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The Sports Desk – Digging Into The Offseason With Front Office Football 8

The football offseason has begun, and with some free agents already signing with new teams, and the combine and then the draft coming this spring, there's plenty of work to be done on your franchise. For all you GMs ready to burn the midnight oil for your team, Front Office Football 8 is here to fill that need. The text simulator came out late last year on PC, and offers the kind of offseason and gameday options that any wanna-be GM and coach would appreciate.

The game features editable teams from all the NFL cities (you can also relocate your team or get a new stadium) with real-life player names, and fans of franchise management will appreciate that there are amenities such as multiple rounds of free agency (with multiple stages within each round), a coaching carousal, draft scouting, the ability to tweak salary offers, and other considerations. Players themselves can holdout, they have attitudes to consider, as well as various personality traits such as loyalty and fan popularity.

Playing through a season and offseason, I liked the info and options at my disposal, whether that was gauging a relatively weak free agent crop, picking through the players dropped later in the summer, gauging a draft prospects' potential and possible "volatility," and evaluating players before the draft and after they're on the team. I think the game does a good job of presenting the right kind of information such as a players' combine numbers, medical history, or contract wishes, without making drafting players or signing free agents a 100-percent done deal. There are few of such situations in real-life football, and the game replicates that fine line between giving you enough information to make informed decisions without making you swim in it. The game also comes with an in-depth guide, which is definitely worth studying.

Playing games seems pretty solid as well. I appreciate being able to see playart of the myriad plays available (you can construct your own playbooks from the plays at hand) as well as seeing which player is the principle target of the play. I also like how developer Solecismic has sprinkled some text descriptions for plays as they unfold such as telling you that a throw by the QB wasn't even close, or who made a key block on the play.

Stats wise, apart from EJ Manuel having the highest QB rating one season, I didn't see anything too glaringly off in terms of the stats showing up for players over the course of a year. I did think that some of the completion percentages during single games for average QBs were high, possibly padded out by the number of check downs I saw to the fullback. One of the cool things the game does with stats is that it shows you how many targets and catches a receiver has (and the carries/yards for a running back) before you call a play. Thus, you can get a quick look at who's hot and what's been working. Conversely, I didn't see a way to manage my depth chart during games, which was frustrating when I wanted to switch out my ineffective running back.

I really liked playing Front Office Football 8, and can see it being a nice complement to Madden, allowing me to concentrate on that very important part of the football season – the offseason.

Missed some of the previous Sports Desk entries? Take a look at the past installments via our Hub page by clicking on the banner below.

Have a suggestion or comment? Put it in the comments section below, send me an email, or reach me on twitter at @mattkato.

 

BOARD SLIDING IN STEEP'S ALASKA

Steep's free Alaska update is now available, and apart from introducing a new mountain with 17 drop zones, 21 challenges, branded challenges, 37 points of interest, a mountain story, a raised level cap (25 to 30), and more, one of the things players will notice is that at least one of the new mountain's villages includes plenty of rails to grind and slide. This was possible in the original, but not a point of emphasis.

I tried out the Alaska villages' and while glad they were included in the update, found that they weren't quite as satisfying as I had hoped they would be. Games with rail grinding/sliding always face the dilemma of wanting to make it easy to let players get on a rail and stay on it, but without it feeling like they are being sucked or stuck to the rail. The problem I have with Steep's board slides currently is that it's easy to slip off of them and it feels floaty, like you're not really on the rail. I compare this with series like Skate and Tony Hawk, where grinds and board slides were very satisfying. You also don't score any extra points for what you do on a rail, which is disappointing. Hopefully this is something the team can keep working on, as I want to attack rails when I see them, not avoid them.

For more on the game's future plans, check out this interview and Steep Afterwords dissection with creative director Igor Manceau.

Sliding off the rail a little too easy.

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Trying to go from trick to trick on the rail.

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THE TICKER
A quick rundown of some of the sports news from the week.

MLB The Show 17's Presentation Info, Pave Your Path in Road to the Show & Quick Manage
A handful of new info has come out about the game, including making off-the-field decisions that can impact your Road to the Show career, a way to quickly manage and sim Franchise games, and a partnership with MLB Network with new announcers Harold Reynolds and Dan Plesac.

