What makes a football game fun? Is it the NFL license and careful attention to the details of said license? Is it realistic rules, pacing, and gameplay? Is it a deep franchise mode and 32 teams full of players you know and recognize? If Midway's latest entry in the Blitz franchise, Blitz: The League, is any indication, the answer is an emphatic no. Evidently, all you need is a way to scratch that primal, animalistic itch to slam some pretty-boy quarterback's face in to the turf, breaking his spine in the process and leaving behind little more than a wake of devastation and offensive drives that never were. In Blitz: The League, Midway has bid farewell to the NFL by creating its own brand of football with completely original teams and rosters. But at its core, The League returns to the familiar brand of arcade football that Blitz all but abandoned just a couple of short years ago. This is Blitz at its best, adding an even meaner, uglier spirit to the game that will have anyone with a strong stomach and a thirst for brutality jumping out of his or her seat in elation with every murderous tackle landed. Ladies and gentlemen, Blitz is back.
Evil team owners? A ragtag crew of misfit players? Drunken debauchery? No, this isn't Major League the game, it's Blitz: The League.
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, dammit.
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, as 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 actually 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 just 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 mostly works really well. It rarely seems like it 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 as hell. 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 or anything, it just requires a little more forethought and care than you might expect from such a fast and loose game.
Oh, dude, your face... It's totally broken.
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.