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August 2002



- Online compatible
- Retains last yearís great graphics
- Dick Stockton is out as play-by-play announcer



- Too arcadey to satisfy most hard-core football video gamers
- Ron Pitts still does the color(less) commentary
- CPU artificial intelligence is either too easy or too hard (depending on the setting) and never falls into that ďjust rightĒ challenge level



Review: NCAA Football 2003 (XBox)

Review: Madden 2003 (Playstation 2)



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NFL Fever 2003

Score: 7.8 / 10


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Sports games are an important feature to video game console sales success, and Microsoft naturally realized this before launching its Xbox late in 2001. Although it already knew that Electronic Arts would be porting the top-selling Madden series from the PS2, Microsoft decided it would go the route that Sony decided on when it entered the console wars in the mid-90ís by creating their own in-house studio to develop a line of sports titles. The Xboxís initial first-party sports game was NFL Fever 2002. It was impressive when stacked against the first-party football titles: much better than Sonyís NFL GameDay 2002 for both the PS2 and PSX but not quite as good as Segaís NFL 2K2 for the Dreamcast.

It also did unexpectedly well sales-wise against third-party Madden 2002, even though it wasnít nearly as polished as Madden. Maybe those strong sales had something to do with the fact that many of the game and system bundle purchases that were required to get your hands on a Xbox when it released last year contained NFL Fever 2002. But this year is a whole new ballgame, as NFL Fever 2003 has to contend with both Madden 2003 and NFL 2K3 without the bundling




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advantage that it had last year. So how does it stack up against its fierce Xbox football competition? Fever 2003 again is a good showing amongst the first-party contingent, but isnít so hot when lined up against either of the two better Xbox choices, Madden 2003 and NFL 2K3.

There are a lot of good features in the NFL Fever 2003 package. The graphics are again done consistently well. The stadium, crowd,


and field visuals are obviously using the Xboxís quality rendering power and the player animations perform realistic moves, although surprisingly the actual players arenít quite the quality of either Madden 2003 or NFL 2K3, especially the facial details of individual players. While the on-field sounds are comparable, out of the three new NFL football titles on the market Fever 2003 by far has the best stadium audio aura surrounding it. The crowd sounds like an actual NFL-stadium-filled-to-capacity audience.

There is also a change in the virtual commentary booth, with the steady Kevin Calabro replacing the awful play-by-play of Dick Stockton from Fever 2002. While the comments of Calabro arenít anything overly special, it seems that most of his declarations usually fit whatís happening on the field, which didnít always happen with Stockton. The color(less) commentary of Ron Pitts inexplicably returns in Fever 2003, and it really appears that all the terrible voice-work he did for Fever 2002 has just been recycled here. Quite simply Pitts is the pits of 2003 football video gaming color commentary.

Fever 2003ís controls are very responsive, particularly on defense. Tackling is much stickier and hard-hitting than the frustrating slippery/elusive scheme in Madden 2003, where seemingly hemmed-in or contained players find all types of ways to break out of tackles. On the offensive side, the excellent running controls that allow a running back to squeeze through holes in the offensive line (instead of being stuck in a perpetual jogging-in-place stasis) returns. But the biggest improvement is in Fever 2003ís passing game. While it still isnít as good as its competitors, at least this yearís Feverís passing attack gives you confidence in throwing the pigskin. Last year, when a ball was thrown, it almost seemed to be traveling in slow motion on its way to the receiver, giving the defense plenty of time to react to the ball. This year, while the ball still seems to have a little too much air under it, at least it gets to your intended target more expediently.

Okay, so you may be asking yourself after reading up to this point, ďHey, this game doesnít sound too bad. Why does this guy think it isnít up to either Madden 2003 or NFL 2K3ís standards?Ē The answer is simple: Fever 2003 has an extremely unintelligent artificial intelligence that brings the game completely down. This is the most glaring problem in a game vying for top stop in a competitive field better grasp on how to create a realistic, NFL-worthy AI. The CPU-assisted defense on your team is idiotic, rarely helping out your human-controlled players to stop the other team.


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Fever 2003 (and 2002) has the feel of an arcade-style game out of the NFL Blitz mold. Thereís no way you should be able to have two human players consistently put 60-plus points on the board in a game against each other. You shouldnít be able to turn a two-yard screen pass to your running back into 80-yard scores on first down on a regular basis, but invariably it happens in Fever 2003. One of the most annoying happenings on defense is when you switch to the nearest defender on a thrown ball. This is supposed to allow you to take control of the closest defender covering the intended receiver, which it indeed does. But when you switch, it causes the player to stop in his tracks, giving the receiver valuable separation from your defender and usually results in an easy and irritating-for-you catch and score.

In single-player match-ups you might think that changing the difficulty level would overcome this, but then the game becomes too hard. The CPU opponent becomes too tough particularly on defense, where even if you have the juggernaut offense of the Rams itís impossible to pick up yardage against the CPU-controlled team. There is a completely uneven difficulty balance in Fever 2003. Itís either too easy or too hard, never achieving a just-right challenge equilibrium that allows you to win with a good game-plan while at the same time building up a good nervous sweat combating a tough-but-not-always-impossible CPU challenge.

Nowadays, if you donít have a dynasty and general manager mode built into your football game, you might as well not publish it. Microsoft brings these features to the table. Letís face it: while the extras of Fever 2003 compare to whatís in NFL 2K3, nobody can do the goodies like EA and its more intrinsically detailed features stuffed into its Madden series. I did have a lot of fun with Fever 2003ís classic challenge, though. This allows you to pick your favorite team and enter into a classic tournament against seven of the best teams of all time. Think you have what it takes to bring down Vince Lombardiís Packers or Mike Ditkaís Bears? Youíll find out if you are up to the challenge. Once you defeat a team in the challenge mode, you will unlock that team for single-game play. The only downside with the classic teams is the lack of actual names identifying the classic team players, but youíll be able to figure out most of these well-known football greats by their number and position.

The biggest addition to Fever 2003 is the online gameplay that unfortunately wonít be available until November 15 when Xbox Live, currently undergoing beta testing, is officially ready for public consumption. (Fever 2003 is actually one of the two games currently beta testing the Xbox Live service.) Potentially, this could have a big impact on how Fever 2003 really stacks up against either Madden 2003 or NFL 2K3. But without a way to compare the online aspect of the respective games at this point, based on its off-line capabilities Fever 2003 trails behind each of those two titles.

Considering the whole package, NFL Fever 2003 is a relatively good pro football title with but a few areas that need improvement. Unfortunately it has to compete for sales against two better games, Madden 2003 and NFL 2K3. Even if online compatibility is a big selling point to you, NFL Fever 2003 still doesnít have enough to hurdle over NFL 2K3 in that category. Iíll use a common sports adage to sum up NFL Fever 2003: ďBetter luck next year.Ē Microsoft needs to balance out its AI challenge level, correct some gameplay issues and boost its features in NFL Fever 2004 if it ever wants any chance of beating out the Madden and NFL 2K series.

- Lee Cieniawa


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