The Bottom Line: The Bills are still my favorite team.
The first things I noticed about Sega Sports NFL 2k3 were a couple of package details. First of all, if Sega Sports replaced original NFL 2k cover boy Randy Moss because of his habits off the field, why didnt they replace Allen Iverson in their NBA 2k series? Anyway, the new NFL 2k cover has the likeness of Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher splashed on it. Now I wont lie to you, that is a trivial detail, but it does provide a good setup for the other package detail I noticed: That Urlacher is featured in one of the scenes on the back of the package, in which he takes down the St. Louis Rams halfback Marshall Faulk. Faulk just happens to be the package man of 2003 for the John Madden Football series, the football offering served up every year by Sega Sports rival EA Sports. Coincedence? Or Segas subtle way of getting even for the famous empty box remark that a representative from EA made about Segas games? Oh well. I guess well never know. (sarcasm)
In light of the upcoming Super Bowl, I now ask you: Which game is better, Madden 2003 or NFL 2k3? Go ask another reviewer, because not having played Madden, I wouldnt know. The first and only time Ive played Madden was back in 1996 on the Genesis. I wasnt impressed; the game seemed more focused on getting the player up the field than providing a good sim. I remember struggling to move to either the left or right, which proved to be quite a hinderance when trying to set up my plays. Now Sega Sports, Ive always had a soft spot for their football sims. Ive been playing them, from NFL 㤃 and Prime Time 㤄 right up to the original NFL 2k on the Dreamcast. So naturally I opted for 2k3 over 2003. Of course, the fact that 2k3 was a lot cheaper played another big role in my decision. Oh, come on, admit it. Youve done it too.
So while I cant compare 2k3 with Madden, I at least have the knowledge and confidence to say that NFL 2k3 makes for an accurate football sim, not just on the gridiron but in the coachs office. Indeed, every time I begin to think that the programmers have done everything there is to do with football games (and sports games in general for that matter), they just keep on coming up with new ways to make us feel like were right in the directors chair. First they introduce trades in the 16-bit era. Sounds good. But they go a step further next year and introduce trade blocks. This, Im sure, was good for a few fans, although I didnt care for it that much. Another year, they introduce a full season, complete with all the statistics. And create-a-player. Free agent drafting, play creation. Then, just when you thought it couldnt possibly go any further, franchise, in which you not only go about your normal coaching duties (i.e: winning the championship), but running the team, managing the budget, negotiating contracts, scouting, exchanging playbooks and generally making coaching a seven-day-a-week, year-round job. Alright, Im impressed. So what will Sega Sports do for an encore after this? It seems that the entire sports genre rests not just on gameplay, but on these nice little features. Not that I mind, as long as I can still lob passes to Randy Moss.
That being said, I have no idea whats new for the new 2k3, besides the usual roster, graphic and difficulty updates, poster boy and move to new platforms. I havent played a 2k football game since the original 2k on the Dreamcast, or any 2k game at all since NBA 2k1. So while the usual video football crowd is divided down the middle, half saying Sega finally surpassed the EA giant and the other half screaming Sega sucks until their throats are dry, I can only go on what I saw back in 1999. So Im pretty impressed.
Aspiring football coaches will be delighted with the franchise mode interface. Instead of using some faceless menu sea, Sega decided to use a setting thats a bit more personal-the coaches desk. Although you still have to use a menu to work your way around, the screen zooms in on whatever document you need to use. If you select the calender, it zooms in on the calender. When you prepare to save the game, it turns toward a file cabinet on the right. If you need to go to the front office to negotiate contracts or offer trades, you see yourself moving through the door to the front office. Although you know its still nothing more than a basic computer menu interface all glamed up for show, it somehow succeeds in giving you the feeling that youre actually there.
The franchise mode itself offers something I truly love but never thought Id see. If you decide you want to build your ultimate football team, theres an option that tosses every player in the league into the free agent pool and allows you to draft them all round robin style. You get 53 picks, although, since you also get to watch every other team make their picks (and possibly squirm as you see a player you wanted wind up on a team thats not yours), you can choose to speed things up by having the computer make your selections for you once all the good players are gone. Then if you really want the guy, youll have to work out a trade for him, which can get very difficult sometimes-I had to give up a perfectly good wide reciever, a center I rather liked and another guy just to get Randy Moss playing for the Bills (although it was worth it to get him on the same team as Kurt Warner and Ricky Williams). I guarantee any football fan will love seeing where some of his favorite players wind up. Drew Bledsoe QBing for the Eagles? Right, whatever. Of course the downside to this is that when you want to make a trade, you have to scroll through the entirety of the NFL just to find out where the player you want is. You then get to drag your team through the season as well as the offseason, when you scout out rookies, participate in the NFL Combine and renegotiate player contracts to make sure they dont turn on you.
So the franchise is all well and good. What if you dont feel like going through all the trouble of coming to an agreeable contract term with Junior Seau? Then the full season mode is the entire NFL season for the year without all the hassle of managing, or even staying loyal to a single team. Run through the current NFL year, playing all the matches or just the most interesting ones. Dont worry, the statistics are all there.
