The NFL Fever series has always struck a good balance between simulation-style and arcade-style football--which has put the series right in between similar offerings from EA and Sega. This year all three Xbox titles are better than they were last year, but NFL Fever 2004 shows the least amount of improvement. While it would be technically correct to call NFL Fever 2004 the best in the series, it still doesn't have the quality or quantity of features, the rock-solid gameplay, or high level of polish shown by its competitors.
Some of the players' faces don't look like their real-life counterparts.
NFL Fever 2004 offers all of the standard modes of play you'd expect from a modern football game, including practice, dynasty, general manager, and single game, as well as online play via Xbox Live. The game's practice mode gives you three different options: training camp, chalk talks, and open practice. Open practice allows you to take on your own team in a scrimmage game. The chalk talks option serves up expert advice from Ron Pitts. Training camp is a lot like Madden's minicamp mode, which sets up a bunch of running, passing, and play execution drills in order to teach you how to throw and run the ball properly. The game's dynasty mode is about as deep as you'd expect, with a ton of customizable options that let you change everything from the length of the quarters to the play style of your computer-controlled teammates. The general manager mode gives you complete control over handling player trades, contract negotiations, and draft responsibilities. While the dynasty mode is passable on its own, it really hasn't changed from last year's game. When compared to NFL Fever's competitors, EA's Madden and Sega's ESPN NFL Football, which have both improved their franchise modes significantly, Fever's dynasty mode isn't the high point it once was.
While online play isn't anything new to the Fever series, the integration of Microsoft's new XSN Sports service is very new. The process of getting started with XSN is a little more involved than the casual user might be used too, since you have to sign up for a few things from a PC before you can do anything with the menu option. If you already have an Xbox Live account you can head over to the XSN Sports site and sign up for an account. You'll also have to sign up for a Microsoft .NET passport if you don't already have one. Once you're set up you can go online with your PC to check your stats and compare them to other players. You can also use XSN to set up games and leagues, and you can post messages to other players. It's a pretty cool feature that can extend the life of the game for those who play a lot of Fever online.
On the other hand, casual fans of football, who might not understand what all of the formations and plays mean, will certainly enjoy NFL Fever's playpicker options, which let you pick plays by type so that you can simply pick a running or passing play when on offense. On defense the choices are just as simple and are set up so that you can choose to try to stop a run or pass. The selection goes a bit deeper and asks you which way you think the run or the pass is going to go, but it keeps it simple so that just about anyone who has a basic understanding of how football works can successfully call plays. You can, of course, set the playpicker to advanced mode, which allows you to traditionally choose the action by selecting offensive and defensive formations and plays.
The gameplay in NFL Fever 2004 has, for the most part, gone untouched when compared to last year's title--although the designers have added some new passing options. NFL Fever 2004 also offers players three different passing modes: one-button icon passing, trigger passing, and read and lead passing. While traditional icon passing needs no explanation, trigger passing simply gives you more control over the height of the pass. Read and lead passing gives players total control of the placement of the pass so you can lead, underthrow, and overthrow receivers. While other football games have variations of these passing schemes, NFL Fever 2004's take is surprisingly one of the best at giving you great pass control. Steering a yellow indicator, using the right analog stick, controls the placement of the pass. When you first try it, the icon seems incredibly hard to steer, but, after going through the practice mode and sticking with it for a while, you get the hang of it. The animation holds up a bit of the game's responsiveness by making you wait for players to cut when running or completing a catch that's not caught in stride.