Fans of NFL 2K1 know that the game was an almost perfect game of football that was marred by a couple of unstoppable money plays. The NFL 2K1 online community at its peak agreed that if it weren't for the money plays that caused almost every online game to be a simple contest of halfback tosses and quick out passes that the game would, in fact, be perfect. Many hoped that NFL 2K2 would be that perfect football game, and while those two particular money plays have been deprecated, NFL 2K2 really isn't that much of an improvement upon last year's offering.
The game features several gameplay modes, including exhibition, practice, tournament, season, playoffs, and franchise. NFL 2K2 carries the full NFL license, which means the game has all the real players, teams, and stadiums from the NFL 2001 season. If that's enough for you, the game includes a create-a-player, create-a-team, and even create-a-play option that lets you build your team, players, and playbook from the ground up. One of the biggest selling points of NFL 2K2 is the game's online capability, which lets you and three of your friends battle it out against four other players over the Net. None of the modes have really changed that much since last year, except for the online abilities. NFL 2K2's online stat tracking actually keeps track of win-loss records so that you can see how you stack up against players from all over the country, which was definitely something that was missing from last year's game.
When you get right down to it, there are two big differences between the way NFL 2K1 and NFL 2K2 play, and one is that the money plays from last year's game are gone. Unfortunately, the second is that the running game in NFL 2K2 has been tweaked to the point that it's nearly impossible for the computer AI to stop your ground attack. Running backs can simply blast through or around the defensive line, thanks to a new tripping/bumping mechanic that literally lets ball carriers trip and bump their way right by defenders. The mechanic is really more of a simple animation, but it's extremely effective nevertheless. The only way a defender can really put the ball carrier down is to really square off and deliver a solid tackle. There still are, of course, shoestring tackles and such--it's just that as a whole, it's much easier to get five or six yards on almost every running play when playing against the computer. The one thing that's extremely important to note is that the effects of this new tripping/bumping animation aren't nearly as noticeable in an online or multiplayer game. Against the computer on the default difficulty setting, you can call a running play every single time with just about any team and end up destroying the computer.
The overall responsiveness and control of NFL 2K2 hasn't really changed that much. The game is just as fast, responsive, and as much fun to play as the first two games. The only real gameplay element that feels different is that the maximum passing--which lets you lead, underthrow, and overthrow receivers when you're quarterbacking--is a bit less forgiving this time around. Pushing the analog stick all the way to the right and throwing the ball to a receiver will result in a wide right pass that can't be caught. It takes some time to get a feel for the passing game, which requires a bit more finesse than before.
One odd change that Visual Concepts made was to the play selection screen. Instead of being able to use the analog stick and D-pad to select your plays as in previous NFL 2K games, NFL 2K2 lets you use only the analog stick, which means you'll be picking the wrong play every once in a while by accident. It's inevitable, because the analog stick is very sensitive, and even though the onscreen play cursor gravitates toward the play choices, the slightest movement causes the cursor to bump over to the next play. Needless to say, it's unfortunate that the designers decided to take out the ability of being able to pick a play using the D-pad. The plays this year have been revamped and include quite a few extra pages. You can even use the play creator to make your own plays.
The graphics are pretty much the same as last year's iteration. The player models and textures are about on par with NFL 2K1. The one improvement from last year is that you don't see the players change from simple polygonal models to more complex detailed models as the camera gets closer to the players. The player animations have received some treatment, and you'll see some new tackling animations. As a whole, the collision detection looks a bit better overall.
In the audio department, NFL 2K2 is one of the most entertaining games to listen to. The play-by-play and color commentary is not only accurate and right on the mark but also funny, informative, and even refreshing. You'll hear some of the same comments after playing a few games as the same team, but as a whole, NFL 2K2 really does have a lot of diversity to its dialogue.
In the end, fans of the NFL 2K series will undoubtedly find that it's hard not to like NFL 2K2. But it's really a tale of two games. The computer's inability to stop repeated running plays is fairly frustrating, especially if you have played the first two games and were looking for a new single-player challenge. But if you're looking to get back online and challenge people from all over the country or just your friends sitting across the room, NFL 2K2 is better than last year's game.