The NFL has (finally) announced that its exclusive deal with EA Sports to produce NFL video games has come to an end. In light of this, I thought it would be a good time to run you through some of the great unlicensed football games that have been produced over the years. But, before I get into that here’s some background.
In 2004, there were two legitimate NFL games on the console market. Madden NFL 05 and NFL 2k5. NFL Blitz Pro was also on the market (releasing in 2003). However, it wasn’t seen as a competitor due to it’s over the top arcade approach to football gaming. Many still consider NFL 2k5 the best football game ever made. And like they were with the NBA, EA Sports and 2K Sports were in a battle over professional football games.
Sensing an opportunity, in 2005 EA, the NFL and the NFL Players Association negotiated an exclusive deal that allowed only EA to produce licensed NFL football games. A move that proved to be prudent. If we look at what the NBA 2k series has done to the NBA Live series. It’s not crazy to think they may have done the same with an NFL series.
I’m super excited to see what 2K has up its sleeve for its return to NFL games. However, it’s not all good news as EA still holds the exclusive rights to football simulation games. This means 2k’s approach is going to be “centered on fun, approachable and social experiences” according to 2K president David Ismailer. So, it’ll probably be an arcade-style game. But as you can see from the list below, this isn’t a bad thing, some of the best (in my biased opinion) football games are arcade-style games.
So, here it is. A list of unlicensed football games you can still play today as long as you have a last-gen console.
Blitz: The League
I stumbled upon this game one night in 2007 (about 2 years after its initial release). I happened upon it while watching several IGN reviews to see which game would be my next purchase. Once I saw the review I knew I had to have this game. However, there was a problem Blitz: The League had been banned in Australia. At the time, Australia didn’t have an R18+ rating for video games and because of the game’s depiction of steroid use and gruesome injuries, it was banned.
So, I got myself an eBay account. It took me almost 6 months to track down a PAL version of the game. All the copies available at the time were NTSC formatted for use in North America. It showed up around Christmas time and I knocked out the story mode in about three days, but with online play, and another dozen or so play-throughs it has plenty of replayability.
The basic story is that you create a team and take control of it’s day to day operations. You’re able to pick which players train in different skills, upgrade training equipment and use “supplements” to assist players to develop their skills quicker. Additionally, you have a vested interest in your rookie. At the start of the story, you get to pick his position and starting skills. Each game you’re given a set of goals and the opportunity to bet on the game to make some more money. The goal is to move the team up from Division 3 to the league champion in division 1.
The gameplay is very over the top. It’s 7 on 7 football with ankle-breaking jukes, nose breaking fends and late hits. It’s a whole lot of fun.
Finally, it stars former NFL greats Lawrence Taylor and Bill Romanowski. If that isn’t enough for you the story is written by the guys who wrote ‘playmakers’. Which was a short-lived but really good show about professional football.
You can purchase Blitz: The League here.
I was playing blitz the league n injured somebody in a gansta way pic.twitter.com/BLipqoOp5T
— Pooh(C.Y.G.G) (@PoohCYGG) March 5, 2020
Blitz: The League II
Similar to the game above in both gameplay and story. However, this version is available on the region free PS3.
In the second iteration, you still get to pick your teams colours, name and location. The big difference this time is you additionally take on the role of the teams star new recruit nicknamed “franchise”. This time around, “franchise” plays on both sides of the ball and you get to pick which positions he plays. Most of the playthroughs I’ve done have been with “franchise” at QB and Linebacker.
Like the previous game you start in division three and the goal is to work your way up. You’re given weekly “franchise” goals which unlock sponsorships, better equipment and training boosts. Without giving too much away, you even get to play a game in prison in this instalment.
Bill Romanowski’s character makes a return, but sadly Bill doesn’t. Lawrence Taylor reprises his role as one of the main protagonists in the storyline.
As mentioned above these two games play pretty similarly the main benefit to the second instalment is an upgrade in graphics. But, in terms of gameplay, they’re basically the same incredibly entertaining game.
Blitz the league 2 pic.twitter.com/dW6a8z2KJg
— CJ 3.L.F. 👽 (@ItsJust__CJ) February 2, 2020
All-Pro Football 2k8
ALL-Pro Football 2k8 is the spiritual successor to NFL 2k5. As you’re aware, 2K was unable to release a licensed NFL game. So, they contacted 240 retired NFL stars like Barry Sanders, John Elway and Jerry Rice and negotiated the use of their likeness individually.
The gameplay is great and in my opinion, is still one of the better football games produced. One of it’s biggest innovations was that each player had certain abilities based on their skill. For example, Jerry Rice’s abilities include Route God, Clutch, Break Away Burst, Soft Hands, and earns a Leadership Bonus. All of which mirror the great mans real abilities. This is something we’ve only really seen introduced to Madden in its last two iterations.
While the gameplay is fun and still holds up today it’s not perfect. AI teams don’t really have a certain style based on their personnel. The experience feels kind of generic in that regard.
One of the biggest knocks on the game is that there’s no multi-season franchise/story/campaign/career mode. The justification for this was the because the game heavily relies on retired stars there was no way for them to progress over multiple seasons. One possible workaround may have been to start each season with a randomized “rookie draft’ which offered an opportunity to draft a few of these stars each year.
But, fear not there is a workaround. Computer engineer Javier “King Javo” Martinez has built a mod, which you can install on your PS3 or Xbox 360. The mod allows you to take a team across multiple seasons, make trades, sign free agents and more. It can be purchased for $25.
The game still has a huge community online. And a huge number of people willing to help you mod the game.
Find me a football video game that plays as smoothly as All-Pro Football 2K8 pic.twitter.com/Z57OCNVJhf
— SOFTDRINKTV (@SOFTDRINKTV) April 7, 2020
Doug Flutie’s Maximum Football 2019
Ok, so in terms of gameplay, this one isn’t on the same level as the others. But, I love what the guys at Canuck Play are doing, an indie game studio taking on the sports game industry.
This game focuses more on bringing college football experience with its dynasty mode. While the gameplay isn’t as polished as the titles above, it’s still really fun to start a college football dynasty, recruiting players and doing some basic game planning.
I have no doubt a few more iterations of this game will result in something special.
This game game be purchased in the North American Playstation and Xbox online stores.
Today is a good day for a key giveaway!
Experience the ultimate football sandbox with Doug Flutie’s Maximum Football 2019!
RT, Like and comment with your console (Xbox One or PS4) pic.twitter.com/jV1DZfgJ83
— Doug Flutie’s Maximum Football (@MaxFootballGame) March 22, 2020
Do you have any games I should have considered for this list? Tell me about them by sending us a DM.