Sega scores big...again.
Autumn, the season of decay… and football! Yay! Even though last season's Patriots debacle left a sour taste in this Raiders fan's mouth, getting to jump into Sega's new NFL 2K3 and beat down the Patriots with my own two thumbs has me feeling better about football already.
NFL 2K3 is overwhelmingly good. This game is one of the finest gridiron products on the market with great gameplay, smooth graphics and options that would take all day to describe. While perhaps not a perfect football game (if there is such a thing), NFL 2K3 definitely raises the bar. This game is as good as Gameday is bad, and that's reeeeally good.
Before I even mention the meat of the game, I'll mention the cherry on top. Thanks to a very smart co-branding deal between Sega and ESPN, the entire presentation is modeled after an ESPN production of a football game (and SportsCenter too, especially in the intro). A great bit of licensing on Sega's part, the inclusion of the ESPN scheme adds not only authenticity, but a clear signal to football gamers that Sega Sports spared no expense in bringing you the best football game they could.
Then there're all the modes and options. As opposed to describing them all here I'm going to rely on hyperbole and hope you get the point. Whereas the modes seem ubiquitous at first glance (practice, exhibition, season, tournament, franchise), they're loaded with bazillions of options and customizable nooks and crannies.
One of the best examples of this is the Situation mode, in which you set factors to create a scenario that you then play. Couple this mode with some great classic teams and you can relive some of the finest moments in sports interactively.
Another cool innovation is the Sega Sports Challenge mode, in which you play a game with the default settings. Then, based on how much ass you kick (or how much your ass gets kicked), the game gives you a password. Enter this password at segasports.com and see how you stack up against other players.
The Season and Franchise modes are unbelievable. Not only is the micromanagement of your team intricate and accessible, but you can also choose your level of involvement. Sega Sports' awesome production values especially come into play in the Franchise mode as you step into the virtual office of your franchise and involve yourself in scouting, signing, cutting and trading. Of course, all these words can be applied to just about any football game on the market. What distinguishes NFL 2K3 is the level of involvement of the player; the level of detail allows the hardy player to live football like never before.
The gameplay may be the most standard aspect of NFL 2K3. It plays much like past 2K titles, with the running backs slipping between linemen, better tackling than what you'll find in any EA games, and otherwise a fairly standard scheme. Modes aside, this is essentially the same NFL 2K game fans have been playing for a couple years.
This makes it one of the best passing games on the market. Pressure sensitivity, maximum control (which basically means you can lead a receiver or throw behind him), and a smooth transition between passing and catching make offense in 2K3 as good as it ever was.
Defense is a pain in the ass, and it's a shame Sega hasn't been able to get to the bottom of this. Even though the tackling system is one of the least frustrating on the market, it would be nice if the defensive game were as interactive as the offensive game. You should be able to make big plays on defense as opposed to simply foiling the offense's big plays. I know realism and play calling are both factors here, but defense just isn't as much fun as offense.
Having said that, playing is a pleasure thanks to smooth framerates and a control scheme that is familiar if not progressive. For example, running the ball is great because defenders don't just magically appear on your back; they have to move, and the movements is detailed such that you can see them coming and respond if you're quick enough.
Now that Sega has officially endorsed all three gaming platforms with equal gusto, it becomes the reviewer's burden to point out the subtle differences between ports. In the case of NFL 2K3, the only major difference you'll find between any version is graphical. In the Gamecube version, textures aren't as sharp as the others and the colors are a bit limited. However, they're still pretty darn good, and the weaker graphics don't mar the experience much at all.
The sound is fine, with the slightly repetitive but tastefully understated commentary, and good effects from jibes between players to crushing helmet-to-helmet tackle bytes.
Despite being the weakest graphically of the three versions, Sega Sports' NFL 2K3 for the Gamecube is a great football game. The money and effort that clearly went into the production were not poorly spent, as they produced one of the finest football games available. Touchdown, Sega.