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Platform

Xbox

 

Genre

Sports

 

Publisher

Microsoft

 

Developer

Microsoft

 

ESRB

E (Everyone)

 

Released

Q4 2003

 

 

- Game customization both online and offline vastly improved
- Graphics more polished
- Provides a good game of online football via Xbox Live
- Much improved defensive play, especially cornerbacks and safeties covering passes

 

 

- Doesn’t have enough in its game package to pass by Madden or ESPN NFL games
- Still can play too much like an arcade football game
- On-the-fly switching quarterback to runner not as easily accomplished as before

 

 

Review: ESPN NFL Football (XB)

Review: NFL Fever 2003 (XB)

Review: Madden 2004 (XB)

 

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NFL Fever 2004

Score: 8.3 / 10

 

nfl fever 2004 xbox review         nfl fever 2004 xbox review

 

Microsoft’s NFL Fever franchise is already in its third year, and the 2004 version is the best yet. It has improved graphics and presentation values, an updated playbook, much easier play selection menus, better A.I. passing defensive coverage, a upgraded challenge level, and its best feature, enhanced online play with the newly-launched Xbox Sports Network (XSN) providing fantasy league-style customization. But it still plays a bit too much like an arcade game, its graphics and overall presentation aren’t as polished as both Madden or ESPN NFL Football 2K4, and lacks a rock-solid franchise mode that its competitors (especially Madden 2004) possess. In short, as much of a quantum leap forward as NFL Fever 2004 is for the Microsoft football series, it still isn’t necessarily the best choice for Xbox football gaming.

Understand that NFL Fever 2004 is a good football game. But it has the unfortunate luck to be up against one of the most successful franchises in gaming history for any genre, Madden, which is so good, it actually has earned a place in the Football

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Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. On top of that, Sega’s ESPN Football series is arguably the second-best pro football gaming series ever, giving Microsoft two huge obstacles ahead of it in its quest to reach the top of the Xbox football gaming heap.

In spite of the existence of Madden and ESPN Football, you definitely wouldn’t be sorry if NFL Fever 2004 was the only

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football title in your Xbox roster, particularly if you are an Xbox Live subscriber. Neither ESPN Football 2K4 (which has Xbox Live play) or Madden 2004 (which can only be played online with a PS2) can touch the online fantasy league and hardcore football fanatic gameplay that is attained playing NFL Fever 2004 via XSN and Live.

The XSN allows gamers to set up leagues with drafts, make trades, play in tournaments, and generally be involved in seriously competitive console football against human opponents, not solely A.I. competition.

While NFL Fever has had online play since its genesis, this is by far the best online sports gameplay it or any other game has seen in Xbox Live’s young lifespan. A huge reason I quickly became frustrated playing online with NFL Fever 2003 was the massive amount of cheating that occurred. It was so bad, I just quit playing online games altogether, even though the rare times I played in a “fair and balanced” match-up I totally enjoyed playing. But too many times opposing players would use modified rosters or other gameplay options that gave them an unfair advantage. One game that vividly comes to mind is the Eagles (my team) versus Dolphins (my opponent).

(After starting the game, I was asked to wait while my adversary changed his quarterback. Seeing how his starting QB, Jay Fielder, was a much better player than his backup, Ray Lucas, I was a bit puzzled. But it wasn’t Lucas he brought into the game; it was the already retired Dan Marino, a Hall of Fame quality QB in his top form from his heyday of many, many NFL passing records. As you can guess, I had no chance of even coming close to stopping the Marino-led offense and fell easily. Even over my protestations, my opponent kept Marino in the lineup against my 2003 Eagles. I was not a happy camper at the advantage he took just to win an online football game. )

But that isn’t happening with NFL Fever 2004. Now, you can set up games that don’t allow for modified rosters. And in the XSN, you can set up leagues that won’t tolerate cheating. It is so much more enjoyable playing NFL Fever this year compared to last. New and improved online gameplay is the singular feature that will give any football gaming enthusiast reason to pause when it comes to picking their Xbox football game.

