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Our quarterback hikes the ball and drops back, but before he has a chance to think he sees a handful of linemen, all lit ablaze, running towards him and flailing their arms. He sprints to the left and jumps, throwing the football at the apex of his ascent (which is several feet higher than humans usually jump). It's on target, but the defender is too quick – he tackles the player well before the ball touches the tips of his fingers. In Madden, this would be pass interference. In Blitz, it's third down and 24.
That's what Blitz was, and that's what Blitz still is in EA's reboot of the franchise. But while this looks, walks, and talks like Blitz, there's no denying that things are different this time around.
Blitz hasn't had a proper installment since 2003's release of NFL Blitz Pro, so we were obviously pretty excited to hear that it was coming back with official NFL license back in hand and Tim Kitzrow on the mic. It looked a lot like the Blitz we fell in love with ten years ago, with a focus on big plays, big hits, and larger-than-life action. We played through a game (as the Eagles taking on the Raiders), and found that much of what made the original so fun is still there: players burst into flames after a few successful plays, and the playbooks are basically unchanged. We giggled as we selected the same plays we loved back in 2002, executing them exactly as we remembered. Codes are even inputted before the game loads, just as they were before, and some of the old codes still worked. But despite having all of the fixing of Blitz proper, this new version of Blitz is undeniably different.
And it's not just because of the lack of late hits (the NFL put the kibosh on late hits due to concerns surrounding "player health and safety"), it's because of the gameplay. EA's Blitz plays much more like Madden than it does like Blitz 2000. The older games felt much faster, with arcade physics that made no attempts to feel realistic. The players felt superhuman, even when they hadn't burst into flames. Some of the staples of classic Blitz are in there, like jump-passing and a no-rules approach to the game, but it just doesn't feel the same.
Above: Honestly, this doesn't look that much different from Madden
But not feeling the same might be a good thing. The game we're nostalgically pining over is nearly 10 years old, and we're not denying that it could use some updating. We're upset that we can't jump on our opponents after we tackle them, but let's be honest - that's not as important as we thought it was. There's still some nice violence, like defensive players punching ball-carriers in the face instead of actually "tackling" them, and some of the tackles are fairly brutal. The only actual complaints we had with the core gameplay were with the characters going out of bounds - which is an issue with Madden that really should have been addressed in Blitz - and the new kicking mechanic, which is downright awful. It's so fast that we weren't able to get a grasp of it for the entire game, meaning we were constantly botching field goals and kickoffs.
But the core of the game is still fast and fun, even if it isn't as fast or as fun as we remember. Maybe, in the end, the changes will be for the best. Maybe the inclusion of expanded singleplayer modes and multiplayer offerings will make up for the lack of elbow drops. Maybe the complaints we have aren't actually with the game, but with what we wish the game was like. We won't know for sure until we get some extended hands-on time with the final version, which is due to launch early next year. Be sure to check back for our definitive answer in a few months.