While the PlayStation 2 has already seen its fair share of football games this year, Sega's NFL 2K2 is the best of the bunch. With its responsive control, completely realistic graphics, and the best AI around, NFL 2K2 is the game football fans should own.
NFL 2K2 features all of the standard gameplay modes, including exhibition, practice, tournament, season, playoffs, and franchise. It carries the full NFL license, which means the game has all the real players, teams, and stadiums from the NFL 2001 season. The NFL 2K series originated on the Dreamcast, where one of its major selling points was its online functionality. Unfortunately, this feature hasn't been implemented into this year's PS2 release. You can, however, play the game with up to four players.
The single greatest thing about playing NFL 2K2 is that the game's incredibly responsive control really puts you in the game. The mechanics of a football game are simple: You pick plays, run the ball, throw the ball, and catch the ball. The mechanics in NFL 2K2 are no different except that the game actually puts you in control of some of these seemingly mundane tasks. For instance, you can run the ball faster by tapping the X button as fast as you can, you can really throw the ball to your receivers by using the analog stick to aim your pass, and you can catch the ball by pressing the triangle button. These little control nuances, mixed with controls that translate into onscreen action, almost instantly pull you into the mechanics of playing football.
Whether you're playing defense or offense, NFL 2K2 is incredibly exciting, thanks to the freedom that the controls give you. For instance, if you're controlling a cornerback just as the pass comes your way, in an instant you have to decide whether you're in position to go for the interception or for the tackle. If you're not in the best position to try to make a play for the ball, are you in a good position to try to really lay into a receiver by charging up your move meter before pushing the tackle button so you might make him drop the pass? You'll find yourself asking these questions subconsciously and will only realize it after the fate of the play has been decided. On offense, for example, when controlling the quarterback, you can have maximum passing turned on, which gives you complete control of the placement of the pass, meaning you can literally aim your passes using the analog stick. This lets you lead or underthrow to your receivers just like a real quarterback would. The maximum-passing mechanic makes passing the ball extremely intense since the slightest lapse in concentration can and usually does result in an interception. Running the ball in NFL 2K2 is also quite an experience since the game features a couple of unique mechanics that make the running game extremely exciting. The first is an intelligent animation that automatically happens when your running back has to squeeze through the line or has to bounce off an offensive lineman. For instance, say you're running the ball with Tiki Barber, and the line just isn't really giving him much of a hole to get through. You'll see Tiki simply turn sideways just enough to squeeze in between his teammates. This intelligent animation not only looks very natural, but also makes the running game a whole lot of fun. This intelligent stumbling/tripping animation was in the Dreamcast version of NFL 2K2; however, it wasn't quite as balanced as it is in the PS2 version. You'll still be hitting some high running numbers, but nothing unrealistic or unstoppable by any means.
In the AI department, NFL 2K2 gets some high marks, but the game does have some small problems. The computer plays very well on the medium difficulty setting and actually seems to get better throughout the season. Some teams are naturally tougher than others are, but toward the end of the season it seems like it's a fight to the death almost every game. The computer plays the ball well on defense both at the line and in the backfield. It knows how to position its line and how to use its defensive backs well. On offense, the computer is very efficient, especially on the ground with an A-list running back. It sometimes seems that the computer just really wants to win, and it's busting tackles left and right, but most of the time if you hunker down and give it everything you've got, you can at least keep it competitive. The computer is really good on the hardest difficulty setting--probably a little too good for most players. The one area where the computer isn't so smart is clock management. It can be late in the fourth quarter with only a few yards to go, and the computer will spike the ball instead of using one of the three time-outs it has.
Visually, NFL 2K2 is fantastic. People are sure to debate over whether Madden looks better, but the truth is that they both look great and simply have different graphical styles. The opening movie of NFL 2K2 illustrates the realistic look of the game by showing an FMV sequence that fades seamlessly into polygon models from the game in the exact positions. NFL 2K2 has a more realistic look than Madden, with very detailed players, especially their faces. The texture-mapped, animated faces of the players look more like their real-life counterparts than in any other football game before. While you can really see this only during the tight close-ups after the play or in replays, the detail is there nonetheless. Some faces look better than others, but for the most part they all look really good. The player models themselves are very complex and are quite different from one another. The animation, however, is where the game earns most of its points, as the players move and react to one another very realistically. The players in NFL 2K2 really look as though they are making contact with one another, especially on the tackles, of which there are many. Another very nice touch to the look of the players is the real-time field lighting and shadowing. The most pronounced use of this is when clouds pass over the stadium when you're playing during the day. You'll see the clouds pass over not only the field, but the players as well. While it might sound trivial, the first time you see the big dark shadow coming, you'll realize that you've never seen it before. The stadiums all look very real, plus they've got all kinds of detail in the stands and along the sidelines with full 3D models of the teams, camera crews, cheerleaders, and even the chain gang.
In the audio department, NFL 2K2 is one of the most entertaining games to listen to. The play-by-play and color commentary are 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, and it has wonderful hard-hitting sound effects, crowd chants, and fantastic trash-talking player chatter.
In the end, NFL 2K2 is a fantastic football game that you'll either love or hate, depending on your personal tastes. Deciding whether it's the game for you simply depends on what type of football game you like. NFL 2K2 is an action-packed football game that plays more like the 16-bit football games of old than the latest generation of momentum-based simulations. In NFL 2K2, when you make the catch you know you made it, because you threw the ball accurately and you got the receiver in the right place at the right time, and he actually caught the ball because you hit the catch button just as the ball reached him. No other game truly delivers the feeling of literally catching a football, running through the line, or making that perfect throw better than NFL 2K2 does. For fans of the series, NFL 2K2 for the PlayStation 2 is a must-own game that you'll love to play. For anyone who likes Madden but wishes the control were a bit more responsive, NFL 2K2 is a game you'd probably like. Hard-core Madden fans might not be too thrilled with the game, but even they should probably give NFL 2K2 a try.