When NFL Fever 2000 made its debut on the PC, it quickly established itself as a strong player with a bright future. This rookie was loaded with potential and most critics agreed that Microsoft’s NFL Fever franchise was a stat tracker and a franchise mode away from being a serious contender. The following year, NFL Fever was put on the back burner, with only a roster update to speak of. The reason? Microsoft was moving forth with the development of their Xbox video game system and the NFL Fever franchise was gearing up to be one of their stalwarts. Well, the time has come for NFL Fever to take the field and prove that 2000 was no fluke. So without further ado, let’s huddle up and see if this prospect shines or shows signs of the sophomore jinx.
Developed in-house by Microsoft, NFL Fever 2002 offers a wide variety of game modes. The Practice Mode allows beginners, and those unfamiliar with NFL Fever’s controls, to learn basic button assignments and work on play execution, such as running and passing the ball, as well as tackling opponents. When you feel your skills are up to snuff, you can play a Single Game, using any of the fully licensed NFL teams, or head off to the Season Mode.
The Season Mode is where the meat of NFL Fever 2002 lies. In this mode, you have two choices. You can compete in the Fantasy Challenge mode, which pits you against fifteen fictional teams, ranging from the Crocs to the Cows. When you defeat each of the teams progressively, they’ll unlock for play in the Single Game mode. If the Fantasy Challenge doesn’t interest you, you can create a Dynasty that lasts for up to 25 seasons. Here, you’ll have complete control over your chosen franchise. You’ll be able to propose trades, sign and release players, and adjust the team’s depth charts. You’ll also be able to track your players’ performance with player reports. During the season, when your team and players perform well, their ratings will improve. Conversely, if the team falters, the ratings will reflect that as well. The feature is called Dynamic Player Performance and I’m sure other developers are implementing it as we speak, because it works very well.
At the end of each season, aspiring GMs will be able to negotiate contract extensions for their players. Be wary of the salary cap though. If you can’t afford to re-sign one of your star players, you may have to make room under the cap, or release the player and sign a cheaper free agent to take his place. GMs will also get to participate in a seven-round college draft, where they’ll have the opportunity to re-stock their squads with prospects. The entire GM layout is smooth and efficient, and with the addition of a stat tracker, NFL Fever has just about everything you’d want in a football game. The only downside in the Season Mode is questionable AI. Computer controlled teams often release their superstars when they don’t have room to re-sign them under the salary cap. The obvious solution is to make room under the cap by releasing one or more players, but the computer chooses instead to release the player altogether. Don’t be surprised to see a line-up of star players on the market in any given year.
On the field, NFL Fever 2002 is smooth and fast-paced. The interface, particularly the play-calling screens, is easy to navigate through and the controls are responsive and easy to pick up. The running game is both challenging and rewarding, a stark difference from the PC edition of two years ago, when it was nearly impossible to establish the run. Spin moves, stiff arms and cuts are much more precise, allowing the running back’s skill to take over. The passing game, on the other hand, isn’t as polished as the running game, resulting in inflated passing statistics, no matter who your quarterback is. The passing game is made simple by a colour-coded icon-based system that makes it easy to choose your receiver and follow their pattern. Tap the pass button and the quarterback will lob the ball. Hold it down and the result is a bullet pass. In either case, as long as your receiver isn’t held up on his route, the odds of him making the catch are very high, even in double or triple coverage. I’ve seen completed passes where a player in the secondary was literally standing in front of the receiver, only to miss the interception. This can become a little frustrating at times.
Visually, NFL Fever 2002 is spectacular. You can literally count each individual strand of grass on the field, there’s that much detail. The player animations are some of the best I’ve seen in a football game. Combine that with a strong physics engine and you get one of the most realistic tackling systems to date. Players are distinguishable by their body type and when the camera zooms in, you can actually see their eyes follow the ball. The level of quality is matched in the stadiums as well. Weather and lighting effects are very effective and fully animated 3D coaches, players, cameramen and cheerleaders reside on the sidelines.
In the audio department, NFL Fever 2002 features a two-man announcing crew of Dick Stockton and Ron Pitts. They do a solid job providing insightful commentary during the game and while they do tend to repeat some stuff, they also make an effort to refer to past games in the season, which is a nice touch. NFL Fever 2002’s soundtrack is highlighted by Public Enemy’s “Welcome to the Terrordome,” which plays during the game’s intro. Even the menu tracks are solid. Overall, I was very impressed by the production values.
When the final seconds tick off the clock, NFL Fever 2002 comes away a winner. If you’re a diehard gridiron fan looking for an accurate simulation of the sport, you’ll likely want to stick with EA Sports’ Madden NFL 2002. With that said, NFL Fever looks and sounds awesome, and plays fast, so if it’s an arcade football game with all the trimmings that you’re after, NFL Fever 2002 would be an excellent addition to your playbook.