NFL 2K3
System: X-Box
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Visual Concepts
Released: August 2002
Genre: Sports (Football)
Capabilities: Memory unit, X-Box Live Online Multiplayer, Communicator Headset

Review Written: August 31, 2002

The Game

The football gaming wars just keep getting better as the years go by. Focusing on the X-Box side of things, we have three top contenders for this year. There is Microsoftís own NFL Fever 2003, which sports online play through X-Box Live and the System Link cable. Then there is EAís Madden NFL 2003. It doesnít have online play, but has oodles of new features. Finally we have this game. Itís Segaís second NFL effort on the X-Box, and is the fourth game in the NFL 2K series. 

This version supports X-Box Live as well, plus thereís one other noteworthy new addition. Konami wasnít satisfied with the sales figures on their ESPN sports line of games. Probably because a good chunk of them were horrible. So Konami decided to stop carrying the ESPN license. Sega reacted quickly and picked up the hot license. They managed to integrate it into this yearís line of games. Last year, I gave the nod for NFL 2K2 being the best of the bunch. Letís see if they can be #1 for a second straight season.

Graphics

Everything looks a lot better when you compare it to the last game. One of the first things youíll notice in game play is that the player models are heavily improved. Youíll especially notice this in the cut scenes after plays. The player faces look surprisingly realistic. If you didnít catch a good look at them in the cut scenes, then load up an instant replay and zoom in real close. Youíll see them give facial expressions, and talk to other teammates. The uniforms are the best Iíve seen as well. You wonít believe how far the developers at Visual Concepts went in this game. The helmets reflect the actual environments youíre playing on. There are well over two dozen designs for shoes. Youíll notice uniforms getting muddy in rainy games, and grass stains after getting a hard tackle. Get this; even the socks are bump mapped. I think theyíre spoiling us.

The animations for everything are done just as good. There must be loads of various animations for all the tackles in the games. I love the monster tackles when you pummel a QB. The rest of the moves such as jukes, stiff arms, and the various player taunts and celebrations are well done. Youíll notice things you see on television that you donít see too often in other football games, such as other teammates helping each other up after a hard tackle. The stadiums in the game mustíve been redesigned this year, because all of them look a heck of a lot better than before. If any of you live near a NFL arena, and remember any specific banner in it, than double check to see if itís missing in here. Thatís how good they are. The crowd in the game looks as good as it can get. On the sidelines, youíll notice all the various players, television crew, and cheerleaders in full 3D models. Sega has finally picked up the coaches license as well, so now youíll see the actual coaches popping up on the sidelines during various cut scenes. The only thing I donít like about the graphics interface is the play calling screen.

The ESPN license makes the stellar presentation from the previous games even better. When the game boots up, you get treated to an FMV of a sports center clip. All the menus in the game are redesigned like youíre watching the stats on Sports Center. The same goes with all the in game stats and score cards. A nice touch is that for loading screens, we get ESPN pre game shows. This shows rankings, and has an ESPN announcer giving us a basic rundown of each team. There are also ESPN shows at half time, and post game. They showcase the stats, and give us the player of the game.

Sound

When Sega announced they got the ESPN license, I was concerned that they were going to replace the voice actors we know as Dan Stevens and Peter ĎO Keefe from previous games with the hired guns we watch on ESPN. After experience the mediocre play-by-play from the ESPN crew in Primetime 2002, Iím glad that Sega stuck with Stevens and Keefe. These guys sound tons better than the commentary in any other football game out there. They deliver the most lines of commentary, and they actually sound like they are into the game. Hell, theyíll even joke around with each other during their commentary. Youíll love their voice over for replays as they point out key elements to big plays such as jukes, and pump fakes. Eventually, their comments get repetitive, but nowhere near as fast as the other football games.

All the audio effects in the game are the same stuff weíre use to. The tackles, grunts, and everything else sound top notch. The game uses the sports center theme for its background music. If you donít like the default one, there are over a dozen variants of it for you to choose from. One nice feature is that it allows you to choose old background music from any of the past games as well. A custom soundtrack feature wouldíve been nice, but whatís here gets the job done.

