In 2004, EA Sports Big released NFL Street, a title that capitalized on playground style football with a heavy dose of trash talk and trick plays reminiscent of their NBA Street franchise. The series spawned two sequels that were well received, and fans eagerly awaited the game's arrival on the PS3 and the 360. However, with the leap to the newer systems, EA Sports Big decided to take the franchise in a new direction, removing the street angle, high flying tricks, gamebreakers and other elements that it was known for. Unfortunately, the result is that NFL Tour, the "evolution" of the Street titles, also has had the fun and enjoyment stripped out of the game entirely, making the title a shadow of its former greatness.
If you were looking for the hazardous settings from previous Street games, you won't find it on the NFL tour. Gone are the broken down drive-ins, beach games and construction yards strewn with crates and barrels. In their place is a pre-packaged Astroturf field complete with fireworks, bleachers and stages that travels around the U.S.A, putting on off-season seven-on-seven football games. With an atmosphere more like the NFL Experience at the Superbowl, teams are pitted against each other for the enjoyment of the crowd. Pads are removed, as are the uprights, kickers and referees, while arena football-style walls have been erected around the field. Halves are reduced to 90 seconds, and while there are no time outs, the clock stops at the end of every play to give each team an opportunity to score as much as possible.
While you'll want to exploit any mismatches that you can see, the key feature on the field with NFL Tour revolves around contact on either side of the ball. Depending on when you get hit, you're given a chance to reverse the outcome of the contact by hitting a button at the right time. If you're on defense, you can potentially trip up a runner or stop a second effort of a receiver that's trying to escape your grasp. On offense, good timing can reverse any tackle, and if you chain these reversals together with successive button presses, you can break out to open field and six points. The lone downside is that the PS3 version forces you to constantly shake the Sixaxis instead of hitting a button like the 360 version of the game. There's no option to change this feature, and no way to get around this, so you may find yourself getting tired or potentially missing a reversal because you didn't shake the controller fast enough.
Don't expect to place your quarterback as a safety or a cornerback, either. NFL Tour actually trades out squads on both sides of the ball, so the offensive and defensive players of your favorite team will actually grace the field in their positions instead of rotating into positions they're inexperienced with. The changes sound pretty good – in theory. However, when you scratch this shiny surface, you'll realize just how shallow the gameplay is, especially compared to the older Street games. Bouncing the football along the ground, twirling it on your finger or other engaging ball handling moves have been stripped from Tour entirely. You're not unlocking and collecting different gear to boost your created player's stats. Gamebreakers have vanished as well; no longer can you perform acrobatic moves, get bonus points or force turnovers. In its place is a Smash Meter, which is restricted solely to the defense. Unfortunately, you'll frequently find that this meter doesn't work as well as it should. Triggering it won't force turnovers every time, and it's possible to easily score on the defense.
In fact, the defense in NFL Tour is a joke for anyone that's played any football titles, with a porous secondary and weak coverage from the computer. It's not uncommon to rack up thirty or more points on the defense, and it's relatively easy to run the same passing play against them over and over again for significant yardage. The running game is practically worthless, although you can exploit a zone coverage for a good ten to fifteen yards by abandoning a pass and having your QB sprint. I wish the same could be said for the offense, but the computer will pull off so many reversal combos that you'll want to toss your controller through your screen. During one game against the Chargers, I saw Ladainian Tomlinson counter four tackles, run along the wall three times, counter two other tackles, run back against the ball again, and finally counter his way into the end zone. Seriously, where is the balance here?
While it's annoying in an exhibition mode, when you realize that you'll have to contend with this over and over again in the NFL Tour mode without any payoff, you'll be extremely disappointed. As you progress through each city, you'll be tasked with different objectives, such as spotting the team a touchdown or scoring using only passing plays. Unfortunately, you're not building up your own squad by stealing star players from teams you've defeated, nor are you upgrading your created player's stats. Once you've created him, he's stuck like that for the rest of the tour. Unfortunately, the lack of any significant progress really reduces any motivation that you might have to finishing the game, and once you've completed it, the only reason you might want to replay the game is to try another position.
Apart from the weak incentives within the Tour mode, the only other options that you have available to you are the RedZone Rush and Smash and Dash. While these are engaging diversionary games, there's only so many times you can stop a ball carrier from scoring or avoid getting tackled in the Smash and Dash pit before you get bored. Fortunately, multiplayer is at least enjoyable. This is the only place where the smack talking and some of the character of the old NFL Street franchise, which has been horribly drained from the game, returns.
For a title that's being shown on the two most powerful console systems available, the game doesn't really take advantage of the visual capabilities of either one. Game stadiums are essentially the same from city to city, with different Astroturf designs, awnings and environmental backgrounds to indicate what city you're in. Otherwise, you've got the exact same stage layout and visual presentation for every single game and every single matchup against an opposing team. Compared to the older Street games, which had environmental advantages and disadvantages to take into consideration with every stage, this is a serious letdown. The fireworks and explosions are a double edged sword as well; not only do they feel generic, but they will obscure the screen with an absurd amount of smoke. While it doesn't impact the game, it does make the tame celebrations look even worse. Plus, while some players look okay, many of them aren't close to their real life counterparts.
Even the audio presentation can't save the game here. Trey Wingo, frankly, is horrible as the announcer of the game. It's as if they gave him about five minutes of time to improvise dialogue, while trying to force him to be funny. Unfortunately, the result is abysmal. His enthusiasm or lack thereof seems forced, and when you have lines like, "Did you ever wonder why video game announcers repeat themselves? Why is that?" and you follow that up by repeating the line, you're not clever. It's especially not clever when you hear it five times or more in a ten minute game. Since he'll also show up in-between tour stops and blather idiotic comments, you're still stuck with his inanity even if turn his volume down.
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