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Blitz: The League II (PlayStation 3) artwork

Blitz: The League II (PlayStation 3) review

"With an official license out of their reach, Midway has created an intricate world that celebrates the most unsavory aspects of the professional sports crime blotter. Gratuitous violence is king on this penalty-free, 8-on-8 gridiron, but off the field there's even more trouble: designer drugs, demanding sponsors, and fast women. If you think the NFL really has regulated out its essence and become a game for pansies, then Blitz: The League II is exactly for you."

In most modern sports titles, you can tweak a wide array of features to insert yourself as a team's top superstar. Not so here. Blitz: The League II introduces The Franchise, a phenom with enough talent to play both sides of the ball. Instead of cashing in with the elite teams of this fictional league, though, Franchise joins his hometown club, a bunch of scrubs languishing at the bottom of a three-tiered divisional system. It'll take three seasons to climb up from the depths to the top of Division I, and every time he steps on the field it's a down-and-dirty street fight. Gratuitous violence is king on this penalty-free, 8-on-8 gridiron, but off the field there's even more trouble: designer drugs, demanding sponsors, fast women, and even a little jail time. With an NFL license out of their reach, Midway has created an intricate world that celebrates the most unsavory aspects of the professional sports crime blotter.

Before your campaign to glory begins, it's necessary to customize The Franchise a bit by attending his first press conference. The no-neck meathead speaks like he's been addled by too many concussions, but his responses dictate slight stat boosts in a transparent process. First, you pick his offensive and defensive positions. (How about a QB/D-lineman combo?) Then, you answer questions about his background and abilities. Make him a clean country boy chucking hay bales, and his strength increases. Talk about a life spent running from the cops, and his speed shoots up.

The final step is to choose a city, name, logo, and colors for your organization. Part of The League II's appeal is a collection of over-the-top teams and characters. Like the Cleveland Steamers, with a slick wide-receiver likened to the villain in a Hong Kong action movie. Or the Cincinnati Crusaders, who have a safety crushing people in the name of Christ. Before every game, a special trailer shows off the captain that embodies the opponent's personality. The thing is, you can make your team just as outrageous, and the logo's the key. How about a skyline that resembles an extended middle finger? Or an angry Abe Lincoln, where even his crooked stovepipe hat exudes belligerence? There are dozens to choose from to give your wrecking crew just the right image. When Franchise takes the field, he'll be ready to bust some heads in style.

Or arms. Or legs. Wrists, knees and internal organs aren't safe either. This game keeps Blitz's Clash system virtually unchanged. Here's the premise: every big play and every late hit builds up your clash meter. When you have possession of the ball, using clash will slow down time, leaving defenders in the dust. It also allows you to deliver stiff arms so devastating that a cornerback's vertebrae will explode out of his spinal column, leaving him writhing on the ground. The game takes you right into his anatomy to show and sound the bones crunching into powder and blood spewing onto the screen from his torn tissue.

On defense, clash lets you inflict more vicious hits, like punching a vulnerable wide receiver in the face while dragging him down. Sometimes after such a nice dirty play, it's possible to inflict more damage after the whistle blows; just rip off his helmet and slap him around with it. But if you manage to slam him into the turf just right initially, his hand will disintegrate, leaving his metacarpals flapping around like wet noodles. Actually, you can pick the body part to attack; rupturing a guy's scrotum guarantees he won't be back for a while. Rack up enough touchdowns and gruesome injuries, and you'll earn an Unleash move. Unleash tackles cut to special animation, like a two-man flying clothesline tackle. At the least, these deplete the opposing player's stamina by a large percentage, meaning he won't perform as well. More often, they result in injuries and fumbles. No lead is ever safe with such frequent turnovers and massive momentum swings. Complete unpredictability keeps it exciting if you ever take your custom team online.

The computer is particularly adept at using its special moves at the right moments, which makes mingames where you snap bones back in place or inject painkillers doubly important. Perform well here, and broken ribs will only keep your player on the sidelines for a couple of snaps. Unfortunately, the computer isn't necessarily good at much else. Blitz: The League II doesn't offer traditional football strategy; when down and distance starts at 1st and 30, chewing up huge chunks of yardage is really the only concern. It's possible to pare your repertoire down to just a handful of breakout plays and pass rushes, and the AI won't adjust. You can basically approach every team in the same manner, regardless of their reported strengths and weaknesses. Instead of X's and O's, you only have to focus on maintaining the clash meter, using clash to rip off big gains that replenish the clash you spent. Shallow and repetitive, yes, but not always simple. Intricate button combinations have to be executed in a split second to pull off all these devastating moves.

Of course, in the campaign mode, there are concerns off the field as well. Even bearing the mantle of savior, The Franchise doesn't start out with godlike stats. You have to build him up along with the other misfits on your sorry team. One way to do this is through regular training, where progress is relatively slow. You can only improve one stat per week, and your teammates won't really excel until later in the second season. Another legitimate avenue is to buy specialized workout equipment, but that'll quickly eat up your game bonuses and wagers (won from betting on yourself, naturally). The shortcut is to pump your players (only three per week) full of designer steroids for a one-game boost. There's a whole buffet of positive effects, from increasing stats to lowering clash depletion rates. But there's also a risk. Use too many powerful illegal drugs and the league will crack down on your team.

Keeping the squad on a winning track is certainly important; you can't move through the campaign mode as a loser. The game presents gracious options in defeat, though. If you lose a championship game, for example, you simply have to give it another try rather than start over from scratch. But victory for the team is just the baseline; your real focus, as always, is on The Franchise. Almost every game presents him with some individual challenge. Gain 200 total yards to score a lucrative deal with a premium sponsor. Injure the other team's star to impress some supermodel (and get her in the sack). These demands pump up the replay value, since meeting them will require radically different approaches based on the positions you chose at the start.

The Commissioner, too, fixes his crosshairs on the new breakout superstar. By insisting on joining his hometown team, The Franchise pissed all over the Commish's power parade, so now the old man has it out for him. He even goes so far as to set Franchise up for a stint in the federal pen, where the only way out is to survive a game against bloodthirsty lifers. But the feud between the self-important windbag and overcompensated professional athletes comes to a predictable conclusion, unfolding through cutscenes scattered at critical points. (Hence, no editing the main character.)

Midway went Hollywood for the script, having it penned by a writer for ESPN's original series Playmakers, a show that also explored the underbelly of pro football. They stayed in Tinseltown long enough to collect some other talent. Jay Mohr reprises his quintessential role as a slick agent. Lawrence Taylor, a former out-of-control linebacker, collects a paycheck selling his likeness and voice to this League's dirtiest player, an almost washed-up out-of-control linebacker. The impressionist Frank Caliendo provides his irreverent take-off of John Madden to cover all of the game's commentary. It has the unique quality of being amusing but easy to ignore, since his lines never have much to do with the actual events on the field.

No doubt, Blitz: The League II is supposed to be the manliest of manly games. Half the time you're playing in the pouring rain. The turf turns into a giant mud pit, and the uniforms are covered in slop after a couple of snaps. One of the stadiums was recently hit by a hurricane and now resembles a war zone, with entire sections scrapped into heaps of twisted metal. The players all exhibit bulked-up muscles, which actually makes their running strides look a little goofy. And of course, the violence is over-the-top, nonstop, and right in your face. If you think the NFL really has regulated out its essence and become a game for pansies, then Blitz: The League II is exactly for you.

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Freelance review by Benjamin Woodhouse (October 31, 2008)

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