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8/02/2007 11:36:00 AM
Review: All-Pro Football 2K8 (Xbox 360/PS3)
By Aaron Samus
In our office fantasy football is king. But for me the shine came off fantasy gaming about the same time I played my first online league using NFL 2K5. At the time 2K's flagship title was waging war for NFL gaming supremacy with EA's juggernaut Madden series. The next year EA broke out the atomic bomb when it purchased exclusive rights to use NFL players and teams. 2K was forced to retreat and plan a counterattack that has finally manifested in the release of All-Pro Football 2K8.
The first time you fire up APF2K8 you're prompted to build a team consisting of retired NFL legends. The game features 240-plus players that are broken into three classes: gold, silver and bronze. Your user created team consists of two gold, three silver and five bronze players. You can stock your team any way you like but putting all the talent on one side of the ball isn't really rewarded.
All-Pro Football 2K8 :: 2K Sports
Gold players include the likes of John Elway, Joe Montana, Emmitt Smith, Jerry Rice, Rod Woodson and Reggie White. Basically gold is Hall of Fame caliber. The silver tier is a mixture of players in the HoF and players with very successful careers. Lem Barney, Randall Cunningham, Roger Craig, Andre Reed and Bart Starr to name a few. The bronze group consists mostly of standout players that likely hit the Pro Bowl at some point in their careers: Brian Bosworth, Dexter Manley, Raghib Ismail, Bernie Kosar and Jim Harbaugh. Politically Correct Warning... 2K included O.J. Simpson in the game (he's a gold level player). Here's a YouTube video with some in-game footage featuring The Juice:
Each player has up to five special abilities that manifest on the field. For instance John Elway's include Cadence, 4th Quarter Comeback, Scrambler, Speed Burner and Rocket Arm. His scrambling ability makes it easier for him to evade the pass rush. Barry Sanders has a special spin that makes him especially elusive. Some of the abilities require you to charge up your player by holding down the A button. This aspect of the game is easily the most arcade-like dynamic but it's nothing new to fans of the 2K franchise. The range of player abilities is impressive and there's no doubt that they add depth to the action on the field.
After you've picked your 10 stars you have to decide if you want your offensive line to favor the pass, the run or to be balanced. Your choice defines the base abilities of the generic players that fill out your roster. Next you get to define your team.
APF2K8 includes a fairly robust amount of options in creating the look for your team. You can pick from a healthy amount of pre-defined city names, team names and logos. The best part of this process is editing your team colors and uniforms. It's not too hard to closely copy the look and feel of any NFL team. With all apologies to Roger Goodell and Co., I created a sweet Denver Broncos-like team stocked with the best Broncos from the game and a few more I created to round out the roster.
Even with APF2K8's deep stock roster there are plenty of NFL greats not in the game. We were disappointed not to see Bo Jackson, Terrell Davis, Terry Bradshaw, Lawrence Taylor, Bruce Smith, Howie Long, Dan Fouts, Jim Kelly, Jim Brown, Jerome Bettis and Marshall Faulk. We would've added Lynn Swann to the list but apparently he refused to sign on because he was running for office. Give us a break, Swanee.
All-Pro Football 2K8 :: 2K Sports
APF2K8 allows you to create players but the process is somewhat limited in two key areas. The first is the amount of special abilities you can assign to your created player. For gold you get three, silver two and bronze one. The problem is that most gold players in the game have five abilities as do many silver and bronze players. So when you create Bo Jackson he's automatically not as good as included players like Earl Campbell (four special abilities) or Walter Payton (five) because of the limit. The second letdown is the lack of options in defining the look of your player. Most of the basics are there but we've come to expect far more robust creation tools (shout out to Tiger 07). To rekindle some Tecmo Bowl glory I did create Bo Jackson. But despite countless tweaks he still looks like Urkel on steroids.
Gameplay is where APF2K8 sets itself apart from other football games. Even though players have special abilities the rest of the action is far more a simulation that you'll ever see in Madden or NCAA 08. That means you can't just fire a bomb downfield on the run. In APF2K8 you have to stop, plant your feet and allow time for your QB to wind-up and throw the bomb. The same realism plays out in terms of player fatigue and overall control responsiveness and momentum. If you're used to EA games you'll have to accept that there's a learning curve but the payoff is a richer, more realistic feel to the action.
Another good example of the great gameplay is the weather. In NCAA 08 the rain was glitchy and more or less irrelevant to the game. In APF2K8 the rain will have an impact. You'll see players lose footing and drop or cough up the ball a lot more. Unfortunately weather control doesn't seem to be an option when you create a game. It only seems to happen during season games. This is a significant oversight by the programmers.
I've read a few complaints about the kicking game in APF2K8. Kickers and punters are available from the gold/silver/bronze lists but there's no way you'll want to waste a roster spot on them. Using the generic kicker and punter is no problem once you get the timing of it. (Hint: Push forward straight and fast right before the kicker's foot reaches the ball.)
All-Pro Football 2K8 :: 2K Sports
Overall the graphics and presentation in APF2K8 are solid. Because the game uses fictitious teams 2K was able to create some pretty cool stadiums and logos. The game uses a very vibrant and rich palette. Player models are good but the animations are the real attraction.
The action on the field (collisions and tackles) sound great but the voice announcing in the game is mostly average and far too repetitive. The voice samples for the players are laughable in the few moments when they speak before the game or in the huddle.
If you're looking for robust season options you won't find them in APF2K8. There's no franchise mode, no player development, scouting or recruiting -- or anything like that. This is a nuts and bolts game that you ultimately play against the CPU in a no-frills season mode or against humans.
The upside, however, is playing against humans online. The online options to create leagues or tournaments are very straightforward and functional. We experienced zero lag in several contests online. The online dynamic is fueled by the ability to edit your team and make roster changes at any time (other than in-game). So if you get schooled by a certain strategy or team you can easily tinker with your team. Better still APF2K8 allows you to create multiple user teams so you can prep a variety of player combinations for different opponents.
You can play online with base teams in the game, but all serious games are played with user created teams. Because of that the playing field is finally level online. This is a welcome change as nearly all online sports titles devolve into a never-ending parade of people using the same loaded teams. (Yes, Colts and USC users, I mean you!) In APF2K8 you're picking from the same pool of players as everyone else. So if your team isn't as good then it's because you built it that way or because you suck as a gamer.
APF2K8 isn't without flaws. There's a little bit of clipping where players walk through one another, though this is limited to after-action beauty shots so it doesn't affect gameplay. When you assign defenders to cover the other team's stars the game sometimes deletes those assignments. This seems to happen more with created players for whatever reason. Also once you start a season against the CPU you can't change your rosters. The game has a well implemented live ticker feed with news and scores but the formatting of the scores is annoying (Padres 0 at Diamondbacks 0 10:30 PM ET).
Because APF2K8 isn't limited by the NFL it would be great to see the playbook open up to include the option. Additionally a more interesting playoff format (or greater options) would be welcome in the season mode. The AI in the game is decent but it's not nearly varied as it could be. Adding different AI personalities with teams stocked with appropriate players would be welcome (like a team that passes all the time and has the offensive firepower to back it up). 2K created an application that you can download from Live to make custom videos from highlights. This would've been a lot cooler had it been included with the game to reward the loyalists and entice first-time users.
Comparing this game to Madden or NCAA 08 is tricky. Plenty of people won't be able to look past the lack of an NFL license and plenty more might prefer the more arcade-like gameplay in the EA titles. Players that are more interested in strategic gameplay, especially versus other humans, are going to appreciate APF2K8 a lot.