The current NFL season might be halfway over, but it's never too late to take a look at the top two contenders for realistic football action on the iPhone: Gameloft's NFL 2010 and Electronic Arts' Madden NFL 10 (reviewed separately). Gameloft has done an admirable job of trying to steal some of Madden's thunder, but they'll need further polishing of their effort before they can be considered a worthy contender.
Let's start with the positives: Gameloft has the NFL and NFLPA (NFL Players Association) licenses, so you get all the real teams and their rosters. Nobody wants to choose their favorite team and find names like Al Smith and Ron Jones, as those who bought Gameloft's Derek Jeter Real Baseball discovered. You can also select between an exhibition contest, a season, or a playoff, all of which are expected options in sports games these days. Season mode isn't anywhere near as in-depth as it is on Madden, but it's serviceable.
Gameloft recently added player headshots, which is a nice touch
During a game, you have a nice assortment of plays available. You can browse them in a simplified form, where you choose the type of play you want to run or defend against, or in an advanced form, where you choose a basic formation and drill down from there. The latter method is well-known to most long-term Madden players, and it's the one I vastly preferred. I like being able to choose the shotgun formation and then go for a draw, just to throw the defense off balance, for example.
Unfortunately, on the defensive side you aren't given a clue what formation the offense has selected, something that Madden added several iterations ago. As a result, you might line up in punt return formation only to discover that the other team is going for it on fourth down. Your only option is to burn a time-out, since you can't audible, which isn't available on the other side of the ball either.
The kicking game is handled well
Admittedly, offense is more fun to play than defense anyway, and Gameloft did a decent job in that department. The virtual joystick you use to control your player does its job, although I think the iPhone and iPod touch need a physical gamepad add-on if they're really going to make inroads in the games industry.
When you're close to being tackled, the game slows down and offers you a choice of three moves: spin, try to fake out the defender, or put your head down and push forward. Personally, I'd prefer to have those buttons always present, plus an acceleration one, with the action never slowing down, since Gameloft's mechanic turns the decision a guessing game, rather than something skill-based. A similar method is used on defense, whether you're rushing the quarterback, trying to tackle a ball carrier, or defending a pass.
Make your decision
Speaking of passing, when you drop back to throw the ball, icons appear above the receivers; the color indicates how open the player is. To pass to a receiver, you must tap the icon above his head, which I found awkward: since the player is moving, you have a chance of missing your tap, and you have to obscure part of the screen while making your selection. I would have preferred to see those icons along the bottom of the screen. Unfortunately, when the pass is in the air, you can't do much other than hope the receiver catches it; there's no way to control him and adjust his route to the path of the ball.
The passing game
Gameloft has released a couple updates since it first published NFL 2010, so make sure your copy is current. They've improved it a bit - particularly the AI, which was a bit shaky sometimes - although they haven't instituted multi-player yet. Maybe the next version will have a better play-by-play announcer; the guy in this one is pretty forgettable.