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Every genre has their niche titles, from obscure anime JRPGs to esoteric fighting games. While many of these can befuddle all but the most ardent enthusiast, they have their places in the marketplace. The NFL Head Coach franchise, now in its second installment (and first on the next-generation consoles), may actually define the word “niche”. The only thing tougher than indentifying the demographic that wants to micromanage an NFL team without actually controlling the action on the field might be selling them on the fact that it can be enjoyable.
So it should go without saying (although we’re going to say it anyway) that Head Coach is clearly not for everyone. Most football fans will be perfectly happy with Madden, pushing the players around the gridiron like a magical puppetmaster in the sky. One thing is for sure – the game’s title is not misleading. Just about every imaginable task a coach has to do, from planning practices to negotiating contracts to evaluating trade opportunities, is on the docket. Whether you’re scouting for your draft, making roster cuts, or trying to keep your owner happy, everything but gameday is a series of high-definition text-based adventures in football management details.
All of that preparation leads, naturally, to the actual games where your career success is defined. Depending on your inclination, you can call plays yourself, let your coaches do the work, or lean heavily on those plays you’ve chosen to focus on in practice. No matter what you choose, though, you stand helpless on the sidelines as your players put your plan in motion. It’s a strange feeling indeed to be unable to influence anything happening in front of you – and we imagine it’s eerily similar to how the real coaches feel on Sundays.
While there are many factors to success (such as fans, media, and players), gaining the owner’s approval seems to be your most important task. He’ll give you a set of goals to accomplish over a season, and the more you achieve, the happier he’ll be (and the higher your chances of employment remain). In-game decisions also directly influence his opinion, such as the so-called Defining Moments. These key junctures are where the pressure is on to not only make the right decision but also pick the correct play. It’s not as easy as it sounds, and a wrong choice can be disastrous.
Despite being packed with scads of options and details normally suited for spreadsheets and salary cap gurus, it’s hard to justify Head Coach’s full-price treatment. Between the NFL Network announcer that has the same canned sound bite for common transactions and the lousy framerate of the in-game action, there’s a decidedly second-class-citizen feel from the get-go. Head Coach succeeds as a solid statistical simulator for hardcore football junkies; unfortunately, that translates into a pretty dull experience.
Sep 11, 2008