A more appropriate title for this game would have been, NFL2Krazy. After running your first play from scrimmage, youíll be aware that a new era in football games has indeed arrived. For most of us it couldnít have come at a better time.
After the release of EAís original Maddenís for the Genesis and the 3DO, video grid-iron has steadily increased in its quality. EA was solely responsible for this growth, improving each and every year on their Maddenís franchise. This is the franchise that put EA where it is today --amongst the leaders in third party software support. I recall the feeling I had the very first time I played Maddenís in 1990. For its time, Maddenís was so completely revolutionary that the first few times I played it, it brought a smile across my face which I couldnít conceal. I guess the best way to describe this feeling is, WOW!
Now get ready to have that same exact feeling when you play NFL2K. To say that NFL2K is better than any other football game of the past is an understatement. It transcends the genre in almost equal proportion as did Maddenís when it was released for the Genesis in 1990. In almost every respect as far as gameplay is concerned, Sega has taken what it now knows from EAís drawing boards. Those of us who were hard-core Madden fans on the PSX will have a much easier transition in this game and its mechanics as opposed to those who opted to go for the more arcade style gridiron of Gameday.
A great example of this is in the running game and defending passes. Upon the release of Maddenís 98í review after review; it stated that running the ball was too difficult, breaking long runs was nearly impossible, and much of the same as what Iím seeing now in the early reviews of NFL2K by major magazines. Maddenís fans will agree with me that after playing and practicing for a substantial period of time, the running game becomes easier and easier to get a feel for. After 20 or 30 games (small compared to the shelf life of these titles being a full year), you should be able to break big runs with the same consistency as that of a running back in the NFL. Shouldnít this be the way sports simís work? Consequently, expect running the ball in NFL2K to be on the same level of difficulty as that of the former Maddenís titles. If you donít practice( and I mean PRACTICE--not trying once, twice, or even 50 times and give up), your running game will simply never come together. This will leave you to rely on your passing attack, which in NFL2K is flawless in terms of offense and defense.
When defending against the pass it is absolutely crucial to manually control your defender and make some sort of stab at the ball. Picking off errant passes will become second nature to a skilled player who learns to face the ball and time his jump properly. On offense, the idea is the same. The addition of maximum passing allows you to lead your receiver to a degree comparable to that of your analog stick upon releasing the ball. Playing on any level above rookie will require you to make your own catches if you want to connect via the air with any level of consistency. ADD to that maximum passing, and now youíre left with little choice other than to manually control your receiver.
All of the tackles, fumbles, blocks, and picks are pre-rendered; thus, giving this game a true Maddenís feel. When Maddenís went from 98 to 99, they went to pre-rendered motions in the gameplay. This caused Madden fans to go through an adjustment period before acquiring a true feel for the gameplay. If you have went through that adjustment, then the jump to NFL2K should take little or none.
Please donít take what Iím saying to mean that the gameplay is an exact replica of Maddenís. It is different in some respects; however, in every way that it differs itís better. Expect to use ANY of the moves that you were afforded in Maddenís 99í(with the exception of the juke move), and then expect to see more from NFL2K. An example: IF youíre Kordell Stewart and your scrambling out of the pocket, you are no longer without the use of your running moves (spin, hurdle, dive). In previous titles, hitting any of the required buttons to do so would cause your QB to pass the ball. However, in NFL2K a simple squeeze of your right middle finger (the R button) will put your QB into scramble mode. This will allow you to access your full complement of running moves. Once more, if you decide you do want to pass after all, simply let go of the R button to regain normal control options. Aside from this, you are able to now charge each individual player on the field. A charged player is faster, and upon your using a move (spinning, jumping, diving) you will execute beyond his normal ability. Basically, this is a turbo feature which is done in good taste maintaining the simulation feel of the game. This requires some time to become familiar with. As far as I know every sports game which transcended its genre in the manner that NFL2K has, has taken some time to be comfortable with as well. Another huge improvement over past titles is the VMU. The visual memory unit allows you to call plays from your controller! No longer can anyone spy on your play selection. At first, I found it difficult to memorize plays; however, a simple change of the options allows you to call plays by type. At first glimpse I figured this option would be geared toward less experienced gamers. Iím happy to say I was wrong. Calling plays by type makes it easier than ever to select an ideal play for your situation. Now rather than calling a proform set (then praying the play you want will be inside the set), you can select inside run. Following your selection, you will be bombarded with easy to recognize plays. All of these have the same purpose in mind.....to smash it down the mouth of the defensive line.
