The Oculus Quest 2's limitations can't simulate every position or movement in a football game, but NFL Pro Era does the best with what the VR headset can do. It's an immersive sports game that requires strategy and timing to complete plays and gives you chances to hone your skills before the big game. There are some missed opportunities with multiplayer, but the experiences it offers are fun and engaging.
- Well-timed and responsive movement tracking
- Deep practice and skill training modes
- Detailed recreations of NFL stadiums and teams
- Fun and original multiplayer games
- There's no straight game options for multiplayer
- Still has some glitches and bugs in the graphics
- Play choices are limited except in clutch moments
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) estimates that only 7.3 percent of high school football players will compete on a college team, and only 1.6 percent of those players will make it to the National Football League (NFL). That means the chance of just becoming an NFL quarterback for more than one season is less than 1 percent.
Only a sliver of the world's population will know what it's like to strap on a helmet and stand behind hulking offensive linemen who are the only things standing between you and another line of muscled-up players whose main objective is to make you eat AstroTurf.
NFL Pro Era, the first game for the Meta Quest 2 to carry an official NFL license for all 32 professional football teams, does a great job of capturing the sights, sounds, and basic skills of a pro-QB simulator, even with the headset's limitations. However, there are some small areas where the team needs to take another run at it to get the game out of the red zone to earn its place among the best Quest 2 games.
NFL Pro Era: What is it?
A lot of chatter on social media refers to NFL Pro Era (opens in new tab) as "Madden for Oculus," and it's not entirely that accurate. However, it does a very good job of simulating what it's like to experience an NFL game through a quarterback's eyes and arms.
EA Sports' storied Madden franchise lets you control almost every aspect of an NFL franchise, from the plays that run on offense and defense to the cost of a bag of peanuts at the concession stand. NFL Pro Era isn't nearly as detailed if you're the kind of person who enjoys football enough that you're interested in running a team's entire budget.
StatusPro's NFL Pro Era is more of a general quarterback simulator where the game literally puts you in the helmet (or not, depending on your framing preferences) of a chosen NFL team based on its current roster and lets you run plays during season or exhibition games and practice drills and challenges.
NFL Pro Era also lets you practice plays by setting the position on the field and work on your arm with mini-games. These are designed to help you learn and hone skills like passing from the pocket while dodging oncoming projectiles or timing your "dime dropping" with moving wide receiver dummies.
NFL Pro Era: What I loved
NFL Pro Era comes from StatusPro, founded by former University of Maryland and Western Kentucky University quarterback Troy Jones and former New England Patriots wide receiver Andrew Hawkins. The studio first made a game scenario simulator for NFL football players and coaches called Pre Game Prep that's since transferred over to NFL Pro Era for Oculus and Sony PlayStation VR headsets.
NFL Pro Era's professional predecessor is worth mentioning because there's a noticeable veneer of polish on this QB simulator. The success of a pass is determined by the speed of your arm and the accuracy of your aim, whether you're handing off the ball to a running back for a short yardage play or going long to a wide receiver in the end zone. Letting professionals do the game testing is a great way to prep the game because there are details and mechanics that only they would notice, and it helps the game shine even brighter.
The accuracy of the pass is determined by when you realize the top trigger on the controller, and it's got some spot-on timing. Your hand may not physically feel like it's holding the pigskin, but the game's central throwing mechanic feels close to the real thing once you get it down.
Since the game carries an official NFL license, there's a high expectation for the scenery and sounds, and it delivers both. NFL Pro Era offers replicas of all 32 stadiums, and the sound of the crowd roars in your ears just the way it sounds if you were actually in the stadium for a home game.
The main season mode follows the schedules and rosters of every NFL team's current season, and you can play as your favorite team's QB or create one of your own. The preferences allow for left-hand and right-handed throwers and offer an assisted throwing mode if you're not feeling confident about your accuracy. However, it's way more satisfying and gets less boring if you can make the throw on your own.
There's also practice and two-minute drills mode to get you ready for the big game.
The practice mode lets you run from a wide playbook of running, passing and option plays that the offensive coach can deliver to you during a game. Fortunately, you don't have to memorize them come game day, thanks to your digital wrist playbook that also allows you to call audibles during more crucial plays.
The drills consist of four practice modes, including pocket passing that helps you dodge linebackers as you're passing from the pocket, dime dropping for timing throws by aiming for receivers through a series of rings, rollouts for quick passing straight after the hike, and run and shoot for longer targets. These modes help you prepare for season games and unlock more teams that you can use in these practice modes.
