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08-16-2002, 03:23 PM
Xengamers Review: NFL 2K3
By Brendan Sinclair

Publisher: Sega
Developer: Visual Concepts
Console: PlayStation 2


With a brand new ESPN license, an accessible franchise mode, better player and coach likenesses than ever before and some impressive commentary, NFL 2K3 continues to hone every aspect of the series one step at a time. There are some familiar flubs common to all the NFL 2K games (and most games in general), but they do little to drag down the overall package.


Score: A-

Gameplay: B+

Graphics: A

Sound: B+

Replay Value: B+


Like every other pro football game this year, NFL 2K3 puts us in a very tough spot. The crux of the problem is that the football games are going online this year for PS2 and Xbox, but we don't have a PS2 network adapter or the Xbox Live service with which to test these games' online features out. So keep in mind as you read this review that it doesn't take into account the online aspect of the game and is based solely on the features the game supports right out of the box.

It's tough to go wrong as a football fan this year. Every franchise is going online, the refinement of EA's Madden series is reaching an art, Konami gave up on its ill-conceived ESPN NFL Primetime series, and Sega swooped in to license the sports network for the latest installment of its own heralded series, NFL 2K3.

Despite the array of other changes made to the series (online play for the Xbox and PS2 chief among them), the ESPN presence makes the biggest difference. Dan Patrick narrates the game's opening cinema, and some other ESPN personalities offer commentary and analysis before, during and after games. On top of that, all the menu screens have the trademark ESPN look to them, and surprisingly something as small as that goes a long way toward sucking you into the game.

Other graphical tweaks are seen in the game's countless animations. It seems there's a unique animation for every situation, and they all look fantastic. Players bobble catches, lower their shoulders and fight their way through tackles in entirely new ways. Strict sim fans and players who aren't into every play being a highlight reel unto itself may not appreciate the number of hard hits and amazing grabs, but it sure does give the game a good bit of visual flair.

Things have improved on the audio end as well, in that the play-by-play is leaps and bounds above most other sports games. One problem is that while the announcers will make comments on the most minute details, they won't make them at the right time, or they'll be so specific as to actually get some facts wrong. When a pass is tipped at the line of scrimmage and falls helplessly to the ground, the announcers might chastise the receiver 20 yards downfield for not coming down with the ball. When a player commits a foul on his team's punt or kickoff, the announcers might get on his case for wiping out all positive gains of the play. Basically there are some signs here and there that the announcing isn't as sophisticated as it lets on. Even so, it keeps pace with the game and calls the action accurately most of the time and the occasional flubs are easily forgiven.

Gameplay is one place where the series didn't need much help. Passing in NFL 2K3 is an art, requiring the player to know when to scramble, when to throw the ball away, and when to set the QB's feet, say a prayer and throw a dart right into the receiver's chest. The biggest problem remaining here is that as with previous versions of the NFL 2K series, you can't count on your team to bring down interceptions. Sure, the AI has no problem picking your bombs out of the air with the greatest of ease, but teammate AI on defense is content to just stand where an errant pass is supposed to land and let it bounce off the player's head. This can be incredibly frustrating, especially when it happens in the middle of a seemingly unstoppable fourth quarter comeback drive.

The running game has changed significantly since the series started, and with NFL 2K3, it feels just about right. There are precious few (if any) money plays that make for easy yardage every time, and you can bet the defense knows when you're trying to open a gap to bust your halfback free and they won't let it happen without a fight. On the other hand, the running game has the potential to dominate a contest, as Ricky Williams (who must be giving the Visual Concepts staff bribes every year) is once again an unstoppable hoss who racks up more yards after first contact than any person not named Walter Payton has a right to. If you've got the right personnel, it's not too difficult to rely on the run and carry your team to victory.

As is the norm these days, NFL 2K3 is stocked with gameplay modes. There's of course the exhibition, season, tournament, franchise and quickstart modes, but there's also a new situation play mode which lets you put yourself in sticky situations just to see if you can get out of them. Is it first and goal for the opposition late in the fourth quarter down by a few points, or did they just get out to an early 21-0 lead by the end of the first quarter? This situation mode should give even accomplished veterans of NFL 2K3 new goals to set for themselves and new challenges to overcome.

This year the market will likely be flooded with quality football titles. If you liked past installations of the NFL 2K series, there's no reason for you to dislike NFL 2K3, and the tweaks that have been made might make you enjoy it that much more. It's not a completely new game built from the ground up or anything like that, but it's a worthy entry to the series, and a fine football game by any standards.

Disclosure: XenGamers received a copy of this title for review directly from the publisher.


Pros and Cons:

Graphics
+ ESPN license put to good use
+ Fantastic animation
+ Impressive coach, player and stadium likenesses
+/- Hits and catches tend to be a bit over-the-top

Sound
+ Familiar ESPN tunes add to the atmosphere
+ Animation sounds pretty complex at first
- But you'll soon see the corners cut in development

Gameplay
+ Fantastic, easy to get into action
+ Includes the standard array of modes and one or two more
- Not a huge improvement over NFL 2K1 or 2K2
? How will the online play perform?

Replay Value
+ Lots of heritage and all-star teams to play
+ Make your own players and teams
+ Franchise mode takes you from season-to-season, draft-to-draft
+/- How much play did you get out of 2K2?
? Quality of online play will factor in here as well