Saturday, March 10, 2007

Football Mogul 2007 Review

Football Mogul 2007, developed by Sports Mogul Inc. and published by Enlight Software.
The Good: Straightforward and easy to learn, real NFL players, realistic results, good amount of stats, big plays tend to result from bad play calls instead of chance
The Not So Good: Lacks the depth of other sports management games, too easy, no realistic substitutes during games, second string players are inaccurate, limited playbook, minor bugs with play by play, can’t exit during a game
What say you? An unpolished but mostly realistic football management game: 5/8

Now that the NFL season is over, thoughts turn to what might have been. What if Tony Romo actually knew how to hold a football during a field goal? What if the Colts hadn’t bribed the officials to get bogus pass interference calls? What if the Bears had decided it’s probably not a good idea to throw long passes with an inexperienced quarterback in the rain? Football Mogul 2007 tries to let you correct what went wrong during the season in their sports management game. The developers are the same ones behind Baseball Mogul, and since that was a good game, you would figure that Football Mogul 2007 would be as well. Put on your jockstrap and let’s find out together!

The graphics of Football Mogul 2007 are typical for a text-based sports management game. The game is extremely easy to navigate: all of the game’s information is accessible from the top menu, as it should be. Almost everything is one click away, which makes finding specific data effortless. This is really all we expect for a text-based management game. Substituting during games could be a lot better, however: clicking on a name in the on-screen roster will just show that player’s information instead of allowing you to substitute for them (you have to access the roster in order to do so). During games, Football Mogul 2007 has clear play drawings showing routes and blocking and coverage assignments and highlights important and active players, which makes executing plays to the strong side of your formations easy. The game also shows where the ball is located on the field, but not the direction you are going. Still, Football Mogul 2007 delivers an adequate package for graphics. The sound in the game is almost non-existent, as there are no crowd noises or hard-hitting effects. Oh well.

In Football Mogul 2007, you will take control of one of the 32 NFL teams starting at the beginning of the 2006 season. You can go with the default rosters and settings, or choose to shuffle the players, equalize the cities, run a fantasy draft, or use the less random simulation mode. The rosters are supposedly updated through November, but there are a lot of inaccuracies with them, especially with backup players. There are people who are fictitious or never on a team, or players who retired long before the season started (Jimmy Smith for the Jaguars, for example). This probably won’t bother casual NFL fans, but if you are going to use the real players, you might as well spend some time to get them right.

In the game, you will shuffle your rosters, negotiate contracts, conduct the rookie draft, and set ticket and concession prices. Football Mogul 2007 can auto-assign your depth chart, which works well and sorts each position according to overall grade. Unless there are two similar players at a position, you won’t really need to adjust the rosters much at all, as changes due to injuries are automatically taken care of. Football Mogul 2007 features a boatload of stats: average age, broadcast revenues, team grades at each position, salary cap room, rushing average behind each offensive lineman (very cool), and more. Once you have adjusted everything, it’s time to play the games.

Football Mogul 2007 lets you choose plays in several different categories: inside and outside runs, short, medium, and long passes, and appropriate defenses for each. The game could have more plays, but they do all fit on one screen, requiring just one click to call a play. Having a play designer would be nice and allow for a more custom feel to the game. The limitations have some drawbacks: every team plays zone defense, which can be exploited using the correct offensive scheme. This limited playbook does result in realistic stats, and the results are based on the stats of the entire team, including all of the linemen. Football Mogul 2007 has much more believable results than Bowl Bound College Football, which seemed to have arbitrary results that did not match the play call. Big plays mostly result from mismatched play calls (deep pass protection versus an inside run, for example). However, it is way too easy to break long runs: having multiple 70 yard runs for touchdowns in a single game is not uncommon for the human player. The AI does a pretty good job calling appropriate plays and it seems to adapt over time to the plays you are calling. If it weren’t for the large number of big plays, especially in the running game, the scores would be a lot close (and more realistic) than they are. The game will make automatic substitutes when you are really far ahead, but Football Mogul 2007 won't “spell” non-injured players in a close game. This normally happens in a real football game, with rotations at running back, wide receiver, or defensive line, but you’ll have to do it manually in Football Mogul 2007. Fatigue strangely doesn’t seem to be a concern in the game, as it’s never addressed anywhere in the user interface. There are also minor bugs with play by play: the wrong team is named when intercepting, saying a drive just started when it didn’t, “this play’s coming back” when it’s a penalty on the defense, and a six-yard run backwards after a catch. There are some substitution errors as well: when both of my starting guards got hurt during a game, they were both automatically replaced with the same player. It's nice to be in two places at once! You also can’t exit Football Mogul 2007 during a game without simulating to the end, which is very odd. The game does give a detailed play-by-play report at the end of the match, which almost mirrors the gamebooks the NFL uses. This is a nice feature that I wish more games had.

Football Mogul 2007 does provide realistic results, but there are a number of features I consider important that are either missing or broken. The game features real NFL players, but a lot of the second-string players are wrong or absent. There is also not very much to do during the season, as lineups don’t change very often and the game auto-sorts anyway. Most of the time you’ll be playing the games; while they are mostly realistic, there are a number of small issues that add up to a less than exhilarating experience. The limited and fixed playbook doesn’t allow for a more personal feel to the game, and the unrealistic results of certain plays skew the otherwise solid football simulation engine. The AI does, for the most part, provide a good opponent, and since Football Mogul 2007 doesn’t feature multiplayer, this is a good thing. Overall, though, Football Mogul 2007 does not mirror the complete package of Baseball Mogul. I just never got very interested in the game as I played it, and the simulated matches are more tedious than enjoyable due to the limited playbook. Only the most rabid football management game fans will stick with Football Mogul 2007 for the long haul, as there are other more compelling simulations available.