Inside Pulse 12

Review: NFL Tour (Microsoft Xbox 360)

NFL Tour
Genre: Football
Developer: EA Tiburon
Publisher: EA Big
Release Date: 1.8.08

The history of NFL Street is not a very pretty one. The franchise has toiled for the past four years as sort of an awkward sibling of the far superior (and far more successful) NBA Street franchise. As much as EA’s tried to shove NFL Street down the throats of gamers everywhere, only three mediocre games were produced before EA sensed the obvious and pulled the plug. However, EA would not give up on creating the ultimate arcade-style equivalent to the Madden series. Going back to the drawing board, EA created NFL Tour, a game that theoretically would not only replace NFL Street, but bring arcade football into the future.

EA’s attempts to revitalize the franchise will not only be compared to the NFL Street games, but NFL Blitz, the best and most famous arcade-style football game of all-time. Does EA’s new face of arcade football match up to the legendary Blitz? Or does NFL Tour suffer from the same problems that plagued the NFL Street series?

1. Story
For all of the supposed differences between NFL Street and NFL Tour, the games have very similar “season” modes. In the past, you played every other NFL team and tried to beat them all. In NFL Tour’s Tour Mode, you still play every other NFL team and try to beat them all. After creating your own player and joining the team of your choice, you hit the road to begin the Tour. At each of your tour stops, you take on one division of the NFL, going in reverse order of their 2006 finish, with various All-Star teams thrown in along the way. Of course, as you progress, the challenges become tougher – not that the teams themselves become tougher, mind you, but the game itself stacks the odds. At the first stop, you play a normal timed game. But as the tour rolls on, it’s all up for grabs; your opponents can be spotted points, first downs can be longer, and the scoring team can keep the ball. If you manage to complete the entire Tour Mode, you’ll have seen it all and done it all.

And that’s the problem with NFL Tour. All of these stipulations and all of these tasks you have to complete mean you’ll have to play a number of different ways to win. True, it is interesting to uncover new layers of the game, but it takes some awfully cheap playing to beat the computer in some of these challenges. For instance, try beating an all-star team when the first team to fourteen points wins and they’re spotted seven points and they get the ball first. By the time you’re done, you’re so sick of these ridiculous challenges that you won’t even want to play against the computer anymore. Worse, you’ll be so cheap that nobody else will want to play against you. Basically, once you finish playing the Tour, you’ll never want to play this game again.

All in all, Tour Mode could have offered a whole lot more than it does. You just play against team after team, with the only real motivation being to see what Trey Wingo says to you after you finish beating up on that division. The game doesn’t even keep stats for your team or your players along the way (though they do keep records for your profile). And if you think there’s a big payoff at the end, you’re mistaken. All you get are longer games and more stupid stipulations to deal with. What was once a fast-paced game you could play in ten minutes at the first stop becomes a drawn-out slugfest that can take a half-hour or more to complete. Do you really want to play the NFL All-Stars in a game where the first person to score 99 points wins? Doubtful. Yet, to complete the Tour, you’ll have to do just that.

In their quest to make the game more challenging, EA takes all the fun out of it. How ironic.
Story Rating: 3/10

2. Graphics
If you’ve looked at screenshots of NFL Tour, the first things you probably noticed were the revamped fields and new backgrounds. Finally moving out of random schoolyards and parks, NFL Tour is set in an arena that looks like the stage of a grandiose football-themed game show. Spectators line up to watch the action, while spotlights and laser images move around the field, which is an 80-yard field with yard markers and walls you’d see in arena football. In the background are some of the buildings and landmarks that make that particular destination famous. And, while the field is what you might expect from a game on X-Box 360, the backgrounds look great and add a unique feel to the action.

Unfortunately, the good news about the graphics ends there, as we move on to what may have been the second thing you noticed in the screen shots – the players’ ugly, hideous uniforms. In NFL Street, players wore street clothes, and that was bad enough. But in NFL Tour, players wear these shirts that look almost like hockey jerseys, only if hockey jerseys had short sleeves and were extremely tight. The person who would wear something like this to a NFL game would probably go home doused in beer. The game does offer the option for a long-sleeved version of this shirt, along with an Under Armour version and the actual NFL jerseys; however, all of the options have the team name listed on the back instead of the player’s name.

