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Hello, and welcome back to Second Chances where I give another shot to the maligned and forgotten, and I'm making a substitution here.
Last year, I lamented the state of sports games in the current generation. Things have improved somewhat with more arcade fare (including older arcade ports) and even 2K putting the PGA license to great use with the outstanding The Golf Club 2019. Even football has had some interesting developments with Canadian football releasing on American consoles to counteract the further degradation of Madden which still has a death grip on the NFL license.
However, I'm not looking at the current generation for my gridiron fix. Instead, I'm looking at the last generation and the last football game 2K Sports released, All-Pro Football 2K8 (Xbox 360/Playstation 3). This is actually a second chance for me as this was one of the first games I ever reviewed. I covered it on the TrueAchievements forums 10 years ago as seen here. My opinion was very negative at the time as my point of comparison then was ESPN NFL 2K5 (Xbox/Playstation 2) which still stands as one of the best football games I ever played. Since then, I have played several newer games (especially from EA) that had tons of issues leaving me unsatisfied. I decided to give All-Pro another shot and have found that I was too harsh on it before. It's actually a very good alternative for those fed up with Madden.
At that point, EA already had the NFL license, eliminating all the competition for pro football games. However, 2K found an interesting way to get around that. Retired "Hall-of-Famers" were not under the NFL umbrella and could be licensed. 2K took advantage of that and licensed over 240 Hall-of-Famers into the game. Every position has legendary options from quarterbacks to punters. These legends fill out a team the player can create himself. Customization options are very impressive. With the wide array of stadiums, logos, and uniform styles to choose from, it's virtually impossible for two people to produce the same team.
My complaints in my old review were very flawed in hindsight (understandable as I was new to reviewing games then). I complained about the visuals barely going above the level of the original Xbox. The locations and character models were definitely below what the Xbox 360 could do on their own. However, at that time, I missed one element in which All-Pro clobbered Madden: the animation. While Madden was limited to canned animation routines on the field and lifeless mannequins on the sidelines (even in the current gen installments), the animation in All-Pro is much more dynamic. Tackles and escapes are varied, making every defensive play interesting. I was impressed when a tackle near the sidelines made the officials and teammates jump out of the way. All this runs at a perfect 60 frames-per-second at all times. It may not be the most cutting-edge-looking football game, but it's certainly the most exciting-looking football game.
I had also complained previously about an unfair AI that made even playing on easy a frustrating experience. Playing again 10 years later, I see why I had problems then. Other football games (including the older 2K games) had AI bugs that were so easily exploitable that, on easy, I could just throw Hail Marys all day, ending games at over a hundred to zip. Those bugs were crushed in All-Pro. Strategy with team building and on the field is more critical here than other games I've played. While other games allow me just to power through linebackers, this one demands the kind of tactical thinking usually reserved for Command & Conquer. The game is challenging but fair, and every sack and touchdown feels earned.
Other games do have All-Pro beat in terms of the game options. While team customization blows away all contenders, gameplay modes are limited to single games, a single season mode, and online. As far as the online is concerned, while matchmaking is still available, leagues aren't anymore. Those used to the franchise, legacy, and "Be a Pro" modes of other games may be disappointed, but what's here is fine.
I'm glad I gave All-Pro Football 2K8 another try. It's definitely much better than I thought 10 years ago. The options for team building are almost unlimited, the gameplay is very strong, and you can have John Elway and Jerry Rice on your team if you want. If you're tired of Madden NFL 19 constantly badgering you for more money, load this one into your 360 or PS3. It may not have won the Heisman, but it had a great run all the same.
What do you think? Any other football game deserve time over Madden? Let me know, and play ball!