So good it's almost maddening.
If the console wars were a bar fight, the Xbox would be the gigantic, muscular brawler, the Gamecube would be the stylish but smallish kung-fu fighter, and the PS2 would be the tall, handsome secret agent guy. However, at this point in the fight, the Xbox would only be wielding a knife and the Gamecube a broken bottle. Meanwhile, Mr. PS2 would be locking and loading his FA-MAS assault rifle and wetting the blade of his demonic saber to hack into some virtual-competition.
The PS2 just has so many weapons this holiday season, and with the release of Sega Sports' NFL 2K2, it's added yet another piece of potent munitions to its bristling arsenal. Unfortunately, in the transition from DC to PS2, the game has lost its online potential, and so sheds its sharpest edge. The move also means it's in direct competition with EA's Madden series, which makes its subtle advantages and weaknesses all the more crucial.
In the esoteric features department, the Madden series has a slight upperhand with its Madden Cards and ability to draft saved players from NCAA 2002 dynasties. Madden 2002 also has a superior Practice mode and the nifty Challenge mode.
On the other hand, NFL 2K2's Practice mode is inaccessible if you have something other than a dual-shock plugged into the second port. Now, that doesn't make sense to me either and I'm sure there's a great explanation, but the game does block you out of Practice mode for a less than obvious reason.
NFL 2K2's features are generic, albeit well done. Everything you would expect from a modern football game is included, like a Create a Player mode with tons of options and accessories and a Franchise mode with complete stats and records.
But like any hunter will tell ya, it's not the silver sheen or fancy engravings that make a good gun, but the smooth feel and clean action. In this regard,NFL 2K2 scores a bullseye with a blazing framerate, a caffeinated pace and the dynamite control scheme NFL 2K games are famous for.
Running the ball is particularly exciting in NFL 2K2, with the ability to store energy for trickier spin moves and stronger stiff arms. Unlike Maddengames and their acceleration based physics, players in NFL 2K2 move fast all the time which definitely lends a twitch factor to the control. While such a twitch means more precise gameplay, it can also be a detriment.
The analog stick is extremely sensitive to movement, and so are your players. As a result, you can put your players through some weird loops and maneuvers before gaining control of them, especially when changing players in the middle of a play.
The difficulty setting greatly changes the nature of the running game. On Rookie, your running back practically runs over everything in his path and can fell all but the largest mobs with a casual stiff arm. However, on Pro and All-Pro settings, your RB becomes far more vulnerable and the defense amazingly formidable. Such differences make for a more dynamic game, supplying both the means for a belligerent, unrealistic slaughter, and a gritty, inch-by-inch exposition of superior strategy.
No matter which difficulty you choose, your running backs and receivers will look great. NFL 2K2 has the most sophisticated network of animations I've ever seen in a game, with players twisting and dodging with a natural grace that used to be exclusive to televised football. And not only do the animations look great, they correspond to a smoothness of collision detection that puts the Madden games to shame.
NFL 2K2's passing game is augmented by Maximum Passing, which allows the player to more accurately control the placement of the football in relation to the receiver. By pressing the left analog stick in a given direction, the player can lead or under-throw receivers based on the coverage. This feature and pressure-sensitive passing buttons combine to create one of the most accurate and intuitive passing games to date.
On the defensive side of the football, the game is at its plainest, but still manages to avoid some of the more irritating attributes of other recent football games. For example, even though the game moves at a brisk pace, you don't usually miss tackles outright. Don't get me wrong - slippery running backs will make you miss plenty, but at least you won't be falling on your face before they're able to plant you there.
Another thing you might notice on the defensive side of the ball is the computer's inability to use timeouts effectively. The computer consistently fails to stop the clock at crucial moments, and instead lets the clock run down right before kicking what would have been a game-winning field goal. While odd, this oversight really isn't that bad and shouldn't hamper your enjoyment of the game.
Graphically, NFL 2K2 is so subtle and in tune that half the time the game looks just like TV. The animation moves at a fluid rate, the textures are life-like, and the general visual presentation is terrific. The faces look extremely realistic and exhibit appropriate emotions, while clouds float across the sky above the fields, casting realistic shadows over player and field alike.
Aurally NFL 2K2 is outstanding, with agonizing groans, violent screams and muted trash-talking between the players. Whereas most games only have one or two "Ouches" and "Dangs," NFL 2K2 practically has a different expression of pain for every hit. Choke-slamming a running back to hear them respond in a unique expression of physical anguish is a wonderfully guilty pleasure.
And to top it off, the commentary isn't half-bad. Sure, the voices of Dan Stevens, Peter O'Keefe and Michelle Weshphal are inauthentic, but the natural delivery of the commentators' lines is rivaled only on television.
Overall, NFL 2K2 is an outstanding football game. However, without an online component, the gap in quality between this game and Madden 2002is largely subjective. If you're an old Madden fan, you might want to rent this game first just to make sure the different style doesn't turn you off, but otherwise NFL 2K2 is a game that belongs in any serious football gamer's stocking.