Old Time Hockey Gets Release Date & Switch Release  

Vote for Who's On The Digital Cover For Out Of The Park Baseball 18

UniqueGames Working to Get Handball Manager & 3 Other Titles To Steam Via Team Initiative 

VR Golf Online Adds Multiplayer & Cross-Platform Play 

Bethesda's Todd Howard Has An Idea About How To Bring NCAA Back 
I love that Howard is passionate about NCAA, but in my opinion, everything EA has said and done on this front shows that they are being extremely cautious about any return to college football. I think they are waiting for nothing short of the full legal resolution of the NCAA and players' student/athlete status before returning. EA's already had to settle one lawsuit on this front, and I doubt there's a lawyer in the building that's going to risk another.

www.GameInformer.com – The Feed

The Sports Desk – What Is The Offseason For?

Welcome to Game Informer's Sports Desk – our weekly column covering the world of video game sports.

Of course, all our normal reviews, previews, and news stories will still be front and center on the website, but this is a chance to dive deeper, ask more questions, and explore a multitude of topics of all the sports video games out there. That includes some games we don't normally cover.

Sometimes the column will be an opinion or a hands-on of a recent DLC. Other times I'll put up a developer interview, tutorial, or a feature on a game that's already been out but deserves another look.

Whatever happens let me know what you think. Add your take in the comments section below or send me an email with an idea of your own.

And be sure to come back next Monday for more!

What Is The Offseason For?

Athletes use the offseason to recharge and rededicate themselves for the grind of the upcoming season. For us gamers, it's almost like it's the opposite. The period between when a new sports title is announced and when it comes out is at times less about excitement and more about dread.

I'm absolutely guilty of it myself. I recently did a Madden 17 Franchise mode wishlist, and while writing down all the ideas I had, I was both energized by the possibilities and dismayed that many of them wouldn't happen. Of course, it's absolutely unrealistic to expect a developer to put in all that stuff even over the course of several years. There's just too much.

More and more we're spending the offseason holding our breath whether an oft-desired feature or features will make it when the game's first details hit the public. And when one of them doesn't, it's too easy to make your mind up about a game, believe that it won't be any good, the developer doesn't care, and you start believing the fallacy of the slippery slope, that if the developer doesn't do X, then they can't be trusted with Y.

I've done it in the past. But the spirit of our game wishlists isn't as an ultimatum, but as a reason to voice our imaginations and offer constructive criticism. The offseason is certainly a time to think critically on what a game needs to do to get better and how to get there, but let's save the final judgement for when the title actually comes out and everything can be weighed appropriately. At that time, if a game has bad design, underperforms, breaks promises, has crazy bugs, and whatever else, then let's by all means pillory it. Until then, however, let's get ready for the upcoming season.

Release List

Dangerous Golf (PS4, Xbox One, PC) June 3
The creators of the Burnout franchise are back with a game that ditches the sports' clubs and rules and goes after destruction instead. 

The Ticker


Here's your rundown of some of the recent happenings in the world of video game sports.


The Madden NFL 17 Connected Franchise Mode Wishlist

27 Ways Madden 17 Wants To Fix Money Plays, Make Ratings Matter & More

More Madden Details Direct From EA Tiburon's Blogs

The First Details on Pro Evolution Soccer 2017

NASCAR Heat Returns W/ Developer Monster Games

Forza 6 Adds NASCAR Expansion

Gran Turismo Sport Details & Gameplay Trailer

Assetto Corsa Delayed Again Into August

NBA 2K16 Adds Spectator Mode For Road To The Finals Tourney

NBA Live 17 Not Out Until March 2017

The NHL 17 Wishlist

Rocket League Adds Cross-Platform Play

Snow Adds Snowmobiles & Snowboards In Open Beta

www.GameInformer.com – The Feed

NHL 13 Review: A Great Skater Runs Into Offseason Trouble

Owners and general managers willingly circumvent salary cap rules and sign players to $ 100 million contracts, but they argue that the NHL is in dire straits despite generating record revenue for the past seven years. Now the league is moving toward its second lockout in less than a decade, which means EA’s NHL series may be the only place to see your team hoist the cup this year. Though NHL 13 is in no danger of losing a season, it has its own formidable issues with virtual upper management as well.