One particular aspect Iíve noticed about this game is it practically forces you to use the analog stick. Call it good or bad, the fact is youíll have to be comfortable with it--it is the wave of the future. Upon trying to use the digital pad, I watched my ball carrier lob the ball into the air for a fumble! Checking the control options, I saw that this was in fact the lateral button! Uugghh. I quickly switched to digital control; and running my first defensive play when trying to bring a linebacker AWAY from the line of scrimmage, my player ran in a circle! I soon realized that any immediate (and all digital commands are immediate) change in direction caused the player to circle around. In the process going offsides! Then I knew that analog was the only way to go for this game. Now that I am used to it, I canít say its that big of a deal. There certainly would be no harm in making the D-pad at least useable for directional control. With this being said, if you want to get the most out of the game, analog is your best bet anyhow. It allows you to sneak around in lateral and backward motions without changing the direction that you are facing. This is optimal for picking off passes over the middle with your linebacking corps. In addition, you now have a lateral button, and a new switch man button on defense(now the D-pad allows you to switch defenders upon pressing the direction you want to switch to). It all stacks up in analogís favor. Not to mention the fact that playing with a Sega-made, Dreamcast controller makes it a little bit difficult to access the digital pad. The transition to an analog pad for use of sports games is now a necessity. I might add, itís for the better.
Those of you who arenít content with the speed of the game, have no fear. This game is playable at three speeds. The power of the Dreamcast enables it to push these incredible graphics with ease, so you wonít find the gameplay slow by any means. However, if you do find it slow, crank it up a notch!
The pre-rendered graphics of this game leave very little to be desired. Everything you can imagine in this game has been motion captured with more than a sufficient amount of variety. This means you will see a seemingly endless variety of tackle. One of my favorites has the defender grabbing hold of the ball carrier by the feet and legs, and even jumping on his back to go for a little piggy back ride. Accessing your running commands will allow you to break these tackles as well as blowing over your defender fully via a turbo boost and a shoulder charge. This grabbing of your offensive player shines best when its your quarterback who is in the grips. Youíll find that you can still release the ball while in the grips (keep in mind your throw will be less accurate and you will risk a fumble as your arm extends backwards to pass, especially if creamed by another defensive player while youíre in the grips of a linebacker)! Again, control over these situations will require hours of practice, but in this case the practice is made very enjoyable due to the incredible graphic display you are witness to very time you touch the ball. Accessing the instant replay option just once, will immediately clue you in on what kind of detail is put into this game. Once every so often, you are treated to a replay automatically; and in the manner in which it does so, has to be seen to be believed. Once in replay (or after making a play when your players walk back to their huddle), you will notice that not only are players different sizes and colors, but they clearly bear their names on their jerseys and the insignia on their helmet. An even closer look will make it apparent that the facial appearance of all the players look different! You can see it all with perfect clarity--the eyes, eye paint, nose, breathe-right strip, mouth, mouthpiece, you name it! Youíll get a full feel for the variety in a playerís look when you access the create player option. In the kicking game, expect to see your kicker take two full steps back, then two over, exactly like you would see in a live game. When viewing a pass from close range you can even see the words and laces on the ball! The linebackers will smoothly approach the line, and jump for batted balls. The defensive linemen shrug off blocks to make tackles--again, with complete graphical precision. Viewing the player animation of NFL2K, youíll see that 60 fps pays off in a big way.
