|Its fitting that the NFL 2K packaging features Randy Moss.
Like Moss last year, NFL 2K is a rookie with some baggage that nevertheless runs rings
around its competitors. Like Moss, NFL 2K is flashy. Like Moss, NFL 2K likes the deep
ball. And like Moss, NFL 2K isnt much when it comes to running between the tackles.
Or running the ball at all, for that matter.
As Segas first major sports game for the Dreamcast, a lot was expected of NFL 2K, especially after it blew everyones eyes out of their sockets at this years E3. And mostly NFL 2K delivers the goods. Its the best-looking football game ever, even better than Microsofts NFL Fever for the PC; its got just about every feature youd like in a football game, the control is generally good, and it pays scrupulous attention to detail. But like Moss 1998 Vikings, NFL 2K falls just short of the Super Bowl.
First and foremost of NFL 2Ks many strengths is its graphics. Simply put, theyre phenomenal, and show off the power of the Dreamcast system as well as any of the other release games--including Sonic. Not only are the players exquisitely detailed and modeled, they also move amazingly realistically. With over 1500 motion-captured movies and a great physics model that produces collisions that look like the real thing, its difficult to tell NFL 2K from a real game from across the living room. Weather effects look great, and even have some effect on the gameon one play my wide open receiver dropped a ball when his feet literally slipped out from under him on an icy field. The stadiums and backgrounds look darn spiffy as well. Though they lack the animation of the game itself, theyre still a big step up from other football games. And the detailing of the stadiums goes farther than mere architecture and the team logo at midfieldfor example, banners hanging at Lambeau feature cheeseheads urging on Favre. Still, there are a few problems with the graphicsfirst of all, as one of my friends remarked, the players "look too perfect." Unlike NFL Fever 2000, where Charlie Garner looked a lot different than Jerome Bettis, in NFL 2K they have virtually the same body type. Even worse, there just arent any fat guys to be found in the game. All the offensive lines look like they did before the steriod crackdown; really fat guys look positively svelte. Yo Sega, lets pass on the GQ version of the NFL next year and get some hogs in there. Think positive body imaging. Finally, NFL 2K features a wide variety of the now-obligatory touchdown celebrations that arcade football fans just cant seem to live without. And though its very cool when Terrell Davis gets six and salutes--just like in real lifeits uncannily disturbing to see the recently retired and very reticent Barry Sanders score and prance around like Michael Irvin.
Sound is pretty fair overall, with nice crunchy tackles and amusing crowd noise. The home crowd will ride you if youre struggling, and they have a healthy repertoire of insults available to them. As with all football games, the in-game commentary is spotty. Sometimes its benign, sometimes its goofy and wrong-headed, often its repetitive, but its always dispensable. And beware: in several games I played I had recurring audio problems. During one game, the sound would cut out and reappear arbitrarily, a couple times the audio would get stuck in a loop, once it just wouldnt play at all.
NFL 2K is also laden with the kind of features that are usually associated with hardcore PC football games. You can play the game on any one of three levels of difficultyrookie, pro, and all-pro--and in exhibition, season, tournament or playoff mode, though the game lacks franchise mode. You can draft teams, create your own teams and players, design your own uniforms, and make up your own plays and playbooks. All of the editors are extremely easy to use. The game also has a very deep statistics feature, and it usually does a credible job of tracking stats, though after one game I was listed as having a 150% success rate on third down conversions. NFL 2K also has a very useful practice mode that allows you to run plays against defenses until you get your timing down. And believe me, when trying to run while playing on pro level difficulty, your timing had better be damn near faultless. The game also features an excellent replay option, so you can gloat over your successes or dissect your failures in detail.
But the bottom line is gameplay, an NFL 2Ks gameplay has its highs and lows. On rookie difficulty (where I suspect most will play) NFL 2K is a not-very-realistic but thoroughly enjoyable arcade football game. On rookie, you can take the Chicago Bears and coast to an undefeated season against the AI, and in two-player mode rookie level games tend to be extremely high-scoring affairs, with lots of long home run balls getting thrown. If you want to play a beer-and-pretzels game of football that isnt as over the top as NFL Blitz, NFL 2K is just about perfect.
