Football season is officially underway, which means lots of yelling at the TV and devouring chicken wings, if you’re anything like me. But what if you could step on the field and take control of the action instead? That’s the idea behind NFL Pro Era, a virtual reality game that makes you the quarterback in charge of securing the big game.
Available now for $29.99 on Meta Quest 2 and PlayStation VR, NFL Pro Era is the first officially licensed NFL game for VR headsets, letting you channel your inner Tom Brady in a series of challenges that put you in real-world stadiums. I had a chance to virtually lace up my cleats and step on the field myself ahead of release as well as talk to StatusPRO president and former NFL wide receiver Andrew Hawkins on crafting the ultimate pro football game for virtual reality. And after a few minutes of scoring touchdowns — and getting sacked a few times in the process — I’m definitely ready for more.
Bringing the NFL to VR
In NFL Pro Era, you’ll use your Meta Quest or PlayStation Move controllers to throw and catch a football throughout a series of different modes and experiences, just as if you were an actual player out on the field. Before I jumped into a high-stakes game scenario on a Meta Quest 2, I warmed up in the Multiplayer Sandbox, where I was able to casually play catch with another nearby player that I was connected to via online play.
Right away I was impressed by how intuitive it felt to throw and catch the virtual football — two actions that you more or less perform the same way you would in real life, but with some button pressing involved. My throws weren’t always accurate (which is perhaps true to my real-life football skills), but before long I was completing passes to another player and hitting a few targets. After the warm-up, it was time to pick my team — all 32 NFL squads are available — and step on the field as a quarterback for my beloved, downtrodden New York Jets.
As someone who’s been to Metlife Stadium multiple times, it was a real thrill to be virtually standing on the field rather than just sitting in the crowd. The game’s depiction of the massive outdoor arena looked true to life, and was aided by the realistic crowd noise pumped into my ears by the Meta Quest 2’s speakers. I was now in Pro Era’s two-minute drill mode, which challenges you to score as many touchdowns as possible while in your opponent’s red zone.
When I managed to throw a touchdown on my second pass, I was absolutely elated — not so much when I frequently overthrew the ball and got sacked after that. I liked how NFL Pro Era makes clever use of your VR system’s controllers, letting you simply look at your wrist in-game to call an audible and switch up your play or call a time-out to stop the clock.
Though I only got a brief time with the game, it offered that same unique rush I get from landing a big play in traditional pigskin video games like Madden NFL — except, of course, I’m using my entire body rather than sitting on a couch with a controller.
“I always say we want to make sure the experience is continuing to trend towards as authentic as possible and that the game is always fun,” says Hawkins, who spent six seasons as an NFL wide receiver with the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals. His partner, StatusPRO co-founder and CEO Troy Jones, is a former Division 1 quarterback. Together, their wealth of high-level experience helps players feel like they’re actually on the field.
“People were like, ‘What’s the coolest part about playing in the NFL?’ I would always say, ‘I remember my first time running out of the tunnel. I remember my last time running out of the tunnel. I remember running out of the tunnel with my playoff game,’” says Hawkins. “That’s something that we’re like, ‘Yo, we got to have this in this game. We got to let people feel what it’s like to run out of a tunnel into an NFL stadium.’”
What NFL Pro Era has to offer — and what’s next
NFL Pro Era offers a variety of quarterback-centric modes for different types of players, whether you have only a few minutes to toss a ball around or want to immerse yourself in a full NFL game. Casual fans can dip into minigames and the aforementioned two-minute drill to test their skills, while practice mode and multiplayer sandbox are there to let you warm up before a real game. Those craving a more authentic experience can hop into full exhibition matches, or even play through an entire NFL schedule in Season mode. And, according to Hawkins, this is just the beginning.
“I think what you’ll see in this version of the game is that we’ve put a lot of different experiences in there, and that’s by design because we want the community of people that are motivated to play it to help dictate which way that they want the game to go,” says Hawkins. “We want to continue to add more features, add more positions, add more things that people are like, ‘Man, it’d be great if I can feel what this is like.’ We just think just doing it in VR from first person is just … there’s such a blank canvas and that’s what excites us to build on it.”
If you’ve got a Meta Quest 2 or PlayStation VR, you can pick up NFL Pro Era right now for $29.99 on your headset’s virtual marketplace. As someone who loves using virtual reality to get moving, I’m looking forward to spending many active afternoons trying to bring my poor Jets to prominence — even if I go down swinging.