You're not just competing for a shot at the Super Bowl. You're also looking to fill up your trophy room with accomplishments that award trophies for completing game and season passing and scoring records. Season game wins also unlock special team balls you can use in drills and multiplayer modes. It's just so satisfying to hold a trophy you've earned in your hands instead of just seeing that you've earned one on a console or PC game.
NFL Pro Era also has a multiplayer mode that's mostly just mini-games and a sandbox in the form of an NFL stadium's playfield. The multiplayer games include a "throwing game," a "boss mode game," and a "dodgeball game."
The "throwing game" is a simple shooting gallery of stationary and moving targets that are worth points depending on which ones you hit and how long you can keep a streak going. "Dodgeball" is pretty much what it sounds like, with two teams of up to four players grabbing footballs and throwing them at players to get them off the field or trying to catch your opposing team's ball to eliminate them from the game.
The "boss mode" is the most creative and interesting of the three. It's basically a football-themed version of the Assault competition on TV's American Gladiators. One player stands in the end zone as a giant boss while the other players run around a series of barriers picking up photos and throwing them at the boss player to deplete their health. The boss can block passes with their hands and must throw a gigantic football to kill off the team of miniaturized players before their health runs empty. The action can get really frantic if you've got a full room of eight players.
NFL Pro Era: What I didn't
The real reason that "Madden for Oculus" isn't an apt description is because the Oculus Quest 2 is limited in terms of what one player can do with any football. What it can do in terms of controls and playability is done very well, but it at least makes you wish you could play as a receiver instead of just a quarterback.
NFL Pro Era doesn't have a multiplayer mode that lets you just compete in a regulation football match the way you can in Madden on PCs or consoles. The multiplayer games are fun, but they feel really short, and the end of each one just sends you back to the lobby instead of giving you the option to play another round of dodgeball or boss mode.
It's even more frustrating when you're in a lobby, and the players prefer to just play the kind of schoolyard football where linebackers have to count to "Five-Mississippi" before they can rush the quarterback and play only moves in one direction.
There are also some little style choices that are strange and need to be fixed. It's clear that a great deal of effort has gone into recreating every NFL stadium, from the shape and sights of its roof to the championship season banners hanging from the rafters. However, they've missed some major scenery issues and glitches that can freeze gameplay in multiplayer modes.
All of the stadiums have crowds packed with fans and a jumbotron screen that displays graphics for touchdowns and field goals. Since the Oculus headset doesn't have feet trackers yet, the game simulates kick-offs, punts, and field goals for you and tracks the ball's movements on the jumbotron. However, the jumbotron screen always shows rows of empty seats even though you can see they are clearly filled with fans, and it takes you out of an immersive experience. Either the developers forgot to put fans in these animations, or all NFL fans are vampires.
NFL Pro Era eliminates many of the hassles of playing games like Madden by picking plays for you, except for a few moments where you can call for an audible on your wrist playbook. The game is good about knowing when to call for a timeout and having receivers run out of bounds after catching the ball to stop the clock when the pressure is on to put points on the board. The game tries to use its best judgment but not being able to pick your own play feels like something that should've been included, at least as an option for players who want to feel more in control of their team's choices and actions.
NFL Pro Era: Should you buy it?
The Meta Quest 2 may not be able to simulate every aspect of being on the field for an NFL game. Still, in terms of gameplay, it takes full advantage of the headset's motion tracking system to deliver an intuitive and responsive football game.
NFL Pro Era lets you take control of or create a quarterback for every team in the NFC and AFC and lovingly recreate the look and feel of being in the leagues' stadiums on a loud and raucous gameday.
Its multiplayer modes could use some work, but they are fun with the right players and the amount of time needed to get used to the game's central passing and catching mechanics.
NFL Pro Era may not be a virtual version of Madden now, but it's still an impressive start for a game franchise that has some serious potential to become the next Madden.
NFL Pro Era
Strap on your helmet and get yourself psyched up as you take to the field as your favorite team's quarterback in the first, fully licensed NFL football game for the Oculus Quest 2.
Buy on: Oculus (opens in new tab)
Danny Gallagher is a freelance tech, game and comedy writer based out of Dallas, Tex. He's written features for places like CNET, Cracked, Maxim, Mandatory and The Onion AV Club. He's also written material for games produced by Jackbox Games and SnapFingerClick.
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