For the past few years the Be A GM mode has been undermined by sketchy AI logic that resulted in questionable trades, restricted free agents sitting out entire seasons, and teams stashing legit NHL players in the minor leagues. To address these issues, developer EA Canada spent a lot of the offseason trying to give these wayward AI-controlled teams smarter brains. While bone-headed decisions happen less frequently in NHL 13, they still occur enough to shatter the illusion that you’re competing against the likes of GM whizzes Ken Holland and Ray Shero. Teams let highly touted prospects like Jonathon Huberdeau pass through waivers midseason, trade for a player only to put him on waivers the next day, and favor skating career minor leaguers over giving prospects ice time in the AHL. Even the players suffer from brain damage. Some highly rated players on the back end of their careers demand ridiculous contracts, and when nobody matches their price they sit out entire seasons.

EA Canada rewrote the trading logic as well, but the different approach has the same broken results. Teams more accurately enter fire sale mode at the trade deadline when they are out of contention for the playoffs, but they typically only offer over-the-hill veterans or prospects years away from making an impact. AI-driven GMs also hold a stubborn view of how to shape their rosters. If your proposal doesn’t stick to the highlighted list of players they are comfortable trading, you have to offer an absurdly generous package to get a deal done. This concept makes sense when you consider the high price it would take to acquire a star player like Sidney Crosby, but it extends to situations where teams have no understanding of their own surpluses. In one instance, the Dallas Stars didn’t feel comfortable trading a goalie even though they had four netminders rated 80 or higher in its system. Teams also brazenly offer trades nobody in their right mind would make, like a second-round pick for your first-round pick. 

If you don’t want to contend with the broken GM logic, you can head online to compete with friends in GM Connected, a new online franchise mode that gives you most every feature you have in the offline Be A GM mode. You can coach a team, play traditional versus games, join Be A Pro-style online team games with five other human players on your squad, or build an AI to compete for you while you work on improving the roster. Though this concept is a great addition to the NHL franchise, the implementation is lacking. Because your league constantly interfaces with the servers, the menu navigation is painfully slow, taking upwards of 15 seconds to exit a basic menu. League commissioners don’t have tools for fixing dropped games or seeing how many games other players have left to complete before deciding to advance the calendar, either. If you want to play in a single-player league, I suggest skipping GM Connected altogether and sticking to the offline Be A GM mode because it can take over 10 minutes to sim CPU games and process transactions each play period. Compared to Madden, which advances instantaneously and has no menu lag, NHL performs like it just got done with a bag skate. 

 Like the NHL’s current collective bargaining woes, these franchise mode gaffes undermine the stellar action on the ice. Thanks to a revamped skating system, tweaks to the AI strategy, and smarter goalies, this is the best playing NHL game of this generation. It may seem unforgiving to newcomers, but if you play the game like a real NHL team – dumping and chasing, cycling the puck, and peppering the net with shots through traffic – your efforts are appropriately awarded. Being able to turn on the jets to blow past defenders gives the game a more realistic sense of speed, and EA Canada smartly made it tough to shoot at high speeds to prevent players from abusing the feature. Thanks to AI improvements, defenders forecheck with more effectiveness, have very active sticks, and are generally well positioned, all of which results in more turnovers in the neutral zone. For the first time in years, the five-hole is open for business as well, so you don’t always need to shoot that perfect corner shot or execute an otherworldly deke to beat a goalie. 

The major knocks I have about the gameplay this year are largely physics based. Players get knocked down from behind far too often, and the puck physics are wildly inconsistent to the point of being unbelievable. Sometimes the puck loses all momentum when clanging off a post, dropping directly downward. Other times it ricochets off goalie past like it’s being shot out of a cannon. Refs also call don’t call enough penalties, even when the slider is maxed out. 

As is the case in nearly every sports game, the slew of other modes jam-packed onto the disc only received minimal improvements. You can request trades in Be A Pro. Your Hockey Ultimate Team starter pack includes your favorite team’s logo, jerseys, and one token player. The EASHL features regional matchmaking and a performance-point multiplier that encourages true six-on-six games. Be A Legend adds a few big names like Doug Gilmour, but still foolishly places these all-timers in the modern NHL instead of pitting historical teams against one another. None of these minor tweaks makes or breaks the experience like the broader strokes painted by the gameplay and franchise mode changes. 

Like its namesake league, NHL 13’s stellar on-ice product is compromised by the questionable decisions of the men at the top. I’ve never had more fun competing between whistles, but once you skate off the ice and take a seat as the general manager, the poor AI driving the other teams breaks the fantasy.

www.GameInformer.com – The Feed