Total Pro Football 2004 Review

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Publisher: .400 Software Studios
Developer: .400 Software Studios

Platform: PC
Reviewed on PC

Windows System Requirements: Pentium II 500 MHz, 64 MB RAM, 1024x768 display resolution, 60 MB HD space, CD-ROM Drive, Windows 95 or more recent operating system

Football gamers are no doubt familiar with the undisputed champ of the console football game wars – Madden. The glitz and glamour of the Madden franchise has evolved over the years to the point where the Madden Bowl championship game was broadcast on G4TV, becoming the first video sports game broadcast in its entirety. Sega's ESPN NFL Football, Microsoft's NFL Fever, and 989's NFL Gameday, all seek to dethrone the competition by competing with it head-to-head, and thus far, haven't been able to do so. .400 Software Studios, publishing for the PC, doesn't attempt to compete with Madden, but instead offers a completely different type of game with Total Pro Football. Whereas the console football games all try to one-up each other with better graphics, tighter gameplay, and options such as "first person football" and "owner mode," Total Pro Football is one giant football league simulation. You can customize everything from your team's city and mascot, to its style of play, gameplan, and how much time it focuses on certain areas of play in practice. The experience can be time-consuming, as your duties will include those of owner, general manager, and head coach, both during the game, during the season, and during the off-season. But if you're looking for a game that offers you absolute control over every aspect of your football league, Total Pro Football is just about perfect.

Solomon Dirigible

The first thing you'll have to do when you start a new game of Total Pro Football is create a league. You'll note the absence of any NFL license or appellation, and, while you can name your league the National Football League, and edit the cities and names of the teams to match those found in the NFL, you might also appreciate the freedom to create a league of your own devising, including naming the trophy for which the teams will compete. For example, you needn't have a yearly quest for the Lombardi Trophy. You might consider, as I did, that an annual battle to win the "Big Shiny Statue" is a more personal challenge. An interesting option is your ability to select when the league was founded. If you wish, you can backdate your league's inception, the idea being that you would then simulate a number of seasons until you got to the present day, thereby generating a history for your league. Once you've determined what your league is, your next task is to determine what teams make up your league. A number of cities are pre-programmed into the game, but you can edit both city names and mascots to your liking. So if you've always dreamed of managing the Juneau Polar Bears, or the Truth or Consequences Hombres, this is your chance. Having assigned teams to your league, you can even, in your role as commissioner open up the league to fellow players online, in a rotisserie fan's virtual dream.

If it isn't obvious by now, the one word that best describes this game is "customizable". There are a plethora of areas in which you as the player can determine your own preferences and the extent to which you want to be in control of your team's day-to-day, week-to-week, and even year-to-year activities. You can choose to have your "autoassistant" handle signing players and coaches, managing depth charts and going through the off-season schedule. If you'd rather control these things yourself, you can, but be advised that it can be quite time consuming to research all the details of individual players and coaches (and their agents). This, of course, is the point, as .400 Software Studios is clearly going for a full-bore GM/Coaching simulation, and they achieve it nearly flawlessly.

First, The Draft and Off-Season

Having figured out all your preferences, you'll advance to the initial draft, in which all the players are placed into a common draft pool from which they can be selected. Each team goes through the draft until every squad is fully fleshed out. Each player in the draft is rated in a number of abilities – and you can consider which abilities you might want at each position. If, for example, you are determined to use a West Coast offense, you probably want an offensive line that tends to be better at pass blocking than at run blocking, and you'll want a halfback whose got good hands, to catch those short passes. If you've determined that you're a running team, you might pass over a top-rated passing quarterback to get better offensive linemen to complement your highly rated running backs. As you're drafting talent, you'll have to pay attention to the salary cap, the cost of each player you're selecting, and which positions you need to fill out. If you spend all your cash on a top of the line quarterback, half-back, and a pair of wide receivers, while neglecting your offensive lines, your offense will struggle mightily, because all these skilled players won't have the hogs up front to do any blocking for them. You do have a scout, whose advice is available for you to consider, which can be helpful as you try to build your team. The speed at which the draft progresses can be adjusted with a useful slide-bar, and, if you'd rather, you can have the entire draft simulated from start to finish, if you'd rather trust the computer to make your team for you. Of course, if you're the type of gamer who's going to be interested in an experience as immersive as Total Pro Football, it's unlikely that you're going to be happy to leave the drafting of your franchise to a computer. As the draft progresses, you'll see a summary of those players you've selected, which will help you determine your next choices.

