Review: Pro Strategy Football 201320 Sep 2013 0
Your football-watching friends and your video game-playing friends often run in different, not-quite-Venn-overlapping circles. (Millennials: you won't understand this problem because everyone in your generation is a nerd, but for older generations, nerds were actually a distinct social caste, and football-watching on Sundays was reserved for other echelons.)
The best thing about Pro Strategy Football 2013 is that it unmasks this fake dichotomy and reveals football to be a truly geeky game about numbers, statistics, and mathematical probability. Football is a game for everybody: it's beautiful and intense and athletic and dramatic but it's also deeply, deeply nerdy.
We're doing pretty okay with sports management sims on iOS: we've got the iOOTP Baseball series, the Football Manager Handheld franchise, and now Kerry Batts' excellent Pro Strategy Football games. Of these three, Pro Strategy Football undoubted looks the roughest and has the thinnest array of features to boast of, but it can hold its own with the rest. This is no small feat. iOOTP and FM are iterations of games that have been made over and over again for decades -- PSF is a homegrown product by a lone developer.
Unlike iOOTP and Football Manager, which delve deep into the front office wheeling and dealing for player contract signings and stadium expansions, PSF is a strictly tactical game about calling plays. You can do this in one-off scrimmage games, in a full season, or in head-to-head GameCenter-based multiplayer, but that's the fullest extent of it.
This microscopic focus on play-calling gives PSF the room to dive deep into the subject matter. This is the Dwarf Fortress of football sims.
It's third down, and you need 8 yards to keep your drive to the end zone alive. You've decided against attempting to fool the defense and giving a delayed handoff to your agile running back -- you've suckered them once today with that trick and they're less likely to fall for it a second time. So you're coming out in a shotgun formation, and you're passing the ball. But to whom? Your sure-handed flanker might be double-covered in a situation like this. You can roll the dice throwing straight to him, or hope that the defense is playing zone and flood the right side of the field with receivers, giving one of them some space to catch the ball. This doesn't even get into all of the considerations that PSF puts in front of you: you can designate extra blockers to give your QB just a bit more time to throw, put receivers in motion before the snap... I could go on.
This stuff might seem overwhelming to the football neophyte, but Batts is a football coach at heart. All of your options can be presented with help text printed right alongside, so you're never in any doubt as to which formations are superior for running the ball or passing, or what kind of defense you should line up in certain situations. An in-game coaching assistant offers scouting reports on players' stats and offers to choose plays for you. All of this is entirely optional, and the game screens can be configured to be as economically presented as possible for players who've already grasped the fundamentals and just want to get on with pigskin throwing.
On top of all the play-calling nuance is a pixel-art graphics engine that does the job but is technologically on par with Joe Montana's Sports Talk Football, which came out the same year as Terminator 2. It works, but it's evidence of Batts' limited resources. This comes across in other areas: you can't simulate a game once you've started it, so if Week 4 of your season is a 48-0 blowout of Seattle going into the third quarter, you're just going to have to slog out the garbage time yourself. Pro Strategy Football is also in desperate need of another song. The one track has a wonderful NFL Films-style epic quality, but I've heard it so much I hear it in my sleep. It's also an iPhone app, meaning that on iPad you have to play with the screen doubled -- which with these graphics looks fine, to be fair. Batts is working on a Universal update.
Clearly, Pro Strategy Football 2013 needs a better wrapper, but the product at its core is as good a sports sim as exists on any gaming platform. If we could have Pro Strategy Football 2014 made with Madden's budget, we could bring together the jocks and the nerds and bring about a new era of global peace and harmony. On Sundays, anyway.
This game was played on a 4th-gen iPad for this review.