Friday, April 24, 2009

An Open Letter to Blitz: The League

Yes, that guy is getting his helmet smashed into his face.  Well done, Blitz. Dear Blitz: The League,

I have to give you props, Blitz. You’ve got balls. Sure, I haven’t played your next (I mean current) gen version, so I don’t know what you’ve been up to lately. But I did drop a 10-spot on your PS2 version and I must say:

I’m a little impressed.

Sure, you’re load times are longer than Titanic. And your AI operates in rubberbands between two modes: village idiot and Stephen Hawking. But I must give you credit for attempting to expand the potential of your genre. All without an actual NFL license.

In fact, losing that license may have been the best thing for you. Well, you didn’t quite lose that license as much as EA bought it and shoved it in its giant pile of gold. But without the burdens of a cover curse or boring real-life players, your writers (of the controversial ESPN program Playmakers) were free to create a rich alternate history of American football.

Take your main antagonist team: the New York Nightmare. In your fiction, the original New York team perished in a plane crash and the newspaper headline read “NEW YORK NIGHTMARE.” When the city’s franchise rebooted years later, the team donned the headline as a name, becoming the fearsome army that sits atop the standings from the start. Lore like this helps establish a world in which your bloody, bastardized game of pigskin might exist – as opposed to say, Blood Bowl, which (while entertaining) confuses me by awkwardly slapping Warhammer armies on football.

Try not to feel too bad about your actual narrative, though. We all know it’s not that great. I do like how it starts with the NY Nightmare injuring a member of the player’s team and sending them to the bottom of the ladder. But the cut-scenes are just clumsy, man. I know, you’re using the antiquated Emotion Engine, but there’s no reason I should be confusing who’s who in a strip joint bar brawl. Or be embarrassed by your bizarre attempt at an illicit romance plot between rookie sensation and head cheerleader. I am, however, a fan of your in-game story moments, of which there are simply too few. What comes to mind is one big game when a rival squad purposefully injured the talented rookie, removing him from the in-game active roster for a few weeks.

Also, don’t sweat the fact that your engine can’t handle snow. Every time I played the Minnesota Reapers (great name, btw), the game would grind during snowy kickoffs. But it’s okay, one of my favorite games regularly drops below 20 fps.

So yes, you’re clunky and you’re engine is hella busted. But I have to applaud your aspirations when compared to other attempts to mix up the sports genre. As I mentioned, Blood Bowl will probably be fun, but I still don’t understand how the Lizardmen and the Skaven (aka rat-people) learned to play football. Sure, I love checking the crap out of people as much as the next guy, but a series like NHL Hitz felt limited by its license. At that point, you’re simply offering arcade gameplay with a limited licensed roster and stupid unlockables. (Sharkpeople ring a bell?)

You, Blitz: The League, feel like more than arcade football. You’ve got some nice top-down design choices going on. Steroids factor in at every level: they’re used mid-game, in between games, and discussed in the narrative. The player can spend money (earned by being a badass on the field) in a game, and then spend it hiring female escorts to distract an upcoming opponent. And it all plays into your blood-soaked, drug-juiced world.

You’ve got some hefty flaws, but I don’t regret the time we spent together. The satisfaction of powerbombing an uppity quarterback or Matrix-jumping over a defensive line was not just arcade silliness (though it was often ludicrous). It all felt justified in a fictional world where violence is necessary for victory.

Thanks for the memories,

P.S. Seriously though, I wouldn’t wish your PS2 version on anyone. I regularly microwaved Hungry Man dinners and learned new languages during your interminable load screens. I hear tell your 360 version saw those bugs fixed, and fans of this genre would surely dig your sequel.