McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)
For: Xbox 360 and Playstation 3
From: Visual Concepts/2K Sports
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (mild language)
It's been a dark three years for "NFL 2K" fans, who watched their beloved game franchise die a premature death after the NFL granted exclusive licensing access to EA Sports. "NFL 2K5" remains in heavy rotation online, and many gamers cling to the hope that the NFL will change course once the exclusivity deal expires.
In the meantime, 2K has shaken off the rust and produced "All-Pro Football 2K8," which replaces the NFL license with a semi-fictional football universe that includes nearly 250 faces from the league's past.
Instead of Brady, Tomlinson and Urlacher, "2K8" delivers Montana, Payton and Butkus. The legends are sorted into three categories (gold, silver and bronze), and you're allowed a certain number of players from each tier when selecting 11 legends for your custom team. (The rest of your roster consists of fictional, and comparably unspectacular, fill-ins.)
While the roster constriction sounds like a drag, it adds a crucial dose of vulnerability to a game stacked with talent. Do you splurge all your gold-level picks on offense and hope for the best on defense, or is more balance better? Is it worth it to fill one of the legend slots with a kicker? Spend wisely.
This, plus the ability to create players and pretty extensively customize your team's look, gives armchair GMs plenty of tinkering room. But it also makes the omission of a franchise mode that much harder to understand. Solo players can play a full season, but the inability to build on that season's successes or failures is a killer, especially when "2K5" offered such a terrific franchise mode.
For players still logging on with "2K5," better news awaits. Online leagues return — albeit with trades and drafts omitted — and the game plays as smoothly online as it does off.
So how does it perform on the field? Imagine "2K5" with some rust, and you have a good idea. The new three-tier ranking system has introduced some balance issues that weren't there previously, and A.I.-controlled players occasionally experience brain cramps when carrying out orders. But the gameplay that shined three years ago returns almost completely intact, and "2K5" vets will immediately feel at home.
Visually, the game looks okay, though it's little more than "2K5" with higher-resolution graphics. But a lot of imagination went into the game's fictional stadiums, and what "2K8" lacks in technical mastery, it often redeems in artistry.
For: Playstation 2
From: Clap Hanz/Sony
ESRB Rating: Everyone (mild suggestive themes)
If there's an advantage to releasing "Hot Shots Tennis" this late in the Playstation 2's life, it's that developer Clap Hanz is basically batting last. The PS2 has enjoyed its share of good tennis games, and it's not unreasonable to assume Clap Hanz has taken the best of what those games offered, infused some of the sensibilities that make the "Hot Shots Golf" games so much fun, and mixed it all together in a nice little stew.
Alas, it's not to be.
By no stretch does "HST" botch the game of tennis. The arcade-leaning gameplay is fast and very accessible, and it subscribes to the same conventions that apply to most any well-playing tennis game.
Problem is, that's all it does. "HST" offers three different types of shots, but little to do with them. You can't, for instance, apply spin or add some oomph to the ball by setting up your shot early instead of at the last minute. Beyond location — which, regrettably, is determined by the same analog stick that's controls your player's feet — every lob, volley and smash feels the same.
These limitations extend to the whole of the game, which is as surprisingly bare in the features department as it is in the gameplay aisle.
Witness "HST's" chief single-player mode, which consists of little more than a string of matches against other players. You can unlock new characters and outfits by racking up victories, but you can't enhance abilities, add new shots, upgrade your racket or otherwise do anything that impacts the gameplay.
That's a far cry from "Tennis 2K2" and "Smash Court Tennis," both of which released years ago but offered incredibly deep career modes and plenty of means with which to invest in your player. While "HST's" budget $30 price tag is appealing, it's still too high considering better games can be had for less.
Things don't much improve when it comes to multiplayer. Four-player tennis is fun with three friends and a Multi-tap, but the gameplay limitations mean that, again, better options lie elsewhere.
Far fewer alternatives exist when it comes to playing PS2 tennis online, but "HST" apathetically drops the ball here, seemingly uninterested in exploiting its lone golden opportunity. Given the half-hearted effort that went into the rest of the package, that's hardly surprising. But given the "Hot Shots" name on the box, it nonetheless remains disappointing.
(Billy O'Keefe writes video game and DVD reviews for McClatchy-Tribune News Service.)
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.