One thing that I havent seen before is the practice mode. While this years AI is on a level that will cream rookies, the practice mode is next to useless. You get one mode that allows you to practice your running moves against a guy trying to block you. While this is theoretically a good idea, it would help if the guy on the field with you was actually trying to tackle you. Instead of trying to catch you, he just stands there like a department store dummy, only trying to get you when youre right on top of him. The second practice mode has you working on offensive plays. This is nice, but with no other players out on the field trying to shut down your plays, youll only be prepared for how the plays are supposed to work, not how they will work. Full scrimage is very close to the right idea, but it only allows you to practice defense, often against the same play over and over again. As it all goes, the best way to really practice is to play through an exhibition game.
Since NFL 2k3 came out around the start of the NFL season, you cant expect your favorite real life players to perform up to their expectations in this game. Indeed, a lot of NFL players havent been living up to their game ratings this season. The Bears and Patriots (as is my understanding, but living where I do makes me somewhat oblivious) have both been struggling all season. But in NFL 2k3, both teams are likely to give you fits even on rookie setting. And Travis Henrys numbers in real life have been ranking him right up there with Ricky Williams. So WHY does he suck? Ah well, cant have everything.
As for the football itself, this is mostly great stuff. The emphasis on passing has been toned down (from 1999, anyway), but sometimes it feels like the programmers were just desperate to find ways to pump up the challenge. For example, immediately getting tackled after catching a pass does NOT qualify as an incompletion. Yet in 2k3, its been known to happen, which can be a real burden on video football gamers like myself who live or die almost solely on the strength of their passing game. And I dont appreciate the kicking interface, either. The aiming arrow is always creeping off to the right, which can be very distracting while you try to keep your eye on the power gauge. And its not because of wind, because its ALWAYS to the right, and it happens in domes too.
Other than those, I dont belive Ive ever played a football game this deep before. I always loved the one-button-for-each-reciever interface because it makes the game that much more realistic. You look down the field, and whichever reciever is open, you throw it to him. Passes come off silky-smooth, even when youre just trying to get rid of the ball to avoid a sack. And, unlike most other football games Ive played, your QB is less accurate while moving. While running the ball, you can speed up, jump over fallen potential tacklers, spin and stiff arm. On defense, you can speed up, jump and crush people. If you dont think your current choice of potential crusher is big enough to bring down the ball carrier, you can actually power him up by holding down the X button.
I cant quite put my finger on it, but there is something about the controls that feels a little off. Although you never feel as though youre trying to drive a coach bus, the controls just dont feel as spot-on as they should. For some reason, I got the feeling that I was controlling my guys by remote control. Im not positive, but this could be because when you turn your players around, they actually turn round. No just automatically switching directions. All in all, it doesnt affect the gameplay, but still...
The graphics engine was revamped yet again. Gone are the lanky player moels of yore. Here is a more realistic look with dynamic player animation that never seems to repeat itself. You can see plays going on all over the field, which is usefull for the big shotgun passes, and replays are more numerous than ever, as are replay angles. Replays are done in split screen shots, overhead shots, close-ups, pivots and a million other angles, each of which is different than the last. Player close-ups (a 2k series trademark) are more detailed than ever, with the most detailed face probably belonging to Jerry Rice. Of course, there are just a couple of details that, being me, I just have to nitpick. The first is that the audience and sideline people still look like cardboard cutouts. The second-and this is a big one-is that there are no freakin cheerleaders! Come on Sega, for all the authenticity that went into NFL 2k3, you forgot one of the most essential details of pro football! Thats outrageous! Next time you guys pull a stunt like that, Im heading for the higher hills of Madden!
For all the detail in making the graphics so dynamic, Sega also forgot to fine-tune the announcers. Yes, the two announcers are there, and yes they sound excited and clear, but they seem to lack a player-specific commentary. You may hear certain phrases two or three times per game, although to be honest, I think (remember, I said I THINK, not Im SURE) I hear at least one new comment per game. The music- or what exists of it- could also use a bit of livening up. On the plus side, you can hear the players trash talk quite clearly, and the hits, probably the most prevelent sound in the game, are clearer, harder and more painful than ever. Overall, sound is good, but needs improvment.
The days to the big game draw ever nearer, so if you dont like the teams that are in or out of the playoffs (the Bills didnt make it, but at least they put up a fight), now is your time to bring them all the way. NFL 2k3 is the most accurate football sim Ive played yet, whether you want to be a coach or just a regular player. Just dont expect the pumped-up AI to lay down and play dead this year. And the Bills are still my favorite team.
Emerging bigger, stronger, and more determined than ever, Sega Sports NFL 2K3 hits the 2002 season destined for greatness. ESPN Broadcast Presentation -- Replays, scores, music, and more are displayed in the famous ESPN style. All New Franchise Mode -- Track comprehensive player stats and make shrewd trades as you build your franchise, while developing your current team and performing on the field each week. An intuitive visual presentation makes being a General Manager easier than ever before. Effective Audible System -- Call plays just before the snap to catch your opponent off guard. NFL 2K3 eliminates the complexity, making it simple to call a blitz or take advantage of a defensive mismatch. Improved Play Calling -- Computer opponents use more smarts when calling plays, including tough defensive stands when you are attacking in the red zone. New Import Mode -- You can draft senior college players from NCAA College Football 2K3 and have them play in NFL 2K3!