The environment in NFL2K is astonishing. Playing in any weather condition youíd see in the NFL such as mud, fog, rain, and snow. I love the ability to set the amount or chance of precipitation. Youíll be able to control whether youíll get a slight on and off drizzle to an all out rainstorm. Setting the precipitation bar, will determine the amount of precipitation. The temperature will determine the type. The field will show signs of gradual wear and tear throughout the game, and these conditions are implemented into the gameplay.
The stadiums are all done in exact detail, right down to the seating chart! The only negative aspect of the game I can think of graphically is that you will notice the sidelines are filled with blurry, sprite-based characters; however, this does little in affecting how youíll feel about the look of this game. Another detail that comes to mind is the fumbles. It simply isnít right; however, itís only due to the fact the game is so good that we notice it. When recovering a fumble the ball literally hops off of the ground into the hands of the player who wanders over it. I canít help but think a simple scoop render would have solved this problem. This gives us something to think about though. In NFL2001 will there be full fledged pile-ons in which the players have no idea which team will be the recipient of possession once the pile is cleared? Letís hope so! Seeing as the fumble issue needs to be addressed, Iím hoping they do a little more than whatís expected. Donít get the wrong idea about this issue, it affects gameplay very little. In former titles, fumbles were picked up in an identical manner; however, they simply werenít detailed enough to enable us to see it!
The last point that has to be made about the graphics is its precision. When you jump to block the ball, and you miss by an inch rather than it appearing to have gone through your defender, it now appears to have actually missed by an inch! Reviewing it in every angle will enforce that the reason for your not blocking the pass was due to your NOT being where you needed to be. This will end a lot of the remarks your opponent makes such as Oh man Bulls##t, I was there! when you come down with a bomb that seemingly went right through a defensive players hands. The Precision also shines through as far as spotting the ball is concerned. Everything that can happen in this game is represented in a near perfect graphical manner. Adding to the fluidity of the 60 fps animation are the sounds and commentary. Every collision is heard, and you even can clearly distinguish the sounds of a blocked/batted ball to that of a catch. There is a great deal of real-time voice acting that enables commentary to roll along AND actually make sense. Compared to anything weíve heard in the past, itís simply the best. I love that the sound of a breaking huddle is different for every team (for the Steelers they say steel!). This coupled with the ability to pump up the crowd before a big play makes sound a factor in NFL2K which will not disappoint.
You also wonít be terribly disappointed with the options, although there is much left to be desired. Everything is there that needs to be for a first generation sports title--season mode, practice, season stats, create player, create team, draft mode, and of course exhibition and playoff modes. If NFL2K doesnít absolutely dominate in one area, this is it. There is neither a franchise mode, nor any way (as far as I can tell) to see actual player ratings divided up into categories (hands, speed etc.). Also when playing a season, there is no way to view your teams schedule without looking at the weekly games. Saving a season takes up an entire VMU. Even if you donít save the season, there is no way to save customized settings without taking up 191 blocks of your VMU. In this area (options), I feel NFL2K still needs MAJOR work. Hopefully by next September they will have this worked out.
The following is my condensed review:
No detail was spared in NFL2K. Youíll notice what 60 fps can do to player animation right away. Motion capture on a sports title has simply never looked this good. Every movement is smooth as silk.
No complaints here. The music is great, and the sounds even better. You are able to hear everything from a big hit, to the sound of the ball being caught (which I might add is different than the sound of the ball being blocked).
After getting used to the running game, the rendered graphics, and the analog stick; football fans will rejoice at a near perfect playing grid-iron title.
With a human opponent, if this game doesnít last you all year then no previous football title has in the past.
As with all great sport sims, the more you play it , the more you see happen; consequently, the more you like it. I am after all a sport sim fan, and this is the best football title I have ever played. What more needs to be said?.
Review By: Jonathan Licata