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Game Profile
INFO BOX
PLATFORM:
PlayStation 2
PUBLISHER:
Sega
DEVELOPER:
Visual Concepts
GENRE: Sports
PLAYERS:   1-16
RELEASE DATE:
September 03, 2003
ESRB RATING:
Everyone
IN THE SERIES
All-Pro Football 2K8

All-Pro Football 2K8

ESPN NFL 2K5

ESPN NFL 2K5

ESPN NFL Football

More in this Series
 Written by Tony Kennetz  on August 21, 2003

Hands-On Preview: I noticed Sega has taken a liking to the phrase ?If you can't beat ?em, join ?em.?


Dreamcast owners and video gaming sports fans all remember the release of NFL 2K for Sega's ill fated system at the beginning of the regular NFL season back in 1999. This game was one of the few huge draws for the system, heralded as the best football game in history by many at the time. The series spawned sequels in football and Visual Concepts moved into other sports with the likes of NBA 2Kx and World Series Baseball. Then Sega went third party, and things got all screwed up. No longer was VC's baby the king of the hill, it had lost its home and now had to fight with the likes of Madden. The sales never really recuperated, despite the continuing critical acclaim that left the series in the same league as the competition. After last year's lukewarm sales numbers (lukewarm might be giving them a bit to much credit actually...) Sega elected to change or tamper with just about everything in the series. Did it all come out well? Well, if this demo I played is an accurate representation of the final product, then I'm leaning a bit more towards no.

Graphically, ESPN can hang with anyone in the football genre. The players are easily looking better than the already released Madden 2004 on the PS2, and the animations are better than last years (although they still look somewhat robotic). The demo was really brief however, so chances to see all the extra graphical touches (i.e. menus, the Cribs, ect) are either very rare or non-existent all together.

The audio was also highly reserved, with absolutely no commentary and minimal background music. That's not to say that there wasn't any sound effects though, and those that are present are certainly worth of the series' history, although not the upgrade that can be seen in the graphics. All the basics are present, with your tackling noises, snap counts, whistles, and more. Ask anyone how important those are to a sports game and most will tell you, you have to have the done right to get the feel of the sport, and this one certainly does. The problem lies in the fact that, as aforementioned, there are no commentary tracks playing, and commentary is one of this series' strong points. Dan Stevens and Peter O'Keefe have been staples of the series and I have no reason to doubt that their return this year will be excellent based on previous experience, there's simply no way to make promises when I haven't heard them speak this year.

Here's where things start to get rather depressing for me, a long time Sega Sports disciple. It appears that because of how, for lack of better words, Madden has slain the NFL2K series since its release, Visual Concepts has elected to veer more into Madden's gameplay style than their own. Why is this a problem? The gameplay differences were the one reason that people (like me) were buying NFL2K games in the first place.

First off, 2K4 throws out the old analog stick playcalling system in favor of the more traditional playbook style format. Maybe that's not a big deal to the people who have argued that system needed to be changed in the first place, claiming it was convoluted and clumsy, but many of us found it more streamlined and convenient than anything else. If you thought that the transformation would end there, you were most certainly wrong.

Once you get onto the field, things become even more clear: Sega and Visual Concepts are waving the white flag in defeat. While the First Person Football mode isn't available, and the ?normal? game mode is still more arcade-like than Madden, its not hard to tell that the development team is trying to lead this series to align with EA's more sim-like approach. Players turn more slowly, throws have less speed, and the overall pace just seems to have been turned down a notch. The demo was on the short side, so things may open up more as you play through an entire game, but as of now, things have certainly changed.

Final Thoughts
As a fan of the Sega Sports label, I was sorely disappointed with this gaming outing. Madden had been gaining more and more support from me over the last few years and after playing the demo of this year's NFL2K game, I quickly decided that I was going to finally make the switch to EA for the time being. Why? Because if I want sim action, I'll go with the one that did it originally, and does it best. We'll see if the Cribs and First Person mode can make this ship more worth riding, but they'll have to be something special to do it. Hopefully next year Sega will realize that if you want to beat the best, you have to be willing to play your own game to do it.


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