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NFL Fever 2004

Developer: Microsoft Game Studios | Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Players: 1 to 2 Player Game | Release Date: 08/27/03 | Genre: Sports

Football season is once again here and video game players are running to their local stores to purchase the latest and greatest titles. With the release of the Xbox, Microsoft brought their painfully terrible NFL Fever franchise back to life with much success. Last year's version followed up that success with online play. This year, MS cleans up the online play much more and throws a few more details into the gameplay. However, all we really want to know is how the game compares to the other ones on the market. Keep reading to find out.

The most disappointing thing about NFL Fever 2004 is the visuals. No, I do not mean that they are bad are lagging behind what the other titles are doing. However, the game has the same basic look that the prior two versions had. The stadiums, crowds, and sideline personal (besides the coach) look really bad. This is an area where NFL Fever has not improved at all. Also the player models are almost exactly the same from prior years. This is okay for some of the players. But when there are several franchise players like Rich Gannon that don't look anything like what he does in real life, we have a problem on our hands. Unfortunately, this seems to be a trend that EA has started with the Madden series. Since that franchise was launched on the PlayStation 2, they have not changed up the basic look of the game. Microsoft has followed this pattern and I can't describe it any other way than the developers being just a tad bit lazy. With new sports titles being released every year, the graphics should be much more upgraded than this.

Again, this does not mean the visuals are bad. I just expect to get an all-new experience for my eyes to gaze upon. I hope and pray that we will finally see a much needed upgrade to the stadiums, fans, and sideline personal. As I mentioned above, the coaches are not included in this. But if the developers took the time to make the coaches look better, why not go the extra mile and clean up the rest of it? Let’s hope these changes are not what will be the big selling point of NFL Fever 2005.

The standard features are available in NFL Fever 2004. This includes an exhibition game, practice, dynasty, general manager, single game, and the new online features through Xbox Live over XSN. (More on XSN in just a moment.) While you may be an NFL Fever veteran, the practice mode may prove beneficial to play through. While you can get brushed up on all the basics, you will need to pay close attention to the new styles of playing offense. The option to pass using the icons is still present, however, now you can use trigger passing and read and lead passing. The trigger passing allows you to have more control over the height of the pass. On the other hand, the read and lead allows you to move a yellow icon with the right analog stick to the place you want to throw the ball. This is the biggest innovation to the passing game by any football title this year. But it does have a very steep learning curve. In fact, I haven't been able to master it completely yet. It does hold promise though and could be seen in other football games next year.

XSN is the big selling point for this year's version. It is very similar to what 989 Sports is doing on the PlayStation 2. In order to use XSN, you need to sign on via XSNSports.com using a Microsoft Passport and your GamerTag. For those of you who don't have one of those yet, NFL Fever 2004 comes with a card that will give you two months of free Xbox Live play. However, you will need to purchase a communicator separately or in an Xbox Live Start Kit in order to use voice chat. Once you are signed up, can use your PC to check stats and how you compare to other people. The best feature of XSN would have to be the ability to setup leagues. During games, you can leave messages for other players so you can trash talk the competition before kicking their tail on the field.

For the most part, I have found online play to be very lackluster on all consoles. But features like what XSN is offering really bring a smile on to my face. By utilizing the Internet to not only compete against a real life opponent--instead of the CPU--really makes a sports game much more fun and exciting. Throw in the ability to make a league and you pretty much have me sold.

Like 989 Sports' NFL GameDay 2004, NFL Fever 2004 plays a lot differently than Sega's ESPN Football and Madden 2004. If you are reading this review, there is a good chance that you may not own a PlayStation 2 or are not interested in a football title on the PS2. If you do have one, GameDay 2004 is a nice title this year and worth taking a look. However, I also like a lot of the features in NFL Fever. One area I really like is how the AI is much better in Fever. This gives the game a slight edge over GameDay. However, GameDay does not have as much of an arcade feel that Fever does. That doesn't mean NFL Fever is NFL Blitz... at the core, it is a game of high scoring offense. There are some options that can tone that down a bit. But this is what makes the game different than the competition.

For the first time in a football title, you can actually save your game in the middle of a game. For those of you who find themselves in the middle of a big game and are forced to leave the house for a prior engagement, just save the game and pick it back up when you get back home. Why hasn't anyone thought of this feature before?

Before we wrap up this review, I need to make sure I mention the commentary in NFL Fever 2004. The same fun loving guys have returned in this year's version. But why don't they get more lines? After a few games, you begin to hear Kevin Calabro and Ron Pitts say the same lines over and over again. Worse yet, there are moments of complete silence where they don't say a word about the play or say something completely wrong. For example, I was running a sweep play with Hearst and picked up four yards on first down. They mentioned how bad the play was and how I was getting beat by the defensive line. A few plays later, I ran the same exact play on the other side and was praised for what a great running game I had. This needs to be fixed in the next version. I didn't complain about it a lot last year, but for this element of the game to be overlooked is just crazy.

NFL Fever 2004 is a slight upgrade over previous installments. However, these upgrades are the awesome XSN service and an all-new way to pass the ball on offense. If you are looking for more of an arcade game and less of a simulation, you may find that NFL Fever 2004 is worth a look. However, for those of you who don't have Xbox Live, you might as well pick up last year's version for a significantly reduced rate unless you just have to try out the new passing modes on offense. I have my fingers crossed hoping that some of the elements in Fever 2004 can be corrected next year. Until that happens, I am forced to rate this game slightly below what I would want to give it.

By Kaleb Rutherford - 09/07/03
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Screenshots for NFL Fever 2004

A School for Gamers

NFL GameDay 2004