Game play

NFL 2K3 has a nice control set up. There are lots of moves for you to do when you have the ball. You can spin, turbo boost, high step, juke to the left or right, and stiff arm to the left or right. Most of these moves work great against the defense, and will help you out with the running game a lot. Defense is what you expect it to be. You have all the usual options like turbo boost, dive, jump, and attempting to strip the ball away from the receiver. The play calling screen is great for single player. It shows you all the formations on the screen, and the routes all your players will run. However, when going against a buddy, it can be a painful situation. They can easily see what play you are selecting. Sega should design an alternate play calling screen when going against friends. Yeah, it was great back in the Dreamcast days of the series when we had VMU play calling, but there is no such peripheral for the X-Box! This is the major flaw of the game, one that shouldíve been fixed years ago! There is one little fix to this problem, and that is on-the-fly hot routes and play flips. This helps out a lot, because if my friend sees me picking a HB toss to the right, and I flip it at the huddle, Iíll completely fool him and get lots of yards.

There are plenty of modes of play to choose from. Thereís practice mode for perfecting all your plays, and getting the hang of the controls for the game. The quick game option is perfect, where all you have to do is select a team, and not have to worry about tinkering with all the little options. If you do like all those options, then you customize all those in exhibition mode. The usual Tournament and Playoffs modes are included, both are nearly identical. The only differences are that the Playoffs have the actual branching of how they go in the NFL, and the Tournament mode is customizable to how many teams you want included in the brackets.

Sega added a brand new mode, the Sega Sports Challenge. In this mode you go against the computer on All-Pro difficulty, with default rules. For all your highest stats, you get an individual password. You enter it on Segaís website, and compare yourself to the rest of the nationís best players. This is a unique mode, but youíll be surprised at some of the stats some people can pull off. This mode will have to tie you over until X-Box Live launches in November. It will be great playing over broadband only connections. That means there will pretty much be no lag in most of your games. There will also be Opti-Match features where the network will automatically find you an opponent within moments. The game will track user records, so this should reduce the chance of people quitting. Best of all, there is support for the headset communicator, which means live trash talk! If you get tired of it going the other way at you, there is the option to mute out your opponent.

You can have the option of playing a single season, or many more in the Franchise mode. Last yearís Franchise mode was crap compared to the revolutionary one in Madden, but the developers learned their lesson and completely redid the Franchise mode again for this season. After youíre done with your season, you have loads of off season options available. You have to do your usual things like renegotiate player contracts, and retire the veterans. You can outbid other teams on free agents, but you have to abide by the salary cap. The college draft is great. You can send scouts to gather information about various prospects. The more scouting you do, the better info you get. You also have the option of importing graduating seniors from your game saves from NCAA 2K3. Overall, this Franchise mode is vastly improved, but just under par with the one in Madden.

Replay Value

NFL 2K3 made sure to include all the little bells and whistles. For starters, there are lots of creation options. There are the usual options to create your own players, teams, and playbooks. If your created player has the last name that happens to be the same one of another player in the NFL roster, the commentators will automatically call you by it. The create-a-team feature isnít as good as the one in Madden, but itís still fun to draft your own team of All-Stars. You can also create a coach in Franchise mode. The game has user profiles so you can showcase your win-loss records to everyone. The Franchise mode should provide you with countless hours of play with all the coaching options available to you. Donít forget all the time youíll have going against your buddies in exhibition play. Then thereís the Sega Sports Challenge to see if you can compete with the best of the best. Finally, once the X-Box Live network launches in November, you can play for hours on end against anyone across the nation!

In Brief

+: X-Box Live supported, the best graphics & sound then any other football game this season, ESPN license adds a lot to the already awesome presentation

-: they shouldíve come out with an alternate play calling screen for vs. play by now, Franchise mode isnít as deep as the one in Madden

The Final Ratings Rundown 

Graphics: 9.9
Sound: 9.4
Game play: 9.3
Replay Value: 9.8

Overall: 9.6

Rounded to fit GameFAQs Score: 10

Comments

Sega did it again! It was a close contest, but Sega barely gets the nod as the better game. What it all came down to was online play & controls. NFL 2K3 controls are slightly better, and a tad more realistic than Madden. Then there was the fact that Madden had no online support whatsoever. Madden has a slightly better Franchise mode, and a couple of more features. The new Franchise mode here is almost as good. I know Iím going to be playing online for a great while too. Both games are great, and I recommend picking up both if you have the money. However, if you got to have just one football game, then by all means pick up NFL 2K3 right now!

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