ESPN NFL Football Review
While Madden is the most realistic-playing football game on the market, ESPN NFL Football is simply the most exciting football game on the planet.
Sega's NFL 2K series is back--and better than ever--with a new name and some seemingly large additions. But while most of the prerelease information and advertising has been focused on these additions--specifically the crib and first-person football--ESPN NFL Football's number one strength is still its incredibly responsive gameplay, which has also seen some significant changes that may, at first, throw longtime fans off. Ultimately, though, the changes made to the tackling and running balance go a long way in helping to make ESPN NFL Football Sega's best football game ever.
ESPN NFL Football features a long list of gameplay modes that include quick game, franchise, season, tournament, practice, first-person football, and online play. The deepest mode in the game is, of course, the franchise mode. This mode allows you to play one season after another and comes complete with a draft and off-season player dealings--like signing and releasing players--all governed by the real rules of the NFL, where trade deadlines and salary caps are the norm. If that's a little too much control for your tastes, you can put the computer in charge of some of the general manager duties. Fans of NFL 2K3 will find that the franchise mode in ESPN NFL Football has been reworked to include a very slick virtual e-mail system that allows you to quickly see what's new in the league and with your team. It's actually really cool since you get e-mails, with feedback, from the team owner about impressive wins or disappointing losses--plus you get injury reports from team doctors who let you know how long injured players will be out. You're even sent virtual e-mails that clue you in on deeper game features, like pregame scouting reports, which give you a heads up on what your next opponent's strengths seem to be. Whatever info the e-mail might include, it's a very helpful tool that not only keeps you informed of what's happening with your team, but also gives you a greater sense of what's going on in the league.
One of the most talked about new features in ESPN NFL Football is a virtual apartment, of sorts, called 'The Crib.' The Crib serves as a showcase for all of the bonus items and awards you win by completing specific objectives. The objectives range from simple accomplishments, like looking at certain things in the game's menu, playing for one hour, and playing for five hours, to big play accomplishments, like returning a punt or kick for 99 yards or completing a game without dropping any passes. With every completed objective, you earn a trophy or item that you can use to decorate your crib. The items range from different-looking furniture, like couches and bar stools, to bobble heads and in-game cheats. You can also find hidden free agents, like Michael Irvin, and posters and soundtracks from old Sega games, like Jet Set Radio and previous NFL 2K games. The idea is that you'll be driven to unlock all of the items so that you can decorate your crib with stuff featuring the colors and logos of your favorite team. The reality is that The Crib is a cool addition and is certainly better than a simple menu that shows you your statistical accomplishments, but it's by no means revolutionary. It's a cosmetic addition that really shouldn't be taken into consideration when deciding if ESPN NFL Football is your type of game.
The other big feature added to this year's game--first-person football--is more than a gimmick. With that said, playing football from a first-person view isn't as much fun as you might think. Sure, punt and kick returns are awesome, and running the ball, in general, is a lot of fun in the first-person view, but it's ultimately not as much fun as playing the game from a regular camera view. The one thing that's important to note is that there are some major gameplay differences when playing ESPN NFL Football in first-person mode versus regular camera mode. For one thing, the right analog stick activates a brief moment of slow motion, when depressed, that kind of helps you get your bearings and allows you to make the right move. The other major difference is that the game gives you a meter at the bottom of the screen, called the threat detector, which shows you where the nearest opponent is to your player. The game's default presentation also changes, cutting out the announcers and only allowing you to see the replay as though you were watching it on the Jumbotron from the field. This setup, in essence, was created to give you a virtual experience of what it's like playing on the field. While the mode is certainly the best attempt at trying to convey what it's like being on the field--as seen from a first-person view--it's simply not as much fun as playing the game in the regular mode of play. It just seems more like a flashy extra. It's fun at first, but most people will become bored with the addition rather quickly.
While Madden is the most realistic-playing football game on the market, ESPN NFL Football is simply the most exciting football game on the planet. You're not only forced to think strategically when picking plays, like Madden, but you also pay or reap the rewards of actually making the right cut when running. You're the hero when throwing the ball with just enough push on the analog stick to lead your receiver so that he catches the pass in-stride and continues downfield for a touchdown. Every play that goes your way happens because you make it. ESPN NFL Football's responsive controls simply give precedence to the action and the skill of the player rather than to the animation or the will of the AI.