As for player models, there’s not much to write home about. There are only four models available (thin, athletic, muscular, heavy) when you create your player, none of which are at all customizable. The game gives you thirty faces/skin tones to choose from, and pretty much all of them look awful; again, none of them can be modified in any way. The game doesn’t show much in the way of the faces of the NFL superstars, and while they’re not perfect, they look enough like the players they’re modeled after. If only the players looked as good as the backgrounds looked, we might be in good shape. As it is, though, the graphics end up being merely average.
Graphics Rating: 5/10

3. Sound
The game’s soundtrack is as generic as it gets, with plenty of EA Trax to get you by. The one good thing about the soundtrack is that you don’t really have to hear it, as the menu music defaults to a much lower volume level than the in-game sounds. If you hate hearing menu music blaring through your speakers while you’re taking a break, this is one thing you’ll like. The rest of the sounds are what you’d expect, including some random musical numbers that sound like the random musical numbers in every other NFL Street game.

If it sounds like I’m rushing through the sound, you’re correct. Because what I really want to talk about is the commentary. We’ve heard some pretty bad commentary tracks over the years, but this one takes the cake. NFL Tour has, by far, the worst commentary of any sports game ever created. Smackdown 3 and Sports Talk Football don’t even come close to this one. It’s so bad that you’ll play the game less because of it; given that it’s not exactly replayable as it is, that’s not a very good thing.

The premise of NFL Tour’s commentary is that video game announcers are repetitive. So the game makes fun of that by spouting off line after line about how repetitive video game announcers are. Oh boy! What a fabulous idea! Instead of an announcer that just calls the action, let’s have him say things like “Video game announcers are like shampoo. Lather, rinse, repeat.” and “I am video game announcer. Hear me repeat.” And not only have him say these things, but have him repeat them EVERY FIVE SECONDS! I’m sure Trey Wingo, who handles the commentary, is a wonderful person in real life. However, if I ever saw him on the street, I’d probably punch him in the face. This commentary track is just that unbearable.

And it’s not even the endless crap about repetition. Often times, the commentator is so intent on getting in his wisecracks that he’s a play behind the action. He also often fails to accurately describe the action; for example, a throwoff return for a touchdown yields a comment about how the team now has great field position for the next series. Or a team up by 20 scoring a touchdown hears about how that score put them right back into the game. Words really can’t describe how terrible the commentary is. Nothing sets up a crucial fourth down situation like “I think I ate too much pizza.” Or, even better, the announcer talking about how bored he is. Not to mention his insistence on saying things like “First and some yards,” “Third and a SUV,” and “Fourth and a unicycle.” Is this supposed to be edgy? Funny? Who knows. But according to Yahoo! Games, in an “objective” piece about NFL Tour, Wingo’s cringe-inducing commentary represents “the best use of an ESPN personality in an EA game that we’ve seen yet.” God help us if that’s true.
Sound Rating: 1/10

4. Control And Gameplay
One thing that NFL Tour has going for it is that the Madden control schemes are likely ingrained in every player’s head already. The bad part of that is that the controls for NFL Tour are not identical to Madden’s controls. There are subtle differences (for example, jukes are done differently), and then there are two major differences.

The first significant departure from Madden is the passing system. The game defaults to the “Tour” option, in which you press the B button to cycle through receivers and then press A to send it to the desired target. It’s not clear why this is a good option; not only can an opponent see who you’re looking to pass the ball to, but it’s very difficult to get the ball to the right person under pressure. Sure, it might be more arcade-ish this way, but on a controller with eight buttons, it’s not necessary. “Classic” passing, a more traditional (and more effective) three-button system, can also be turned on.

The second, and biggest, change in control has to do with the biggest feature of the game – the “reversal” system. In essence, rather than relying on pre-determined player ratings, EA wanted to make it so the gamer could decide who would win each collision. Timing is the key for reversals; a press of the button at the right time means you break the tackle on offense or stuff the guy on defense. Reversals aren’t offered on every play, which is a good thing, but it seems like when you really need a reversal, your guy goes down without a fight. By default, the game slows down when a reversal is possible, which becomes a problem when you learn to anticipate them and accidentally press the button too early. Slow-motion reversals can be turned off, but it can be difficult to recognize the potential reversal and act accordingly. With reversals, it’s possible to put together some nifty plays – remember that Nike commercial where Steven Jackson fakes out the entire NFL on the way to the end zone? You’ll see tons of plays like that in NFL Tour.

