Midway has always been well known for its contributions to the world of arcade sports. As the original masterminds behind the NBA Jam, NBA Showtime, NHL Hitz, and NFL Blitz franchises, over the years the company has amassed a reputation as the best arcade sports developer around. However, earlier this year, Midway made the somewhat surprising announcement that it would be taking the Hitz and Blitz franchises in a decidedly different direction, opting to shy away from many of the fast and furious gameplay mechanics the titles were known for, in favor of a more simulation-based direction. The first title to debut this newfound gameplay style was NHL Hitz Pro. Ultimately, that game excelled as a mesh between arcade and simulation hockey by maintaining a brisk pace but also allowing you to decide exactly how simulation- or arcade-styled you wanted to go. Thankfully, it proved to be a lot of fun, whichever way you went. Now, over two months after the start of the NFL season, Midway has released NFL Blitz Pro. Similar to Hitz Pro, Blitz Pro is a combination of arcade and simulation styles. Unfortunately, this combination doesn't work nearly as well as its NHL predecessor, and, while the end result can be fun, overall it's a pretty big leap backward for the Blitz series.
Blitz Pro features the same style of tongue-in-cheek commentary as previous Midway sports titles.
Previous fans of the Blitz series are likely going to require some adjustment time when picking up Blitz Pro. The game is the first Blitz title to feature a full 11-on-11 style of football, and it's also the first to give you real-life 10-yard sets of downs, instead of the usual 30-yard sets. Aside from these basic changes, though, Blitz Pro does stay somewhat true to its forefathers by shirking practically all rules and completely abolishing penalties of any kind, which is a bit bizarre considering Hitz Pro let you turn penalties and rules on and off, depending on your preference.
The biggest overhaul in Blitz Pro involves the game's AI. As classic Blitz fans will tell you, Blitz AI has always been about massive numbers of interceptions and cheap tactics that will allow your opponent to seemingly catch up to you from out of nowhere, no matter how big of a lead you've amassed. Blitz Pro is far more like a sim-based NFL game. Defensive backs will bat away far more passes than they'll intercept. Wide receivers will drop passes that aren't as well-thrown as they could be. And the running game... Well, it's more like a real running game. Despite these changes, however, coaching decisions from CPU teams are still questionable, at best. Teams will frequently go for it on fourth down when there's absolutely no need to. They'll fake punt or try for a fake field goal in bizarre situations. They'll call oddly timed running plays on third and long situations, and CPU-called defensive schemes can be extremely redundant and predictable. The CPU defense is so predictable that you can make a quick read, call an audible, and earn yourself a touchdown--or at least a lengthy gain on practically every drive. While a certain air of unpredictability can be appreciated from some of the AI tweaks in Blitz Pro, all told, there are still a lot of problems to be found.
The AI makes some pretty boneheaded play choices from time to time.
Not everything in Blitz Pro is totally different this year, as a few conventions from previous titles have made their returns. One welcome mainstay is the impact player system, which lets you control a single player on either the offensive or defensive side of the ball. You get to dictate exactly what his action will be. For instance, on a running play, you can set your tight end to block in a specific direction. Or, if you're going to execute a pass play and you read a blitz, you can tell the tight end to pass protect or go deep (if you're feeling lucky). Defensive players can be told to hold zone coverage, man cover, delay blitz, or go right for the jugular and try to sack the QB from the get-go. Players will still catch fire as well, depending on their performances. The fire aspect of the game is far more understated this time around though, and, really, it's not quite as meaningful as it has been in the past.
In terms of feature improvements, there are some pretty major additions to NFL Blitz Pro. This year's game is the first to feature a franchise mode of any kind. In the franchise mode, you can take any of the available NFL teams, and manage them through depth charts, signing free agents, trading players, and drafting rookies during each off-season. The franchise mode also features a player upgrade section where you can use cash earned from wins during the season to "up" specific stat columns for chosen players. So, for example, if you've got a slightly underwhelming starting safety, you can up his various stats--like awareness, speed, and tackling--until he's at a more satisfactory level. The problem with this is that unless you've got a seriously dominating team, you're not going to get to upgrade many of your players each year, and, considering how players have an amazing tendency to up and retire, it's hard to really want to focus on any one player, lest he abandon you at an inopportune time. Free agent signings are also pretty useless, as the cash required to sign any decent player is rather exorbitant, and rarely do they ever stick around more than a season or two before retiring. As it stands, Blitz Pro's franchise mode is lacking, when compared to the competition, but it's also not a bad first try either.