But if youre into playing some serious ball, youll have to crank the difficulty to pro level, and this is where NFL 2K becomes a less satisfactory experience. It does have some real strengths; the AI is very good, and Sega claims that it will adjust to your game plan. (Seeits thinking). What this really means is that its much harder to find the "killer play" that will always bail you out on 3rd and long, so you cant just run the same Antonio Freeman slant play all day and expect to win. You can find some plays that tend to pay off more than others, but overall Segas done an excellent job of taking killer plays out of the game. The passing game is well-done too; after calling a play you can check the button assignments of your receivers, and the maximum passing option allows you to lead or underthrow them, and even allows you to put a little touch on the ball. Your receivers can also adjust to your passes, and using this effectively makes a big difference at pro level, where completing passes is much trickier than at rookie.
Unfortunately, running the ball becomes much, much, more difficult at pro difficulty. In fact, its darn near impossible, as defenders shed blocks with ease, holes rarely materialize, and runners rarely get outside. This is of course par for the course with arcade football games, which never seem to come up with a decent running game model. You can get some yards in NFL 2K if you lean on the controller hard, pushing the buttons like a maniac and throwing every juke in the world on defenders, but thats just not the way running backs do it in the NFL. Next time you watch a game, check how many moves a back makes on the average 5-yard run. Usually all he does is get the ball from the QB and hit the hole (assuming there is one) hard. No dancing, no spins, no straight arms. Just pure turbo up the gut, or maybe a sharp cutback move on the outside. If theres a little room after that for open-field pyrotechnics, then youll see a juke or two, followed by a tackle or a sprint to the end zone. But to succeed even a little bit with the running game in NFL 2K, youll have to jitterbug every back you have like Barry Sanders. Sorry, thats just unacceptable, and a lazy way to disguise the fact that the 2K engine just doesnt have a realistic running game in it.
The 2-player game also becomes more problematic at pro difficulty level, mostly because its just not very well balanced. While the teams in NFL2K do have the strengths and weaknesses of their real-life 1998 counterparts, the game tends to implement them almost as caricatures. Teams are rated from 1 to 100 in offense, defense, and overall strength, and in 2-player, youll want to make sure you play with evenly-ranked teams. If the differential between two of them is too great, were talking blowout city. In one game I played the Bears against the Packers, and I was consistently burned by Antonio Freeman for long touchdown passes, even running from a dime with double coverage on him. And I dont mean burned once or twice; I mean all the time. Meanwhile, my offense was smothered. We played several games with mismatched teams, and the results were always the samethe higher-ranked one romped. In NFL 2K, being the underdog sucks outright. On any given Sunday, no team can beat a better one.
You might call this realistic, in which case Id direct your attention to the rash of upsets weve seen in the first two weeks of the new NFL season. They just wouldnt have happened in NFL 2K.
A few other problems: in the two-player game, one player also found it impossible to access the time-out optionjust a little glitch, but one that makes a big difference in a tight game. And when shifting between players on defense to cover passes, youll often be given control of the wrong playernot the one covering the receiver, but one just in the vicinity. This makes playing D a little frustrating at times. Finally, the game doesnt do much with the Dreamcasts VMU unit. You can call plays on it, which helps to deceive your opponent, but since the menu is text-based, youll need a lot of experience before youll be comfortable with it. Even worse, NFL 2K is an unconscionable memory hog; it requires one whole $30 VMU to itself, making it for all intents and purposes an $80 game if you want to save anything.
Look, I know Im going against the grain by not giving NFL 2K five stars and calling it a great game, but its just not that special. NFL 2K is a good game with some significant flaws. Its easy to be blinded to its faults by its beautyand this game is stunningbut the games half-assed running game and collection of little glitches stop it short of a perfect score. Like Randy Moss, Sega has given us an excellent rookie outing; heres hoping NFL 2K goes all the way in 2K+1.