Therein lies the critical flaw of this game. Playing offense can be a blast. You can pretty much run at will on any team without a dominant middle linebacker, reverse out of a good number of tackles, and score on just about any possession in which you don’t throw an interception. However, playing defense is a total bore at best, and thoroughly agitating at worst. Offense is the name of the game, sure, but the defensive side struggles beyond belief. It’s simply not fun, and it certainly isn’t easy. How bad is the defense in NFL Tour? The replacement for Gamebreakers, the “Smash Meter”, is almost impossible to obtain because it’s just too hard to stop the offense. You end up almost praying for your opponent to score just so you can have the ball back. In real football defense is half the battle. But in NFL Tour, defense is a chore you have to endure just to run your cheap offensive plays again. It’s kind of like going to White Castle. I love eating White Castle, but I hate shitting it out the next day. Eventually, you learn you can’t go there all the time. Similarly, in NFL Tour, the defensive side of the game is so tedious that you don’t even want to go through with it, even with the promise of more offense looming.

This becomes a problem when you’re playing in Tour Mode and you have to shut the other team down or you don’t win. In times like these, you call for a blitz and hope you don’t get burned. That’s not football. As much fun as it is to pull off reversal after reversal on offense, it’s extremely frustrating to see that go the other way on defense. Consistency is needed for a quality football game, and NFL Tour lacks that in spades.
Control And Gameplay Rating: 4/10

5. Replayability
You’ll be relieved to know that not everything about this game is awful. In an exhibition game, virtually everything about the game is customizable. The number of points needed to win, the necessary margin of victory, time limits, and bonus points are just some of the options you can choose from to create the game of your choice. While a number of the choices are variations on the same theme, it’s great that you can play this game however you want to.

NFL Tour also provides two mini-games – Smash And Dash and Red Zone Rush. Smash And Dash pits you and an opponent in a sort of rodeo circle, with the goal being to maintain possession of the football for as long as possible. It’s sort of similar to Rushing Attack from the Madden games, only there’s no end zone. Similar to Rushing Attack, Smash And Dash gives out bonus points for reversals and broken tackles. Red Zone Rush is like a shootout in hockey – it’s one-on-one against a defender, with the goal being to beat that defender out and get into the end zone. Each side has five cracks at the end zone, and the player with the most touchdowns wins.

Like NFL Blitz, NFL Tour is a fun multi-player game. The controls are easy enough for a new player to grasp, and it’s fun to trade reversals and big hits with a group of people. Online play is supported, and the standard options are offered.

Ultimately, the person who buys this game is going to play with their friends and play the Tour. And, as stated earlier, Tour Mode makes you a better player, but ultimately kills the game. After beating up on the computer, it’s not as much fun to play with friends who aren’t as experienced. The ability to customize an exhibition game is helpful, but you reach a point with NFL Tour where you can’t turn off your desire for more and more points. At that point, the game stops being enjoyable.
Replayability Rating: 5/10

6. Balance
NFL Tour offers four different difficulty levels, but they all suffer from the same problem – it’s too easy to score, and it’s too hard to stop the other team from scoring. No matter what level you’re playing on, your cheap plays will always work and the computer will always pull a bullshit first down out of its ass on fourth down. These problems can’t simply be solved by changing the difficulty level.

Again, this is the game’s fundamental problem. It’s simply not enjoyable to play defense. Not only can’t opposing teams be stopped in many circumstances, it’s just a pain to wait until the other team scores in order to go back on offense. Both teams will score on almost every possession, so every game is a back-and-forth affair that is usually decided by who’s fortunate enough to get the ball last. Football games should be decided by ability and smarts, not chance. It’s great to score whenever you want, but knowing the other shoe is going to drop within the minute makes for a lousy gaming experience.
Balance Rating: 3/10

7. Originality
We keep hearing about how this isn’t NFL Street. That Yahoo! article I mentioned earlier gushes about how different NFL Tour is from its predecessors. But you know what? The truth is that, beneath all of the window dressing and the new fields and newer, crappier uniforms, NFL Tour plays almost exactly like NFL Street. The goals and flaws of each game are markedly similar. Sure, you get to play as offensive and defensive stars, and you don’t have to throw behind-the-back passes and do stupid tricks anymore, but the game is just too similar to the game everyone hated to begin with.

