First off, if the concept of an NFL simulator game doesn’t appeal to you you can move along. This was made for a very specific audience that I happen to be a member of, and it doesn’t go out of its way (nor does it need to) to be anything other than what it is: An NFL simulator.
With that out of the way, what we’ve got here is the best balance in a pro football simulator between control and complexity I’ve found in a lot of searching. You’ve got scouting, a draft, trading, training, FAs, coaches, all the things you need for an NFL simulation. On top of that you are able to actually call the plays and watch them play out on a 2-D field. I play a lot of OOTP and never play games out, but in this game I actually enjoy calling the (offensive) plays and watching them play out. It’s just little circles moving around the field, but they move in a way that actually looks right, and I’ve watched enough football to be able to visualize what’s happening. You can also set depth charts by formation. Overall the team management in this game is leaps and bounds ahead of Madden, which really should be a wake up call to EA but I digress.
The game has some problems, some of which are just polish and some that are game changing. Polish wise there are a few things but probably the most telling is that after the last play of a game it immediately takes you back to the weekly scoreboard. If you’re down 2 and kicking a last second FG you won’t know if you made it or not until you choose to unhide the score for that week. For that and similar issues I dock it a point.
The other two points are for two major issues with playing out the games. The first is that on defense you can’t see the package the offense is bringing out to match them. You have to call your play and hope your 3-4 isn’t going out against a 5WR set, or your Dime isn’t going out against a 2TE run formation. That’s a major problem for me and it has prevented me from calling defensive plays. The second problem is clock management, which is such an important part of managing a football game that it is extremely frustrating not to have it. You can call time outs, but that’s it. You can’t send your offense into a hurry up or have them run the clock, and it’s a mystery each play how much time will run off the clock. That’s hard to deal with and I’ve had a couple close games get spoiled a little due to it.
All the major pieces are there; you can do all the major franchise running things I can think of. Some more exotic things like Fair Market offers aren’t in there.
The game is very customizable. You can download an NFL quick-start from the game’s forums or create your own league with many options for number of teams/games.
Play calling on offense is fun and the outcomes/’animations’ feel right to me.
The UI is modern and slick feeling. Not quite up to OOTP standards but way better than a lot of the sports sims I’ve tried.
The game isn’t overwhelmingly complicated. There’s a learning curve but it’s not that bad, again, especially compared to a lot of the sims I’ve tried.
The game seems to scale in complexity well. For things like training you can dump everybody into the preassigned training plan and do OK, or you can tailor training plans to individuals or groups and probably min/max it a little more. For games you can call every play or just sim them.
Lack of polish on some features.
Can’t see offensive packages when picking defensive plays.
Lack of clock management options.
If you want a football simulator this is your best option. It has flaws that you need to make peace with to have fun but if you can overlook them it is a lot of fun.