Once upon a time there was a game that made basketball more fun because it reduced the number of players and bent the rules a bit. The result was a fun, exciting, easy-to-play version of a complicated sport. That was NBA Jam and the makers of that game were so impressed that they decided to use the same concept on hockey and football. This version of football is known as Blitz! It has less players than real football and no rules making it more accessible to people not good at traditional football games. Since there are no rules there is no need to learn the rules. Then there was a little studio known as 989 that saw the success of Blitz! and thought that their existing Gameday engine would be a perfect start to create their own no-rules football game. Their advantage would be that they would release their game before Blitz! hit the home market, and try to steal its thunder.
That all happened a year ago - last season. It is a whole new year with a whole new season but the story remains the same with one slight twist. This version of Xtreme fails at nearly everything it is trying to do with the game. I will give it this: it is the first football game to come out this year. Think July is too early to be thinking about football? Well, training has already started. There is a lot of talk in the air about the new Cleveland Browns and the re-named Tennessee Titans. However, the thrills of baseball are still high. Nobody is really going to care about a football game this early. Nevertheless, 989 cannot afford to wait until the opportune time to release this game because by then all of the talk will be about Blitz 2000 and nobody will care about their puny game. 989 knows this and has acted accordingly with an early release.
But enough about the surrounding circumstances. What about the game? I have to say that at least they did not release the same exact game that they released last year. There are minor improvements. Instead of just being able to hit one guy after the play, you can jump at anyone including your own teammates ("This is how you tackle, moron!). The weather is improved and there is more diversified trash talking. However on the down side, these improvements don't take care of the fact that the game looks flat and blocky. On a number of occasions a player will take his helmet off in order to make a comment. The faces, which are painted on, are somewhat accurate looking but really flat and ugly. A couple of years ago this would have been thought of as a really neat innovation. "They really look like the players," people would have said. But today, on the verge of a new generation of systems, this innovation just makes us laugh out of pity.
If you are looking to play this game by yourself, I would suggest that you pass. Though the game can be pretty fun with more than one player, playing against the computer is pretty boring and frustrating. It moves more quickly than last years (another improvement to make it more like Blitz!) but the AI is just annoying. It is really easy at times and really hard at other times. Case in point: some plays will always gain you 10 yards and then there are some plays that the computer does that will be impossible to defend against. The most annoying trait is the way that the receivers will dive upfield toward the ball making them lose yardage even though the target that you throw to is much farther downfield. After the catch there are some pretty cool special moves that you are able to do like straight-arms and flips but nothing really special to make the game all that exciting. Oh, and no instant replay option, what's up with that?
The best thing about Xtreme is the animation. I saw a guy pulling his tackler by the ankles. There is a great post-play animation where one player gets twirled above another player's head before getting thrown down. There are also amusing touchdown dances shown in a close-up view. The trash talking sound bites are also really amusing and add a fun element to the game. However, all of this does not make up for the boring and frustrating game play.
There is a reason that this game was released so early. It is hoping to catch football fans before the real football games come out. Somehow I think that 989 knows that their follow up is mediocre at best. That is why they have chosen July as their release month and have not made any kind of big advertising promotion. Though there are enough innovations and improvements to make this game a true sequel, I have to say that it falls in the "disappointing sophomore effort" category along with 2Xtreme and Need for Speed 2.
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