned it above, but I do love me some college football. Even so, I’d be hard-pressed to explain how the NCAA franchise varies wildly from the Madden series. From a gameplay perspective, there’s not much distinction. It is still simulation football. Well, now that I think about it, instead of “asking Madden” you can “ask Lee Corso.” And then there’s the ESPN brand to consider. Also, I suppose it would be a little silly to call a game “Madden NCAA 2007,” and I don’t think the NCAA would approve, so there’s that too. The major difference, as far as I can tell, is that the franchise mode digs much more heavily into college recruiting and back-office tasks than Madden does. Also, there are many more teams and play styles to consider.
All that said, earning achievements in NCAA Football takes the same amount of effort (or lack thereof) as it does in Madden. Difficulty sliders are not available in the same manner as they are in Madden, but the rules and rosters can be adjusted. So to earn the bulk of the points, players need only edit the rosters of two teams (the player’s and the opponent’s). However, because there are dozens of stat metrics and 50+ players on each team, this takes an irritating amount of time. To make matters a little worse, some of the achievements just aren’t easy to manipulate: blocking a field goal attempt was one of the largest headaches I’ve had during this project. That one task alone probably took me two hours.
Now the hard part: remember when I talked about the boredom of simulating 30 seasons in Madden ’06? Yes? Good. Now NCAA football has a similar task, but it wants players to complete SIXTY years of its dynasty mode. To make matters more difficult, simulating each season takes substantially longer due to dozens of preseason tasks, more teams, and more options. Assuming that the player simulates everything, each season includes prompts to sim through the off-season, preseason, regular season, conference championship week, and bowl season. This just takes time, and even a few minutes becomes an eternity when multiplied by sixty. Moreover, barring extreme luck, you are likely to be fired as coach and have to find a new team on several occasions. All told, with constant management, this one achievement took a solid eight hours of button pressing. If that’s not mundane, then I don’t know what is.
...Self-esteem is for chumps
I think that last little bit should be enough to tell you that I completely hate myself at this point. But am I stopping? No, no I am not. I’m going to keep earning as much as I can in the weeks ahead. Although I’ll be moving and out of town quite a bit, I remain confident that I will keep up until I cry myself to sleep. Speaking of which: hiding in the fetal position under your desk is quite soothing, or so I’ve found.
Next week, I’ll be swinging into full Pottermania, playing a few of the many Harry Potter games that are out there. Spoiler alert: I’ve finished a couple, and now my soul hurts. Once again, thanks for reading along and sharing in my shame. You can read my previous entries if you haven’t ( D.A.D. Vol 1, D.A.D. Vol 2)
You guys are fantastic, thanks.