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GF! Archival Version Copyright 1995-2004

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by Sega


Ups: Last year: prettiest damn football game ever. This year: best damn video football game ever.

Downs: Online connectivity can be an issue if you live in the sticks.

System Reqs: DC

I’ll never forget the first time I saw NFL2K; it was across a crowded room at 1999’s E3, and in that moment I became convinced that I had to have a Dreamcast.  I’d never seen a football game as drop-dead gorgeous as NFL2K, and on the day the Dreamcast was released I picked up my DC and my copy of NFL2K and got down to some serious scrimmaging.

And I was disappointed. Not with the game’s graphics: no, those were just as sweet as I remembered them. Rather, I was let down by NFL2K’s gameplay, especially its utter lack of a running game. In my review, I gave it four stars--and got lots of mail. To make matters worse, when I saw NFL2K1 at this year’s E3, I wasn’t that impressed—it looked much like NFL2K, and I’d become jaded and wary.   Another four stars, I thought, and yet another rash of nasty letters.

Foolish me. Because while NFL2K1’s graphics aren’t shockingly different than last year’s, they have been improved in important ways.  Most importantly, the gameplay glitches that dogged last year’s model are now a thing of the past. In brief: this is The Big Kahuna, The Whole Nine Yards, The Best Football Game Ever. If you like sports games but don’t own a Dreamcast, NFL2K1 alone is reason enough to buy one.  

Let’s start with the subtle but effective improvements in graphics. While the player models don’t look much different from last year’s, let’s face it--they didn’t really need much improvement. The only real change I noticed was that the player’s bodies are more realistic. Last year, everyone looked cut, even guys like Erik Williams. This year effort has gone into reproducing some of the players’ more, uh, distinctive body types. That’s nice, but the biggest graphic improvement in NFL2K1 is the amazing amount of new and very smooth animations. This is where NFL2K1 really outshines Madden, the only competition it has. While Madden’s animations are often eccentric (for example, we’ve seen passes hit invisible walls and drop onto a receiver’s helmet, then to his hands)—NFL 2K1’s animations are astonishingly smooth; when a receiver goes up for a ball across the middle and gets low-bridged by a defensive back, the resulting collision looks like an NFL Films highlight reel. And this kind of stuff goes on all over the field--I’m often surprised by new animations not just of jukes and diving catches, but of chippy push-and-shove matches between linemen away from the play. In Madden, everything looks great until the game starts moving. Then things get wonky. In NFL2K1, everything looks great. Period.

The game’s sound has improved, too—in-game effects are crisp and realistic, and the game’s announcers are uncannily good. If you throw into coverage on third and long, they’ll say something about it—and unlike the announcers in many games, their comment will make sense. In one game, I went for it on fourth down, got the first, fumbled, and then recovered the ball. That’s not a situation you’ll see every day, and I’ll be damned if the commentary didn’t match the action. Sure, there’s some repetition, but thus far the commentary is the best I’ve ever heard.

But NFL2K looked great and sounded pretty good last year—improvements to both, while welcome, still don’t address the game’s core problem. Simply put, NFL2K was not a serious football simulation. Yes, it was a lot of fun on its ultra-unrealistic rookie setting, which allowed you to revel in long-ball pyrotechnics and fast-paced arcade action. Yeehaw. But if you cranked the game up to the more realistic pro setting, NFL2K just could not model an NFL game.  For instance, it was almost impossible to run the ball effectively, and the differences between good teams and mediocre ones were far too pronounced. If you played the Vikings vs. the Bears, you could be sure that Cris Carter and Randy Moss were going to be open all day, making circus catches even in double coverage. All the time.  While this is expected in a game like NFL Blitz, nobody’s mistaking that for a realistic simulation. And last year, nobody was mistaking NFL2K for one, either.

This year things are much better, starting with a much-improved running game. That’s right, in NFL2K1 you can actually establish a ground game—and the CPU can establish one, too. Don’t expect to see those 1.3 yard-per-carry games; a good back will hurt you plenty--unlike last year, overplaying the pass will cost you. While a few more moves have been added to the running controls, including charge moves and a nifty juke move, the running game seems most improved by a meatier and more realistic representation of the battle in the trenches. In NFL2K1, linemen block more effectively, and a good line will blow open holes that just didn’t show up last year. Conversely, blown assignments are much more devastating, and a well-timed blitz can overpower an ill-conceived blocking plan.  For those who enjoy the “chess-game” aspect of football, NFL2K1 is a happy surprise; no longer is “air it out” the solution to every situation, though the passing game remains excellent.   Frankly, I’m astonished by the improvements to gameplay. Call me cynical, but NFL2K sold a bajillion copies last year, it was a huge popular and critical success, and Sega could easily have rested on their laurels and ignored isolated carping about gameplay issues. But they didn’t, and they deserve major props for resisting the lure of just reissuing the same old game with “improved graphics.” Instead they climbed under the hood of a good game and turned it into a great one.

As with NFL 2K, 2K1 is chock-full of  features. You can play in exhibition, season, tournament or playoff mode, and Sega has addressed yet another gripe by including a very nice franchise mode. You can draft teams, create your own teams and players, design your own uniforms, and edit your own plays and playbooks.   And the game’s statistics engine is much more reliable.

There’s only one complaint we have about NFL2K1—and that has to do with online play on  We’ve tried, but we’ve never been able to play an online game. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, we live in Idaho.  The only server for in all of Idaho is located in Boise, which is 300 miles and one helluva long distance bill away. And yes, we know living in Idaho is pretty much by definition living in the sticks, but we’re also smack in the middle of a college community of 30,000—that’s prime Dreamcast territory, and we’re somewhat dismayed by Sega’s lack of online support. Since we weren’t about to use an ISP on the other side of the moon, we went to plan 2: use our own ISP account to connect to online NFL2K games. Unfortunately, every time we tried to connect, we were informed that the game servers were down. After three days’ worth of attempts, we gave up. Moral of story: if you reside in an urban area or close to a server, you’ll probably be able to play NFL2K1 online. (And love it, from what I can tell). But if you’re not, you may well experience insuperable technical difficulties. Caveat emptor.

But despite our disappointing experience with online play, we are herewith prepared to proclaim NFL2K1 the official gold standard of video football games. There’s never been a better NFL game, and—even with the pending release of the PS2 version of Madden—we doubt a better one will come along anytime soon. Probably not until NFL2K2.

--Rick Fehrenbacher