Midway's Blitz series of football games has had its ups and downs--often rather extreme ups and downs. But with the debut of Blitz: The League late last year, Midway proved that it still knew how to make a fast, violent, completely over-the-top game of football. By forgoing the NFL license in favor of a fake football league, Midway had free rein to do all the dirty stuff that the NFL won't talk about--namely, juicing players, gambling addictions, off-the-field trysts with cheerleaders, and hilariously horrible injuries. It was a great game of football that didn't take itself the least bit seriously, and now, one year later, Blitz has made its Xbox 360 debut. However, this isn't a sequel to Blitz: The League. It's actually Blitz: The League. Seemingly ported from the Xbox version of the game, this new version of Blitz sports an additional cover athlete in tight-end-punching ex-linebacker and all around psychopath Bill Romanowski, and a few minor graphical upgrades. But beyond that, this is the same game you already played a year ago, and it's not at a discounted price, either.
Blitz: The League's debut on the Xbox 360 is a lot like its debut on the Xbox and PS2--mainly because it's just about the exact same game.
To be fair, that's not necessarily a terrible thing, especially if you never got around to playing this game on other platforms, because Blitz is still a lot of fun. If you ever played Blitz in its arcade heyday, the core mechanics of The League will be immediately familiar to you. This is eight-on-eight football with an incredibly quick pace, 30-yard downs, and the kinds of barbarous hits that would snap a typical human being in half. But really, anyone with a basic understanding of football ought to be able to pick up The League's simplistic mechanics quite easily. You still call plays as you would in any football game, and you can run, pass, and tackle at the press of single buttons. Just don't expect any fancy audibles or defensive scheme shifts to be available. You'll call a play, and that's the play you'll run.
The League does futz with the Blitz formula a bit, however, and in quite satisfying ways. As you earn yards and touchdowns on offense, and as you stuff your opponents on defense, you'll build up your team's clash meter. Clash is basically the gamebreaker concept from EA's arcade sports games, but it's done better here. Any time you have any clash built up, you can simply press the left trigger on the controller to slow down time for everyone on offense except the player you're in control of. Passing the ball while in clash mode will let you take control of the wide receiver, tight end, or whoever else you choose while he's in midroute, letting you shift him to the position he needs to be in to manually catch the ball. Runners can use this mode to shift and juke around would-be tacklers with relative ease. Defenders use clash differently than offensive players, because it doesn't slow down time for them. Essentially, clash lets them lay down the dirtiest, foulest, meanest hits you'll ever see.
These defensive cheap shots will often lead to injuries, which are the best part of the game. Any time you injure an opposing player, the game shifts to an X-ray camera mode, highlighting the portion of the poor schmuck's anatomy you just snapped in two. If it isn't a season-ending injury, you're even given the option of treating it as normal, perhaps leading to the player being out for the entire length of the game. However, if you're the gambling type, you can "juice" that player up, bringing him back in to the game after just a short time. Just pray to whatever you believe in that the player doesn't get hit really hard again, because if he does, you can kiss him good-bye for a good long time.
The clash functionality usually works really well. It rarely unbalances the game, since both player- and computer-controlled teams use it the same way. The only weird thing about it is when you max it out to then go in to unleashed mode. You earn unleashed status by repeated dirty hits, touchdowns, and things of that nature. When in unleashed mode, you're basically unstoppable the second you lay your hands either on the ball or the ball carrier. It's nice to have at least one point where you can practically be guaranteed a long completion or run, and on defense, some of the hits you lay down while in unleashed mode are absolutely hysterical (such as the Waterboy-style Captain Insano power bomb and the move where you literally pull the ball carrier's helmet off his head and then start beating him with it). But once you're out of that state, your meter is completely drained. Until you're highly experienced at the game, trying to make plays (especially on defense) without even an ounce of clash is tough. On offense you can at least build it up quickly with a short completion or two, but on defense, you need an interception, a sack, or a fumble before you get anything. Still, it's not a broken system; it just requires a little more forethought and care than you might expect from such a fast and loose game.
There are a couple of things about the way The League plays that might also irritate longtime football-game players. For one, the artificial intelligence, while generally smart, occasionally loses its mind and forgets that going for an extra point instead of a two-point conversion will keep it behind by, say, four points instead of the three it would be losing by after a two-pointer. The kicking game, in general, seems to be a little all over the place, too. From a player's standpoint, the rhythm-game-based kick meter is awesome, but the computer opponents seem to whiff a few too many easy kicks. Also, don't be surprised if you catch wind of the computer opponent magically grabbing interceptions and forcing fumbles late in the game when it's down. Blitz games have always kind of flirted with catch-up AI, and it's not horrible here. Just be careful toward the end of a game, and don't start throwing unnecessary long bombs--no matter how tempted you might be--because the AI will take advantage.
Blitz: The League contains no franchise mode to speak of. Instead, you get the campaign mode, a 30-game-plus storyline telling the story of one team's rise from the dregs of the game's fictional league to the top. You begin the mode by creating a team of your own, complete with city name, uniform style, and logo. Then you get to choose a rookie offensive player and a veteran defensive player. These are the two players that will come under the most focus during the storyline. The story itself was apparently penned by some of the writers from ESPN's now-defunct gridiron soap opera Playmakers, and it shows. After a particularly humiliating defeat against Quentin Sands (voiced to perfection by the dirtiest player in the game: Lawrence Taylor) and his New York Nightmare, your team is sent to Division 3. The league in this story is broken up into three divisions, with the top dogs competing in Division 1 and the bargain-basement, Houston Texans-like squads rounding out the bottom of the barrel in Division 3. The game never explains how this whole thing works, beyond the fact that you need to win the championship in each division to move up.