Dreamcast owners were no doubt excited when SEGA decided to port over their beloved football game to the PS2 and with good cause, NFL2K
redefined what a football should be. Before Madden
hit it big on the PS2, there was only one true football game in town and it resided on the SEGA Dreamcast. PS2 owners weren’t allowed to experience the excellence, however, as last year’s version was well below par, especially in comparison to its main competition. Showing their commitment to their fans, SEGA Sports has decided to work out the kinks from last year’s version and in the end, they have an excellent football title that belongs n any gridiron fan’s collection.
This year’s game features a tie-in with ESPN and its impact is noticeable right from the start. The game begins with a small portion of the video package that was shown at this year’s E3, you’ll see Dan Patrick sitting at the Sportscenter desk, reporting on the recent deal inked between SEGA and ESPN. The entire game is plastered with the ESPN logo as opposed to the SEGA Sports logo and for the most part, it fits in quite nicely. All of the music and color schemes have been changed to correspond to the new licensing and chances are, if you watch ESPN you’ll instantly recognize this as a licensed property.
It’s inevitable, you can’t mention NFL2K
without mentioning Madden
somewhere in the conversation. The two have been competing for football supremacy in the recent years and though 2K3
still lingers behind, it’s doing an admirable job of catching up. It’s not only the presentation that has received an upgrade, but the whole entire package. The graphics are much crisper, the animations are much more fluid and the gameplay is painstakingly realistic.
After the ESPN tie-in, you’ll probably notice the visual facelift that the title has received. SEGA’s artists are some of the best in the biz and it’s time they’ve garnered some recognition. NFL2K3
features, without a doubt, the best player faces to ever appear in a sports game. They are so heavily detailed and realistic that you’ll swear you’re watching the game on TV, especially during the close-ups. The faces in Madden 2003
don’t even come close to touching those of 2K3
’s. The animation in NFL2k3
is also unparalleled, there are so many different animations that you’ll probably see at least a couple of new ones every game. I was still seeing new animations during the 12th game of my season, talk about variety.
There are dozens of little touches that will really make you feel like you’re at the game. If you happen to enjoy watching the replays, you’ll notice tons of small nuances that really lend credence to the entire atmosphere. You’ll see coaches cheering, players jumping up on the sidelines out of excitement and cheerleaders dancing with enthusiasm. Even those annoying guys in the yellow “Event Staff” shirts (you know, the guys who’s only purpose is to make sure you’re not having any fun) are present on the sidelines, as are the cameramen and the cheerleaders. Sadly though, the cheerleaders aren’t featured more prominently in the game.
Playcalling still utilizes the “radial dial” system in that you actually have to move a cursor over the play you wish to call, highlighting a play results in the route being shown on the center of the screen. I like this system and all but it really becomes a hassle during the multiplayer endeavors, mainly because you can see your opponents plays right on your screen. It simply makes it far too easy for your opponents to see what you’re doing on your next drive, all you have to do is look at the play and call an audible in order to adjust. At one point it became so bad that my friends and I agreed that the D would pick the play first and then turn around so that the Offense can pick their plays. I realize that the system worked on the Dreamcast because the VMU allowed you to call your plays in secrecy, but the PS2 has no such device to allow for concealment. As a result, single system multi-play is pretty pointless and inane.
It’s a shame too because multiplayer in this game is just awesome, and that includes the online aspects. Without a doubt, the online play of NFL2K3
surpasses its competitors, and that includes Madden
. This is realism here, none of those 400 yard passing games, just pure unfiltered realism. The best part is that the people who play online tend to be more professional and adult than those who play Madden
. This means no going for it on 4th and 15 in the first quarter. It seems like this game appeals to a more niche audience of hardcore football fans that like to play the game by the rules and it’s evident by the game’s online community.
Last year’s game had too much of an arcade-like feel to it (read: players who can turn on a dime) and it really turned off a lot of players, including myself. Though a lot of the unrealistic characteristics have been worked out, some of the more nagging ones still remain. Pressing the tackle button still causes the defender to magically fly at the ball carrier with amazing speed and worst of all, he’s able to fly for five or more yards. It doesn’t matter which way you’re facing either, it’s almost like the ballcarrier is a magnet for defenders, just press the tackle button and you’ll be hurdled towards the ball. Other than this minor miscue, I’d say that the rest of the game is pretty damn good.
As far as football games go, the AI is pretty adept at stopping your team. They’ll pick up on subtle strategies so you’ll be forced to mix it up from time to time. This means that you can’t run on first down too often because the AI will eventually pick up on it and stop you for a large loss. They did
have a hard time picking up on the longball though, I was able to burn them for a large gain with the hail mary plays on nearly every occasion. The AI playcalling was also a little suspect at times, on 3rd and 15 I encountered a few running plays that brought them far short of the first down markers. I only played the game on the default ‘Pro’ setting though so I doubt this will occur on the more difficult levels.
The commentary in SEGA’s premier titles have always been above par but this year’s game breaks the tradition. I found the commentary to be old, repetitive, bland and just plain annoying. The play-by-play’s voice is just grating on my nerves, definitely not the type of voice that I like to associate with my hardnosed football. He sounds like a guy who just swallowed a balloon full of helium and has been dared to perform his best Harry Carey impersonation. In other words, it’s annoying and more often that not, it’s inaccurate. You’ll hear lines like: “It’s hard enough to catch in double coverage, but it’s even harder in the end zone where there’s no room to maneuver” as I catch the ball on the 20 and run the ball into the end zone… huh? The color commentary is equally as un-inspired, featuring perhaps the most repetitive lines ever to be uttered in a sports game. Throw an interception on the previous drive? You can expect to hear “They threw an interception on the last drive, let’s see if they uhh worked the kinks out this time around” every single time. No deviation, no variation, absolutely nothing to mix up the commentary at all. Of course the commentary is leaps and bounds above that of Madden’s
but then again, who’s isn’t?
It’s a shame too because the rest of the aural aspects are well above par. Players will trash talk to each other on the field and most times it’s relative to the teams playing on the field. For instance, you’ll hear a linebacker utter “Give it up! You ain’t Joe Montana” as he sacks Jeff Garcia of the San Francisco 49ers. There are dozens of team specific lines, most of which will definitely please hardcore fans. Of course the rest of the game’s audio is great as well though I must mention an annoyance that really hampered my experience. The volume of the game’s opening video sequences are far louder than those of the rest of the game, this means you’ll probably find yourself getting up off the sofa to turn the volume down, sit back down, then realize that you have to get up and turn it back up again. I must also mention that this problem was also present in SEGA Sports’ World Series Baseball
for the Xbox earlier this year, let’s hope this problem doesn’t exist in SEGA’s future sports titles.
There are also a few new additions that really make this game stand out from the competition. At the end of each week you’ll get a weekly wrapup that shows you scores from each of the games that are played, including the players of the week and the highlight of the week. I found this excellent as it really made me care about the other happenings around the league, not just matters of my own. The replays are done quite well, featuring commentary and minor telestrator work to accompany the on-field action.
It may seem like I’m nitpicking and to be honest, I am. There’s so much to like here that I’m having a hard time pinpointing exactly why anyone would ever choose to pass this title up. NFL2K is a great series that is finally becoming noticed thanks to the addition of the ESPN brand and license. With just a little more fine tuning this game could very well rule the football landscape next summer. Though Madden is still king of all football games, don’t overlook 2K3 if you’re in the market for a great football game.
A worthy competitor to Madden 2003, SEGA shows that they've still got a few more tricks up their sleeves.