With just a few more days to go before Super Bowl XLVII commences, football fervor is at a fever pitch. The big game isn’t until February 3, though, so pigskin diehards will have to settle for pre-game hype and highlights. That, or play some digital football to get themselves in the right mood by the time SuperBaugh Sunday starts.
There are lots of great football video games, of course, but in an effort to narrow things down, I thought I’d do a countdown of the best ones that are playable on the PC. I’ll also be including games that can be played via emulators, otherwise there would be nothing on this list but Madden NFLs; and the PC versions of those didn’t even go beyond Madden NFL 08.
It should also be noted that unless you’re reading this five years from now, chances are a PS3 or Xbox 360 emulator hasn’t been developed yet (and probably never will be). This means that this list is strictly last-gen and below; which is a good thing, if you think about it, since users whose computers aren’t equipped with powerful desktop or laptop parts can still join in on the fun.
Anyway, without further ado, here are the five greatest football games playable on a PC:
2. 5. Joe Montana II: Sports Talk Football (Genesis - 1991)
Part of the only series of video games endorsed by Joe Cool himself, Sega Sports’s Joe Montana II: Sports Talk Football is the first sports video game to have a running commentary (the first sports game to have a commentator was 1983’s Intellivision World Series Baseball, whose announcer simply spouted a few phrases as opposed to a play-by-play commentary). It’s something that’s taken for granted now, but was quite the revolutionary feature back in the day.
And lest you think otherwise, the game’s graphics and gameplay were topnotch as well; no mean feat considering the limited capacity of cartridges then, as well as the less powerful hardware of the Genesis compared to its rival.
Being a Genesis game, you can run this on your PC using the emulator Gens.
3. 4. NFL Blitz (PlayStation, Nintendo 64, Windows - 1998)
7-on-7, hard-hitting, arcade-style action. What says “hardcore excitement” better than that? Yes, it may seem as just “NBA Jam-style football” to the uninitiated, but anyone who has ever held a controller playing this game knows just how addictive this type of gameplay can get.
Everyone has their favorite Blitz, but for many, the first one will always hold a special place in their hearts.
An arcade original, the game also came out for Windows back in ’98, but most PC games of that era can barely be installed in modern machines, much less run. It’s far easier to use emulators instead; the ePSXe PlayStation emulator in particular, with Nintendo 64’s Project64 coming in a close second.
4. 3. Tecmo Super Bowl (NES - 1991)
You can’t make a “best football video games” list and not mention Tecmo Super Bowl. Taking off from its prequel Tecmo Bowl, Super Bowl expanded to include more playbooks, more comprehensive stats tracking, and better AI: All the ingredients it needed to grant it an audience at a time when sports video games weren’t as popular as they are now. It also has revamped graphics to boot, but that’s merely icing on the cake.
Most significantly, however, this was the first video game able to get licensing privileges from the NFL, including all (then current) 28 NFL teams, as well as real players with each one’s real-life attributes. Simply put, without this game, we’d still be stuck playing the “Baltimore Birdies” against the “San Francisco Golden Rushers.”
This game is a NES exclusive, so running it on Nestopia should do the trick.
5. 2. Madden NFL 2005 (PlayStation, PS2, Xbox, GameCube, Windows - 2004)
2004 was a great year for football couch jockeys, and Madden NFL 2005 is half the reason why.
The previous year’s entry, Madden NFL 2004, further evolved the “Franchise Mode” (a feature introduced by the even earlier Madden NFL 99) to cater to modern gamer sensibilities. In a nutshell, Franchise Mode essentially let a player play through multiple football seasons, allowing him to really build a franchise, so to speak. What Madden 2004 did was get to the core of franchise management and run from there; hence, “Owner Mode,” which allowed you to really micromanage including setting budgets for training facilities, advertising, and even food served on game days. Stats are also more detailed than ever, letting stat-tracking geeks really get their freak on.
In addition to Owner Mode, Madden 2005 upped the ante by adding two more functions to achieve total player control: The now-standard “hit stick” and defensive hot routes. Seemingly simple, yes; but the way they expanded gameplay possibilities gave the game a more organic, realistic feel.
Say what you will about the Madden series, but its shoehorning of the NFL license and bouts of competition-less development stagnation aside, it really is a storied franchise, and its track record shows as much.
You can play Madden 2005 on the PS2 emulator PCSX2, the GameCube emulator Dolphin, and the aforementioned ePSXe; but you really don’t have a reason to since the PC version still runs perfectly fine on most current Windows setups. And no, the Xbox still hasn’t had a capable emulator the last time I checked.
6. 1. ESPN NFL 2K5 (PS2, Xbox - 2004)
What could top Madden, you ask? How about the greatest game to come out from its greatest franchise rival?
Before EA Sports (makers of the Madden games) could hog the NFL licensing rights all to itself, 2K Sports was still able to release its last gridiron simulator with the NFL (and a certain sports-centered network) branding, ESPN NFL 2K5. 2K Sports didn’t know then that this game would be their last NFL-licensed one, so it’s a good thing that the company gave it everything it’s got; enough to propel the game into the top spot of most (if not all) “best football video game” lists.
It didn’t have Madden 2005’s Owner Mode, but its own Franchise Mode was robust enough, complemented by additional features like weekly training and preparations for your controlled team, the ability to create additional teams (complete with custom logos), fuller stat tracking, a VIP system, a dynamic running system, more intelligent AI, and (*gasp*) first-person football!
Also, it’s amazing what a little ESPN-style spit shine can do to overall experience immersion. All told, this game just can’t be beat.