Review: Pro Strategy Football 2016
I’ve been a huge American Football fan since 1982 when I first caught a game on television over here in the UK. That very same year Addictive Games released Kevin Toms Football Manager on the ZX Spectrum. This game consumed many hours of my life, but with my love of the NFL slowly overtaking any interest I had in ‘soccer’ (a word I’ll put in especially for our American readers) I began to crave a management game set on the ‘gridiron’.
It was the aforementioned Addictive Games who came to the rescue in 1986 when they released Head Coach on the ZX Spectrum. The ‘Speccy’ was nearing the end of its lifecycle for me, but Head Coach kept that rubber keyboard in front of me far longer than I was expecting. Sat on the floor with cups of tea, myself and my mate Ike would be hunched over a note book writing down stats and scores from each game we played (that’s right, no auto saving lots of stats, we had note books and a biro). Hours flew by as we debated (argued) over which play to call. Should we go conservative with a screen pass or throw long down the field? Ike had a running tactic of starting every game on offence by throwing a ‘Hail Mary’, or ‘bomb’ as it was called in the game. This caused much delight on the odd occasion that it was successful and many verbal jibes by me when it was not.
Fast forward 30 years to today and the videogame world has been sparse for those of us who prefer to stand on the virtual sidelines and call in the plays rather than have to execute them ourselves. The Madden franchise used to have a Head Coach mode and even released a dedicated game, of which the final version, Head Coach 09 was buggy, bloated and poorly received. This has so far stopped EA Sports from further pursuing that particular franchise.
I have to go back over 10 years to when ESPN NFL 2K5 was out on the original Xbox as the last great ‘Head Coach’ style game that had me hooked on either console or computer. In the proceeding years mobile technology, specifically the advent of the smartphone, has given a platform for indie developers to take advantage of a blown coverage in the market and complete a play action pass to waiting arm chair coaches such as myself. (sorry, couldn’t resist that metaphor).
After years of frustration my Head Coach itch was well and truly scratched earlier this year when I discovered Pro Strategy Football 2015. Here was a game that immediately took me back to 1986 and playing Head Coach on the Speccy, but with the graphics I would have loved back then, and not having to keep statistics in a note book, plus the ability to tweak the plays, players and MUCH more. I was hooked.
After a few months of play I read that PSF 2016 was due for a release in Q4 of this year. My inner Bill Cowher was ecstatic. As a point of interest, Bill is my favourite Head Coach from my team the Pittsburgh Steelers. Apolgies to all Chuck Noll fans, but the site of a pissed off Cowher on the sidelines, chin extended, is a thing of beauty.
Available on both computer and mobile, it is the portability of PSF 2016 on my phone that fuels my addiction. Train journeys become a pleasure as I tweak my plays, Doctors waiting rooms are transformed into my own office as I scout and trade for new players, and bathroom visits take longer as I sit there with the game going into overtime and a playoff spot on the line. PSF 2016 is a game that you can take and play anywhere, but it is by no means a shallow game. This has enough depth and options to satiate all your American Football needs.
You begin the game by selecting if you want to play a full career, a single season or just a quick game. I always dive into full career. It is at this point that you get to choose which team you want to coach. The names of the teams are of course fictional (the NFL licence doesn’t come cheap) but an easy to use in-game editor means that teams and players can be changed to whatever you want. A very nice touch when selecting a team name to change is that the pop-up keyboard appears in that teams colours. I was far more excited than a 51 year old man should be when a black and gold keyboard appeared when I selected Pittsburgh.
You can either play in ‘casual mode’ or’ hard core mode’. Needless to say, if you’re new to PSF (or American Football in general) then starting in casual mode is the way to go; it gives a simplified playbook and options, yet still gives enough freedom to make the plays your own rather than be constricted to a minimal playbook. For example; in a casual mode offence you get to call the play (picking from runs, passes, trick plays, punt) and leave the finer details to your offensive co-ordinator. However, in hard core mode the options are greatly expanded (with a run you can go inside, outside or down the middle) and you can tap on a players icon to change their route, send them in motion, assign to block, change to the primary receiver, etc.
Whichever you choose though, the game immediately immerses you into the virtual world of being a Head Coach.
Graphically it compares to a lot of the old 16 bit games (it took me back to when I had a MegaDrive) and it conveys the feel of a game perfectly for me. Players run around the field while a variety of weather effects reflect both the time of the year and the location of the game. When your running back dodges an oncoming blitz and sprints down the field avoiding a desperate strong safety to trot into the endzone for a last second win, it rivals any elation felt while playing the likes of modern sports games.
The enjoyment of PSF 2016 is not just in the highs and lows you’ll experience in each game, it is through taking the time to experiment with plays and players, debating whether to rest your tiring star receiver on a crucial play or bring in your fresh 1st round pick, scouting to find just the player you need to fill a weakness in your offensive line, sweating through the draft hoping that you made the right decision and the player(s) you picked will come good and not be a bust. This is a game to savour and build your football dynasty…unless of course you just want a quick game…which PSF 2016 takes care of perfectly too.
If the major developers are anything to go by, then the majority of players want to experience gridiron games as a player or control the whole team. As much as I love playing as a QB in Madden 17, it is the inner Head Coach in me (began all those years back in 1986 on the Spectrum) that will always prefer this method of play. Pro Strategy Football 2016 delivers everything I wanted in a Head Coach game and much more besides. If you’re a casual fan of American Football or a long time pigskin fanatic, then I’m calling a timeout from the sidelines so that you can buy this game immediately. Supporting indie developers by buying their games is the only way that we will continue to get games such as this.
Right then, I’m off to see if I can get a revenge win against the Bengals who beat me in O.T. in our previous game.
Review by Dave (host of 60 Minutes With).