Like the Saints' Bounty System, NFL Pro 2013 is Also a Pay-for-Performance Scandal

Unfortunately, this is not one of those App of the Day writeups where the selection is meritorious and the title is an honor. I'm here to dispense consumer advice about NFL Pro 2013, which provides a lot of enticement given the fact it's free and it has NFL licensing. My advice is to walk around NFL Pro 2013 like it was a swamp.

Savvy gamers know "free to play" means the publisher is trying to crowbar money out of you in other ways, and boy does Gameloft go at it, hard, in every aspect of the game. Like right down to the playbook.

It's bad enough that the gameplay is uninteresting, with wild difficulty spikes, and altogether weighed down by the over-inclusion of console game features, each requiring a virtual stick or button. Right now, my defense is stuck in zone coverage because I can't buy a blitz. Well, I can buy one, I just refuse to pay for such a thing.

You read that correctly. Yes, as a freemium game, you earn experience points, which translate to a virtual currency, but there appear to be three different economic systems involved in this game, and every last detail is for sale. I'm playing two-minute quarters. Want five-minute quarters? That's 1,000 experience points, which I guess is about $5 in real money.

Want to play a game on your schedule? Completing one will exhaust your "energy points," which of course can be replenished for actual moolah. Learning plays takes up training points. Skill points, of course, are how you improve your players. (And this game does not have an NFL Players Association group license, so they're all ringers—and evidently based on last year's league in week one, as the Colts are rated 95 on offense.)

You can grind it out and, yes, play NFL football for free on your iPhone or iPad (I strongly recommend iPad, given the information overload of the virtual controls, a hallmark of Gameloft games.) But if you're serious about this, at some point they're betting you'll give in and splurge for 400 points at $1.99 just so you can enable the auto-playbook feature for a full game and get some variety in the offense.

I played this on an iPhone 4, acknowledging that this is much more suited to an iPad. Still, the game is very laggy, struggling to manage the overload of features and the pointless attempt to mimic console football on a device with no joysticks. The engine itself doesn't appear to be much upgraded from the NFL 2010 game I played three years ago, except for the needless first-person passing (complete with a facemask surrounding the screen) that reduces your vision of the field and disorients you as the game switches views. They added accelerometer-enabled jukes and quarterback scrambles because, hey, at this point, why the fuck not?

Everything is geared toward big plays, and defense is an utter chore. Most attempts to play it actively will have you overrunning the play thanks to the lag and the virtual stick. The kicking game, even, is hard to grasp, and the slightest deviation in your swipe through the kick meter will send your extra point attempt off target. As nearly every drive I was involved in ended in a touchdown, on easy mode, this is a big deal.

There is no aspect of NFL Pro 2013 that is recommendable, which is a shame, as it doesn't appear that EA Sports will publish a Madden version for the iOS this year. Complain all you want about that, at least Madden gives you the whole game once you buy it.

(Clarification: EA Sports will publish Madden NFL Social, though its feature set sounds different from last year's Madden NFL 12 on iOS, which was more of a traditional console-type game.)

If you want to have NFL fun on a mobile device, you are better off with NaturalMotion's NFL Rivals, which also is available for Android devices. It's a minigame and doesn't have NFLPA licensing, either, but at least it doesn't pretend that mindlessly shoveling complicated features into an iPhone game, and then selling all of it back to you, is playable, much less enjoyable.

NFL Pro 2013 [iTunes, coming soon for Android. "Free"]