Wait, No Powerbombs?
I hold the NFL Blitz series on a lofty pedestal because it is still the only football game franchise to hold my attention for more than a few plays. The old Midway titles made their name with speed, play calling, and more after-the-whistle power bombs than you could shake a stick at, and NFL Blitz 2012 only manages to partially fulfill the first two elements. As for the late hits, they are conspicuously absent, leaving a big hole for those who have been awaiting a perfect Blitz follow-up for years.
Blame the NFL all you like for the finger wagging it gives to late hits, but EA still hasn’t done much to make up for their absence. Commentators Tim Kitzrow and Brian Haley have to fill the personality void with jokes that are questionable in quality. Haley talks about bacon most of the time, while Kitzrow drones on and on about every single play, resulting in a boring play by play. Purposefully dumb in nature, it has the same problem that NBA Jam had where too much commentary dumps out constantly, giving players a quantitative ear assault; none of it is particularly horrible, but nothing is really noteworthy either.
Previous fans of the series will likely immediately notice the lacking presentation, while newcomers may find nothing perturbing. Likewise, the changes to play calling and speed will be another area that grinds the old guards’ gears. The entire signature playlist—Subzero, Da Bomb, Crusin’—is here, with some tweaks that aren’t a problem, and some that are. Particularly, any play that allows you to pitch the ball to a receiver and then throw to another almost always ends with the ball being accidentally thrown back to the quarterback for a sack, fumble, or interception. Still, despite the occasional hiccup, these plays work well. Though there aren’t many of them, they all have surprising depth and complexity. You’ll learn through experience how to deal with defensive formations for each play, and figure out which receiver will be in the best position to successfully move the team up field. The speed is reduced from the old games, but not enough to feel too sluggish at any point—or at least not offline, but I’ll get to that later. Throwing 50-yard bombs is still viable, though little things like jump passing have been pretty much eliminated due to strange timing differences. Though it is sad to not have every single tactic and quirk back from the old games, I doubt it would’ve been possible for EA to create the exact balance from 1999.
Playing against the computer in both the Play Now option and the Blitz Gauntlet, an arcade ladder where you face off against boss teams, is fun if a bit easy even on the highest difficulty. My scores almost always pass 35, so rubber band AI starts to rear its ugly head far too often. When it does kick in, interceptions and fumbles start to occur with laughable frequency. The losing team’s ball carrier sometimes will take four or five hits, with 300 pound linemen just rolling off him lamely. You start to get a sixth sense about when you’re going to drop the pigskin, leading to conservative and nervous decision-making.
Of course most rubber banding can be avoided completely if you compete online. There are two modes here: a simple play now option for either one-on-one or two-on-two matches, and a card trading fantasy league called the Elite League. The latter is an interesting concept, since winning earns you better players and you get to customize your entire team. Unfortunately the starting cards you get are so poor that they exacerbate the already diminished speed of play. In fact, I found playing online for both modes was a little slowed down and sporadically laggy.
NFL Blitz 2012 feels like a Blitz game at its most barren. Without the crazy pseudo-wrestling move tackles and speed, we’re left with a bare bones experience that still feels gratifying, but with no style or flavor. Still, I find myself having fun with this new addition to the series, even if it isn’t everything I hoped for. Plenty of modes fill out this $15 release, so if you can accept the changes and deficiency of wow factor, there is a lot to like here. Not much to love, just like.