 

nfl fever 2004 xbox review          nfl fever 2004 xbox review


Not as impressive as the XSN features but a big step for the franchise nonetheless is a better playbook and accompanying setup. This year, you can still have the play select menu to appear the same as it had in the past: by formation. But if you want, you can now set up the playbook to display not by formation but by the situation. So instead of seeing the “I” formation alongside the Shotgun, leaving it up to you to decide which formation you pick, NFL Fever 2004 can be adjusted to show the playbook as situational. So that it now appears as short, medium, or long pass, and similar selections for running, instead of by the particular formation. It helps provide a more specific indication of what plays may be your best choice depending on the yardage to go and down you are facing in the game.

A major improvement is the play of the defensive A.I. As in all football games, you are able to switch to the closest defender to the ball when you are playing on defense, in the hopes of preventing your opponent from catching a pass. But previously in both earlier versions of NFL Fever this was a real source of frustration, because if there was a long pass and you switched to the closest player that happened to be a cornerback or safety, he broke off his coverage and stopped in his tracks, giving the receiver plenty more space between your cover man and the end zone. That has been rectified in NFL Fever 2004. Now, if you switch to a cornerback or safety covering the incoming pass, you’ll stay right in the coverage. Overall, the defense reacts a lot closer to real football than has ever appeared in NFL Fever before.

Another upgrade on a lesser scale is the entire visual presentation. No, NFL Fever isn’t the best looking football game on the market. The players still look a bit too squat and less true-to-life in comparison to Madden or ESPN NFL Football. But the graphics are much cleaner and crisper than last year and the crowds and stadiums remain impressive. One crowd visual improvement is the elimination of the camera flashbulbs that would burst throughout the crowd on practically every play. I had season tickets for the Philadelphia Eagles for three seasons, and I can count on one single finger the number of times I saw someone pull out a camera and take pictures during a game. That camera action is long gone in NFL Fever 2004. On the audio side, Ron Pitts somehow returns for color commentary duty, but this season, he’s not as awful as he has been, which is as backhanded a compliment I can give.

So there are plenty of reasons to give NFL Fever 2004 proper accolades for its showing. But the game falters in enough areas to keep it from the same quality level of Madden or ESPN NFL Football. One big disappointment is the slippage of the control set-up. It’s much more difficult to execute certain moves and there can be problems having the game seamlessly translate your desired move to the actual gameplay. One control function that gets sacked big-time is when you are switching your quarterback into a runner either by design or when trying to flee the defensive heat. Before, NFL Fever had the best controls of any football game in that respect. But by now mapping that function to the Xbox controller’s tiny white button it has become a real chore to easily go from passer to runner and then back to passer if the situation warrants it.

One of the biggest criticisms of the NFL Fever series has been its too-arcadey gameplay, where offense was king and defense took a back seat in the theater to watch the scoring show that games would invariably become. NFL Fever 2004 still has some of that gameplay around, being too arcadey on the scoreboard and too easy to convert in situations that normally you wouldn’t have a chance at success (like fourth and 20 to go), but the tougher defense creates more games that produce realistic outcomes.

NFL Fever 2004 has a better franchise mode than before. But it still pales when compared against the gold standard of all football game franchise modes, Madden. Still, it’s better than not having a franchise mode at all, and the fantasy league-style online options make up for the lesser luster on the offline franchise mode set-up.

Having only a few flaws is still too many flaws when stacked up against the stiff competition of both Madden and ESPN Football. NFL Fever 2004 is a great choice for those that want the best Xbox online football game, but not as good a choice for gamers who play a copious amount of offline football with a game’s franchise mode. This is a good football game, but doesn’t quite have the marquee features to make it the favorite to take the top Xbox football game of 2004 crown.

- Lee Cieniawa
lcieniawa@armchairmempire.com

 

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