With Week 2 of the NFL season in the books, who could have predicted both the Rams and Steelers would still be seeking their first victory, while the lowly Panthers would be sitting pretty at 2-0? I don’t even think the pigskin prognostications of NFL Fever could have foreseen such a scenario and let’s face it folks, NFL Fever was pretty impressive picking the winners of Monday Night Football last season, not to mention their Super Bowl accolades. Move over Joe Swammi, there’s a new kid in town. That’s what makes video games so appealing. For a few blissful hours, you can forget the reality that your favorite team just lost their umpteenth straight game, and jump onto the virtual gridiron in hopes that you can take that same team to the Super Bowl. Where was I going with this intro again? Oh yeah, NFL Fever 2003. Why don’t we skip to the chase and see how this franchise performs in its sophomore season on the Xbox.
Like last year’s edition, NFL Fever 2003 sports a variety of game modes, including the always-important Dynasty mode. New to the franchise this season is the Classic Challenge mode, which pits players in a seven-game challenge against some of history’s greatest football teams. The Practice mode has been expanded a little to better give fledgling players a feel for the game, both in terms of button assignments and play execution. The Dynasty mode has been tweaked a little too. No longer will have you to settle for 5-minute quarters, you can now change that to whatever length you desire. Other new additions include the ability to create your own offensive and defensive plays, and create your own player.
Arguably the grandest addition to NFL Fever 2003 is the ability to play online, and I’m not talking about system-link play, I mean Xbox Live, Microsoft’s broadband gaming arena. Unfortunately, the service doesn’t launch until November, 2002, so I can’t quite comment on it, but keep this in mind; NFL Fever 2003 and Sega Sports NFL 2K3 will be the only two football titles for the Xbox to support Xbox Live at launch, Madden NFL fans will have to wait until the 2004 edition.
Besides the ability to change the quarter length in Dynasty mode, the Dynamic Player Performance feature has also been improved, or better yet, has actually been implemented. During the season, when your team and/or players perform well, their ratings are supposed to improve, and vice versa when they struggle. I never noticed much of a difference in NFL Fever 2002 but in this year’s edition, it’s much more noticeable. Players’ ratings increase and decrease much more dramatically and you can tell when your quarterback is on fire, or when he’s having problems throwing the ball. Outside of those two adjustments, the Dynasty mode remains the same. The only real detraction is the out-of-date rosters, which isn’t a big surprise considering the number of moves NFL teams make throughout the year. The ability to download roster upgrades through Xbox Live should rectify this issue.
On the field, NFL Fever 2003 is much like it’s predecessor, fast and furious. Big plays continue to be the order of the day, particularly with respect to the passing game. No matter who your quarterback is you can usually rack up hundreds of yards through the air with floating passes, which continue to be a problem. What is the floating pass? They’re bombs thrown downfield that stay up in the air far too long, allowing the secondary to surround the receiver before the ball arrives, yet the defenders are often unable to knock the pass down or intercept it when it does arrive. What this results in are long pass receptions with little to no yardage after the catch. I don’t quite understand why Favre-like missiles can’t be thrown downfield. The running game, on the other hand, is pretty solid, with the exception of the hardest skill level, at which point 300-pound defensive linemen become as agile as 200-pound linebackers, tossing offensive linemen aside and making horizontal tackles that are simply inspirationalů and improbable. Collision detection is also an issue at times, with linebackers making tackles well before getting their hands on the offensive player. All in all, these gripes should be dealt with in future iterations but in the meantime, they can be overlooked for the most part thanks to the fast and exciting gameplay.
Visually, NFL Fever 2003 hasn’t changed all that much. You can literally count each individual strand of grass on the field and the stadiums continue to be some of the best in the business, but the player animations could use some work. Generic faces make it difficult to discern pro-bowlers from second-string players and the tackle animations are very limited, especially with respect to the vast number of end-zone animations. The result is repetitious tackles. With that said, the highlight reel at the end of the game has been improved tremendously, as has the instant replay feature, creating a much better TV-style presentation. Kevin Calabro joins Ron Pitts in the play-by-play booth this season, and the chemistry is noticeably better than the previous Pitts/Stockton duo. All the bells and whistles you’d expect on the football field are accounted for, right down to the musical interludes between plays. Overall, a solid job in the audio department yet again.
So how can I sum up NFL Fever 2003? Probably the same way I summed up NFL Fever 2002 last year. Microsoft Game Studios hasn’t made many changes during the off-season, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. NFL Fever 2003 continues to look good, sound great, and play fast, resulting in a solid yet slighly unrealistic arcade football experience. Is NFL Fever 2003 more than a roster update? That’s certainly debatable, but with Xbox Live on the horizon, NFL Fever 2003 is a nice alternative from the other simulation-based football titles available.