Review by Gruel
"2K football is finally back, just with some major strings attached"
I was ecstatic for 2K Sports long overdue return to football games. Their last one was ESPN NFL 2K5 way back in 2004. A few months after that came out, EA snuck away the exclusive rights to the NFL and ESPN license and 2K had to put their football game on hiatus for a few years so they could figure out what to do next. Finally, after three years waiting, they are back with All-Pro Football 2K8.
Since 2K doesn't have the NFL license they went out and contracted as many retired NFL players (who are not confined to the NFL licensing agreements since they are no longer active players) as possible to appear in their game. In total, over 200 players appear who are divided into three rating tiers (Gold, Silver, Bronze). Some of the many names go from way back yonder like Johnny Unitas, Walter Payton, Bart Starr and OJ Simpson (yes, really!) to legends of recent decades like Steve Young, John Elway, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Emmit Smith, Barry Sanders and Troy Aikman. Not every play is true legend of the gridiron, thus the bronze rating category, as some questionable picks made it into the game like Brian Bosworth, who is more known as being one of the NFL's biggest busts than an icon of the pigskin.
You customize your team with 11 star players, and the rest of your team is filled out with artificial players. When creating your team, there is an in-depth team editor where you can trick out your team's uniforms and logos and pick from a wide variety of interactive arenas to compete in. The artificial team names and arenas have some nifty special effects. Some football fans may be familiar with how at the Bucs' stadium a pirate ship has cannons fire off whenever the Bucs make a first down or touchdown, or how a horn sounds off for the same plays at the Metrodome for the Vikings. In 2K8, they have some similar things like for at the stadium of the Beasts, there is a huge Bigfoot-esque mascot in the stands and he lights up on fire whenever the Beasts make a score, and at the Gunslingers stadium there are gunblasts. There are also some interesting arena designs too like a honeycomb glass roof that casts an amazing shadow onto the stadium for the team based on those pesky little insects.
You can create players, but star players only who take up one of the eleven star slots. It is a bummer there isn't even a name editor if you want to try and name a team to get them to match their NFL counterpart, but apparently 2K wants to keep the nostalgia feel going in full motion for All-Pro 2K8.
Like previous sports games next-gen debuts, there aren't a whole lot of extra features. There is a practice mode, quick exhibition game, and a season mode. There is no franchise mode, which could have been awkward to pull off when playing with already-retired players, but a story mode or some other type of fleshed out single player mode is what 2K8 needed. The awesome Crib unlock system from the old games is completely absent, along with First Person Football. There are only a couple minor extras to be found, like a celebration editor and a Highlight reel creator, however when selecting to activate the Highlight Reel, an Xbox Live marketplace menu pops up asking you to actually pay $5 for the feature. I was appalled at the notion of paying $60 for this game and when trying to access one of the in game features it asked me to pay for more money. I could understand if this feature was released as downloadable content 2-3 months after the game came out, but this is just going way too far.
As far as gameplay, 2K8 plays very similar to ESPN NFL 2K5. If you were a huge fan 2K football gameplay than you will not be disappointed. The running game still rules as it is just a breeze and intuitive to send players in motion and find wholes in the line to run through. Powering up jukes and stiff arms still works the same way too to help gain those few more precious yards. Pre-snap controls in general are just way more accessible and less overwhelming than they are in Madden NFL 08.
There are a few little tweaks to the gameplay that I noticed, but nothing really major to try and change the formula. Some of the new tweaks are a new right thumbstick focused kicking system which is taken nearly verbatim from last year's Madden. Gang tackles are also here and look amazing when you see a running back getting denied that extra yard for a first down. Quarterbacks now can randomly crouch and avoid a huge diving tackle from a defender, I have no idea how it is done as I have only seen it happen a few times at random. Finally, each legend has a couple special character traits, kind of like Madden's new weapon system where the game classifies running backs as power and finesse backs, and defensive backs as big hitters and give them the ability to lay down a big hit with the right thumbstick.
Since All-Pro Football 2K8 doesn't have the NFL license, they worked around a few different things they could do now that the NFL prevented from doing in previous games like more vicious looking tackles, and the illegal horse-collar tackle. And now, back in sim football games for the first time in several years, the ability to cast the dreaded late-hit! There is a very small window of time to perform it, but it is noticeable there is now an extra second or two to make that last second leap at a player to take out your frustrations on (just keep in mind there is a 15 yard penalty). I was kind of surprise that All-Pro has the challenge system in tact, complete with red flags, only booth reviews in final two minutes in halves and being able to challenge all the same types of plays in the NFL, as I thought that rule system was exclusive to the NFL.
2K does have a robust amount of online features available. There are online leagues and tournaments, two major things that Madden still doesn't offer in their game. There is also a very handy customizable sports ticker that feeds all the latest news and scores for the sports of your choosing. Don't give a damn about hockey, then take it off the ticker list! I had trouble getting online games going since every time I tried accessing the online area it would seem to take forever to load up the latest updates and news items from the online menu, but the couple times I played the game ran relatively lag free.
Graphics don't look all that upgraded either, which is disappointing since the developers had three years to step up the visuals. There are a few small things I noticed that stood out like rain bouncing off helmets and rainy and snowy fields getting especially torn up throughout the game. For having some dated graphics, the animation is very fluid and the aforementioned gang tackles, new sideline-tiptoe catches and other play animations run at a silky smooth framerate. I don't want to leave an impression that the graphics are horrific, because 2K5's graphics were definitely a couple years ahead of their time, I was just expecting a bit more of a next-gen leap in visuals. Aurally, there is nothing too remarkable, a bunch of random rap and hip-hop tracks compensate the soundtrack (plus an awesome Rush remix!), and the stellar duo we know as Dan Stevens and Peter O Keefe return to commentary to call the action (and recycle many lines from previous games).
Overall, All-Pro Football 2K8 is a solid first entry from 2K Sports, but it comes a year too late as the Madden series is already plowing away at full stride on the 360 and PS3. Considering it arrived with a bare feature set and asking for the full $60 retail price, I just cannot recommend a purchase. It is good that it 2K8 plays just as great as 2K5, but if you really missed your 2K football, I'd recommend renting this one just to get your 2K football fill, and holding out on the purchase until next year's version when they (hopefully) flesh out the overall game a bit more.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 09/27/07
Game Release: All-Pro Football 2K8 (US, 07/16/07)
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