As part of a plot to keep men 35 and under from leaving home, NFL video game makers have come up with a new feature: online gaming. Many of this year's video games have that capability, so even if you live in Boston and a buddy resides in Birmingham, it's possible to play your pal without flying him into town and watching him eat your chips and drink your soda.
As NFL video games have evolved, they've become more than just a diversion—they've become a way to learn the strengths and weaknesses of players. As a Cleveland Browns fan this reporter wanted to see firsthand if running back William Green, the team's first-round draft pick in April, has star quality. With that in mind, I test-drove the new NFL games on the market to see how they (and Green) performed.
NFL Fever 2003
( Microsoft), $49.99
Move aside Madden, there's a new champ in town. Virtually everything about the Xbox game is outstanding, right down to the green blades of grass. The game moves at a perfect pace-fast enough to keep you on the edge of the couch, but not so fast that a play is over before you know it started—and has superior controls. For instance, the turbo button gives your player a boost of energy that lasts only a second, and another button allows a defender to execute a swim move, which is the most realistic way of shedding blocks and pressuring the quarterback that you can find in a video game.
There are a few minor complaints, most notably the way passing buttons are assigned to receivers. In Madden, for instance, to throw to a receiver on the far left, you press the button on the left side of the control pad. In Fever the buttons are not always assigned as such, so it's easy to throw the ball to an unintended target. Or maybe that was just Tim Couch being Tim Couch.
William Green Report: Nitpick number 2: The Rookie Level of play is too easy, and Green looked like Jim Brown in his prime. At a more difficult level he performed admirably.
( EA Sports), $49.99
The dethroned champ is still solid. Now that its broadcaster works for Monday Night Football, you get the MNF crew on the audio, which is a plus. Finding fault with this game isn't easy—but it's simply not as cool as NFL Fever. The players in Madden look more like computer-generated characters than humans, and the pace of play tends to be a touch quick.
Like Fever, Madden is loaded with features, such as G.M. mode (in which you make personnel moves, draft players and hire coaches). It also has a bevy of training drills, some of which are head-scratchers. For instance, to participate in an exercise called QB Pocket Presence, you hop in the Madden Cruiser for a trip to Jacksonville and work out with Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell, who was sacked 57 times last year.
William Green Report: If the way he performed in Madden is any indication of how he'll do in the pros, Green, who was slow hitting the holes, was a wasted draft pick.