Once the draft is complete, it's onto the first off-season of your career. Your off-season schedule appears clearly laid out on the screen, and you can use the clearly marked buttons to progress through the off-season. Again, you can tend to each task yourself, or simulate any number of weeks of the off-season and leave it to CPU. Some off-season tasks include signing coaches, signing free agents, drafting rookies, and even the relatively obscure task of determining a yearly budget. Free agents you're bidding on and coaches you're trying to hire will respond to your offers through your email, which is accessible at all times through your PDA. Once you've navigated the off-season, and established your personnel, it's time to start thinking about playing the games.

The Best Offense is ... Practice

Before you do anything else, you might want to head down to the practice field to make sure you've got the right plays called for the right situations. The specificity with which you can control all the selections for which package you want to select plays from in a given situation is amazing. You can determine the logic for situations both on offense and defense based on down, yardage needed, time remaining in the game, the score (e.g., if you're winning or losing), and even your field position. It's really an opportunity to see how you would call a game before the situation on the field presents itself. You can also select from a wide variety of play packages and plays to put in your playbook every week, adding to the realism. This means that if something isn't working for you, you can adapt your playbook week-to-week to better utilize your personnel, or better exploit a weakness in your opponents' game.

Okay, you've studied the playbook, you've tweaked your personnel, you've scouted your opponents and it's finally time to head down to the field. The gameplay screen is full of information, but it's presented in a very accessible way. A field appears in the upper left of the screen with a ball and down-markers representing field position and possession. The score and game clock appear at the top of the screen, and your plays are clearly visible on the left. As with the draft, a slide bar adjusts the speed of the game, allowing you plenty of time to peruse the playbook and choose which play you want to run. The CPU will suggest a play for you to run, but you can override it if you wish. A nice play-by-play textbox lets you know what goes on each down, and the sounds of the game add to the ambience. As you choose your defensive plays, the play-by-play box will let you know what set the offense is coming out in. This means that you can alter your defensive set to best match the offensive set of your opponent – switching to the nickel against a set with four wide receivers, for example. It would have been very easy to overlook the importance of this, and it's nice to see it included.

Eligible for the Hall of Fame

Overall, the presentation of the game screen is well done and it's easy to follow the progress of the game and feel like an integral part of it. In particular, a very detailed box score is generated for each game, both those you play and those you simulate, including the selection of a player of the game as well as both team and individual statistics. As you play through the season, statistics for every player on every team are recorded, and your league's history is determined, to the point where certain players will begin to make up the Hall of Fame as you go through the years. This gives you a very real sense of your league's history and a very personal attachment to the players who have made it up.

The bad news about the game is the bugs that cause occasional freezes and crashes as you play. In point of fact, however, I'm not convinced there are more bugs in this game than in the initial release of an average PC game. Those of us who tend to play console games might be more irritated at the minor bugs and glitches than those who deal with waiting for the inevitable patch that follows the release of most PC games. The glitches and errors that occur in Total Pro Football are generally minor, and if you follow the advice of saving your game often, you won't suffer any major setbacks. If you simulate multiple seasons, the game will automatically save after each season, so you don't have to worry about successfully simulating 12 out of 20 seasons only to have it freeze, forcing you to start over. Instead, you would restart and begin at year 12. .400 Software Studios has included a "check for updates" button within the interface of the game, making it very easy to access the company's website for patches and technical support. On the whole, this is an almost perfect football sim, and if you're the type of gamer whose eyes light up at the kind of customizable options and minute details presented in this game, Total Pro Football will be a great fit.






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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on February 5, 2004 4:58 PM.

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