Do you spend hours sifting through the most esoteric of stats from the last week’s round of pro football games? Do you then take all of those stats into consideration when tweaking your fantasy football team for the coming week? Then, brother, do I have a game for you. 400 Software Studios wants you and boy do they ever know their target audience.
If you liked the trendy owner/GM modes of the latest Madden or ESPN games but were annoyed at having to play all of those football games in real-time, then Total Pro Football 2004 is your dream come true. Do you spend Monday mornings griping to your co-workers about the idiotic personnel and coaching decisions made by the General Manager and Head Coach of your local football team? Well, step up to the line of scrimmage and show them how it's done. Become your own Bill Parcells, or if you stink, become your own Denny Green.
Lacking a license agreement with the NFLPA, TPF2004 does not feature any familiar names, so you'll be dealing with a purely fictional league that is very customizable. With the ability to edit the city and nicknames of any team in your league, the possibilities for being crude, rude and politically incorrect are bountiful.
In a smart move, the folks at 400 Software Studios took steps to make TPF2004 accessible to many levels of sim gamers. You could spend anywhere from endless hours to only 1-2 hours playing through an entire season. The difference lies in the details. If you really like to get your hands dirty, delve into the menus of player stats and take the time to assess the finer details. You’ll be able to evaluate the specific talents, mental capacity and stats of hundreds of players. However, if you don't want to scour endless menus looking for a free agent offensive tackle who won't cripple your salary cap, let the AI handle the off-season signing period.
Additionally, if you live for the 96 straight hours of Mel Kiper draft coverage on ESPN every year, you'll marvel at the long list of college prospects that you can scout and scrutinize prior to draft day. Read your draft notes from your scouts and then go to work agonizing over every pick in the real-time draft. Again, all of this can be assigned to the AI if it doesn't appeal to you.
TPF2004 is best enjoyed by serious, crunch-the-numbers type football fans. You can easily eat up an entire week of free time messing about with all that is available to you: edit strategies, tweak an insanely substantial playbook, set budgets, hire/fire coaches, and make player personnel decisions on a daily basis. All GM and head coach functions are included for your enjoyment. Also, if you don't like your current owner, say he's being a little frugal; you will receive other job offers that allow you to jump to another franchise and pick up the reigns there.
Best of all, TPF2004 looks like just another Windows application with some colorful menus and virtually no sound effects, so you could probably fire it up at work and convince anybody that looks closely that you’re working on a PowerPoint presentation.
You can most likely infer from that last paragraph that this is not the flashiest of titles. It’s a hardcore simulation. TPF2004 includes the ability to 'play’ individual games, but this involves watching a text description of every play while yardage markers jump around on a small field in the corner. There is an option to call individual plays for your team during the game, but even for a diehard football fan, this becomes a bit dull after a while, and you’ll probably resort to simulating all the games so that you can move on to more franchise building.
I noticed a couple of potential glitches here and there. During the draft, some of the additional draft picks for which I had traded an aging, all-star linebacker disappeared. I did not trade them, and I did not lose the picks due to the signing of a restricted free agent. The picks were in the lower rounds, so I didn’t fret too much, but it was a little worrisome.
The interface leaves a little to be desired. There’s rather too much clicking required in spots, and there doesn’t seem to be a standard set of menu commands, nor is there as much cross-referencing between related menus as I usually like to see. Though noticeable, these issues are small. They’re more easily dismissed since time progresses at your own pace, and you’re not placed under any time constraints.
A word of advice, don’t pre-simulate too many seasons unless you have time to leave your system up and walk away for a couple of hours. There were a few sticky spots where I encountered long loading times. Again, I didn’t find this to be a huge problem since TPF2004 is a slow, thoughtful experience by its very nature.
Multiplayer games are available via the internet, but unless you get a good number of people involved in the long term project of competing in a league, you probably will not get as much satisfaction out multiplayer as you will from the single player experience.
In a world of simulation games gone wild, Total Pro Football 2004 delivers a nice product based on a deep and detail-saturated sport. There’s nothing too glitzy here, so don’t go nuts just because you see football in the title. Unless you really, really dig everything about football besides playing the actual games, TPF2004 is not for you. If you’re a fantasy football lunatic, you should definitely check this title out. It’s entertaining and engrossing for those of us who like the world behind the gladiatorial garments and rampaging machismo.