As popular as EA’s Madden NFL series might be, I’ve always been drawn to the presentation and quality of the NFL 2K series. Unfortunately, when EA nabbed the exclusive licensing rights to the NFL, the beloved 2K series fell by the wayside. This past month the series made its return with a lineup of former NFL stars, but its return is actually bittersweet. Although it’s great to experience the presentation again of a 2K football game, not much has changed since the last 2K entry, and some elements have even taken a few steps back.
On the surface, All-Pro Football 2K8 is a football fan’s dream. Build your own team with two Gold-Level players and nine of Silver- and Bronze-Level stalwarts, then hit the gridiron to go up against a team also comprised of former NFL stars. If you pick all offensive stars (Joe Montana, Walter Payton, Andre Reed, etc.), you’ll end up paying the piper when your defense takes the field, so like any good fantasy football team, it’s important to strike a strategic balance. Then, top all the reminiscing and balancing with fictional teams and fantastical stadiums that lend a bit of brevity while live real-world data floats by at the bottom of the screen to keep you updated on all things sports while you’re playing the game.
It sure sounds like 2K brushed off the old ESPN NFL 2K5 code and added a few tweaks, doesn’t it? In fact, that’s just about right–and the resulting game is surprisingly disappointing. Nothing was bad with the game when Visual Concepts left the scene, but then again, nothing since then really seems to have evolved, either. And it’s not like Visual Concepts didn’t have time to tinker.
As sad as many gamers were to see EA pare down its next-gen Madden debut, that company has gradually added features to bring it back to where it should be. With All-Pro Football 2K8, however, the game feels, sounds, plays and even looks like the series” last years-old outing–and for gamers now used to Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 graphics and innovations, that’s probably not enough to cut the so-called mustard. The game also only includes a quick play and season mode for single players, which puts All-Pro Football 2K8 in the same unenviable position Madden found itself in two years ago.
Likewise, three years ago ESPN NFL 2K5 had the best play-by-play audio, presentation and animations we’d ever seen. For All-Pro Football 2K8, though, those elements seem largely identical, which only draws attention to their occasional hiccups and awkward transitions when compared to their counterparts on newer games. Online the game’s a charm, and it feels in many respects as though Visual Concepts was pandering more to the online than the offline crowd. But when you’re not playing other human players and are instead building your team and playing offline, the legacy snafus are all too apparent.
ESPN NFL 2K5 was a great game, but All-Pro Football 2K8, for everything it does right on paper, is just a bit too similar to 2K5 to be called a real step forward. And in this next generation of gaming, we were quite frankly hoping for a bit more in the innovation and polish department and a bit less in the “they’ll buy it because they loved the series before” arena.
– Jonas Allen