NFL 2010 is a good first effort at a football game on the iPhone. All the teams and players are there, and it looks and sounds as good as you can expect. Despite these feats, it never quite feels like you have full control of what’s happening on the field.
It’s hard to get sports games right on a touchscreen, although we’ve played a few soccer titles that handled just fine. NFL 2010, like those games, uses a virtual analog stick to control movement. Unlike those games, the buttons for performing other actions are context-sensitive, and constantly appearing and vanishing depending on who has the ball.
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Returning kicks, for example, feel very limited. You can only choose the direction you run, with no options for juking, spinning or trucking through defenders. The same goes for controlling your receiver after you make a catch. With no way to increase running speed, you feel pretty helpless as you inevitably get tackled with no real way to evade the defenders.
As a running back, however, you do have those moves at your disposal. Why can’t you always juke or spin when you have the ball? Certainly players at other positions are physically capable of such moves. It makes the game feel disjointed.
Throwing the ball, too, can be a little tricky. You still control the quarterback with the virtual analog stick, but to throw you only need to tap an icon above the receiver you want the ball to go to. This would work pretty well if the receivers only ran in straight lines, but when they cross back and forth they’ll often overlap each other and you’ll throw to closest guy.
If the icon above the receiver is green he should have a good chance to catch the ball, and the closer the color is to red the lesser the chance of a completion. Unfortunately, the receivers often stop running the second you throw the ball. At best, this results in no yards after the catch, and at worst an interception. In any case, tapping a green icon ends in an interception much more often than we would like.
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On defense, you have the ability to control your linemen and use moves to outmuscle or outmanuever your way to the quarterback. The game handles these instances in slow motion, and the context-sensitive buttons will appear for a few seconds, giving you a chance to react.
The same slow motion instances occur as you defend passes, giving you the option to go for a deflection or interception as the ball approaches the receiver. These moments work well enough, but they feel a bit gimmicky. They occur occasionally on offense as well, when a defender is about to make a tackle on your running back.
Even if the game plays rough around the edges, the feature set is pretty impressive. The playbook is very extensive, with both a basic mode (short pass, long pass etc.) and an advanced mode (shotgun formation, 4WR set) giving you plenty of options on both offense and defense. An announcer delivers some pretty impressive play-by-play, although there’s not much depth to his commentary.
As for modes of play, alongside exhibition games, longer season and playoff modes are available. The stats track throughout these modes, although they’re pretty basic and feel more like a series of exhibition matches. There’s no multiplayer to speak of, but Gameloft says it’s planned for the future.
It’s certainly impressive to develop a playable, fully licensed football game on the iPhone. With that said, there’s a lot of room for improvement here, and this can’t really compete with football titles available on the Nintendo DS and PSP. Adjust your expectations accordingly and this can be a pretty fun, if flawed experience.