Most gamers aren’t stupid. They know when they’re being fooled. And anybody who plays this game once will know it’s the same game with newer graphics. At its heart, NFL Tour is no different from NFL Street than the annual roster update seen in the Madden series each year. Unfortunately, all of the talk of a “new attitude” adds up to essentially the same game as NFL Street with just a few new features.
Originality Rating: 2/10

8. Addictiveness
If there’s one thing NFL Tour is not, it’s addictive. Once you’ve played it a handful of times, you’ve pretty much seen everything there is to see. Tour Mode is fairly gripping, but gripping in the way that you just want to get it over with so you don’t have to face any more ridiculous challenges. Once you’re done with the Tour, you’re done with the game. And that’s a good thing. Because once you’ve heard the commentary track for the millionth time and gotten burned for yet another improbable touchdown, you’re going to be so sick of this game that you’ll never want to play it again.

While playing through Tour Mode, I actually asked myself if EA intentionally made this game so bad that nobody would want to play it. I’m still not convinced that they didn’t. But NFL Tour seems to strive toward driving gamers away from playing the game rather than encouraging them to embrace it. The game just frustrates the crap out of you – between the game intros you can’t skip to the cheap gameplay to the atrocious commentary, playing NFL Tour for a prolonged period of time is a sure-fire way to drive yourself crazy. That’s not the way to convince people to buy a game. The hype for NFL Tour insists that they’re targeting casual fans as well as hardcore gamers. Well, it’s pretty safe to say that anybody who plays NFL Tour will be pretty turned off by it.
Addictiveness Rating: 1/10

9. Appeal Factor
Those who hadn’t already been burned by the NFL Street series will likely see this game as a neat idea. It’s NFL football with rules more akin to arena football and a heavy emphasis on scoring. Sounds like something a lot of gamers would want to play, right? Of course. Football fans have been looking for their fix of arcade football since NFL Blitz, and this is the closest they’re going to get. It’s just a shame the game is so God-awful; a lot of people would have been happy with even a decent game.

It’s also a shame because, aside from the game itself, everything else is great. NFL Tour is priced at a very reasonable $39.99 and was released in the middle of the NFL playoffs, when everybody is clamoring for more football action. The promise of arcade-style football only adds to the game’s buzz, and the presentation of the NFL as an event is something that would appeal to a large audience. Even though the game itself is disappointing, it’s still likely to sell well thanks to EA’s timing and marketing ability.
Appeal Factor Rating: 6/10

10. Miscellaneous
If I could think of one word to describe NFL Tour, it’d be “annoying”. Playing defense is annoying. The commentary is annoying. Tour Mode is annoying. The game’s similarities to NFL Street are annoying. Even the premise of the game is marginally annoying, and the game’s ending is just worthless. There shouldn’t be that many annoying things about any game. And yet, people will be roped into buying this game because it’s an NFL title by EA.

It’s not entirely clear what the intentions are with this game. Why does the clock stop after every play? Why is there a stage in one of the end zones that is never used? Why does Tour Mode progress in reverse order of last year’s finish when most of the rosters are drastically different? Why does the game make a point of telling you at one of your tour stops that you don’t get the ball first, but neglected to tell you at an earlier stop where the same rules applied? Why isn’t there a coin toss to determine who gets the ball in overtime? Why doesn’t the game keep stats for your individual players? Why does the game only provide a barely-visible red circle, rather than the player’s name, to indicate your selected player? How is it a good idea to put in a commentary track full of jokes when none of them are funny? There are a lot of unanswered questions about NFL Tour; thankfully, since the game itself isn’t at all inviting, you won’t spend a lot of time pondering these.

You get the impression while playing through this game that EA tried to change the vibe of NFL Street while doing as little work as possible. Very little is different from NFL Street besides the arenas you play in. The commentary probably took about an hour to record. The create-a-player options are extremely limited and, aside from the reversal system, there’s virtually nothing we haven’t already seen before. For all the talk about how much of a different game NFL Tour is, that’s extremely disheartening.
Miscellaneous Rating: 2/10

The Scores
Story: 3
Graphics: 5
Sound: 1
Control and Gameplay: 4
Replayability: 5
Balance: 3
Originality: 2
Addictiveness: 1
Appeal Factor: 6
Miscellaneous: 2
Total Score: 32/100
Final Score: 3.0

Short Attention Span Summary
We should know better than to think EA would actually put in the effort to rejuvenate a struggling franchise. NFL Tour is nothing but NFL Street with prettier graphics and commentary that will make you wish you were deaf. Being able to customize a game any way you want is wonderful, but it’s useless if the game itself isn’t any fun to play. And for an arcade-style game, NFL Tour is simply a boring game to play.