All-Pro Football 2K8 Review
2K football returns with solid gameplay and a new focus on classic players, though the roster isn't the only aspect of the game that feels old.
- An exciting, highly realistic gameplay engine
- Over 200 classic players to choose from
- Building up teams and taking them online is a lot of fun
- Largely excellent animation
- Great on-field sound effects.
- Much of what makes All-Pro's gameplay so great was done just as well in NFL 2K5 three years ago
- A distinct lack of offline modes
- Player models look ancient (and not just because they're old players)
- Commentary is mostly recycled from 2K5
- Could have used more in the way of customization options.
ESPN NFL 2K5 is one of those games that have developed a seriously hardcore following in recent years. That's because it happens to be one of the most tightly crafted football games ever made, and also because it happens to be the last NFL-licensed game made by 2K Sports, following EA's snatching of the NFL license into the land of exclusivity. For just about three years now, fans of the 2K brand of football have been wringing their hands in anticipation of what 2K might do to bring back an alternative to Madden. The answer is finally here in the form of All-Pro Football 2K8. All-Pro is precisely the kind of football you remember from NFL 2K5--maybe a little too much like it--but with a roster of classic players from NFL yore. The premise? Build your own team out of your favorite old-timers, and compete against other teams full of heroes of the gridiron, both offline and online. It's a very cool idea for a game, especially in the way you build your team, but some niggling issues with the gameplay and presentation, as well as a stripped-down package of modes, prevents 2K8 from being a truly great return for 2K football.
First, let's look at who you're working with in All-Pro. The roster of classic players goes well over 200, and you'll see plenty of big-time names like Jerry Rice, Joe Montana, John Elway, Dan Marino, Barry Sanders, Walter Payton, Mike Ditka, and more. There's also a nice variety of players that aren't quite as immediately recognizable, but certainly deserve their all-pro status, like Lem Barney, Len Dawson, Chuck Muncie, Jessie Tuggle, and the like. However, there's also a decent chunk of players in the game that kind of leave you scratching your head about why they're in there. Mike Golic, for instance, is far more notable for his ESPN broadcasting career than his playing career; Korey Stringer is better known for his death at training camp than his role on the field; and what, exactly, did Brian Bosworth ever do besides play well for about two seasons before getting injured, retire, and go on to star in bad movies? Still, several weird choices aside, the number of honest-to-god legends vastly outweighs the goofy picks, and while one could argue endlessly about various omissions in the roster, this collection of players is plenty good for a starting entry.
But what do you do with all these classic players? Essentially, from the moment you first boot up the game, your task is to build the team of your dreams. To build this team, you're provided 11 empty slots with which to fill superstars, and the remaining slots are taken up by generic players. The classic players are ranked in gold, silver, and bronze tiers. You get two gold, three silver, and six bronze players for any team you create, and they can fill whatever positions you like. Want a potent offense? Grab Jerry Rice and Walter Payton, toss in a silver-tier quarterback like Joe Theismann or Randall Cunningham, and you're in good shape. Prefer the defensive game to be the focus of a team? Pick Ronnie Lott, Dick Butkus, Lem Barney, and Ed "Too Tall" Jones, and you're looking pretty scary. Of course, it's all about balance. Go too far on one side of the ball or the other, and you may suffer in the end. Likewise, if you don't fill out your less sexy positions, like offensive line and kicker, you could find yourself in a difficult spot in certain situations. Difficult a balance as it can be to strike, it's a fun one to experiment with. You can create as many teams as you like, and edit any one you create over and over again until you feel like you've gotten it right.
Once you get your team on the field, any fan of NFL 2K5 is going to be able to settle into a groove pretty quickly. That's because this game might as well be 2K5 with a handful of gameplay tweaks. Some of those tweaks include a new gang tackling system that actually looks and feels superior to anything found in recent Madden games, and a new right-analog-stick tackling mechanic that essentially lets you do big hits, high and low tackles, or reach tackles (the last of which rarely ever seems to work very well). There's also a new kick meter that tries to turn the right analog stick into a kicker's leg, having you pull back on it to start the play, and then push forward to kick (provided you time it and aim correctly). Nifty idea, but it doesn't work well at all. Kickoffs seem to work fine, but kicking field goals is a lot more scattershot than it should be. You know something's off when you're timing your kicks nearly perfectly and putting little angle on the ball beyond where you set the arrow pointer, and you're still missing kicks from 35 yards out.
Interestingly enough, it's not the changes made to 2K8's design that really sell it--it's the stuff you remember. It probably speaks best to how fantastic a game 2K5 was that 2K8's gameplay can still be considered great fun, and still feel realistic, considering how much of it is identical to that game. The running game is still the best in the business, with moves and blocking that look and feel just about as spot-on as you could ever hope for. The passing game is no slouch either, though there's a weird bit of delay between when you press the button to throw to a receiver, and when the pass actually launches--one that might be somewhat realistic, but feels overwrought when you're just trying to get the ball out quickly. Defense is stingy and mechanically sound. Defensive backs tend to drop a few too many "gimme" interceptions, and defensive players still like to stand dead still in one spot when assigned to zone coverage (wide receivers tend to do the same thing on certain types of routes), but those quibbles aside, it's hard to complain much about the defensive game.
So, if the game still plays so well, what prevents it from being truly great? It's a lot of things, many of which are elements that are missing. As an offline, single-player game, All-Pro is a weak effort. You get a quick game mode, and one season to play through against a series of pre-made teams, and once you win the championship (or don't), that's pretty much the end of it. There's no franchise mode, no crib, none of the amenities 2K Sports fans have become accustomed to over the years.