NFL GameDay 2003 is a perfect example of a game that doesn't have any serious problems but doesn't do anything to really set itself apart, making it difficult to recommend because there are better alternatives available. Still, the graphics have been improved since last year's game, the features in the online mode are great, and the franchise mode is solid, though generic.
The franchise mode--or general manager mode, as it's called in the game--gives you a chance to take complete control of a team, managing trades, the signing of free agents, and the rookie draft. At the start of season, you can make a few adjustments before playing in your first game, such as making general changes to the team roster, creating an entirely new player for the team, or rotating players into different play formations. As the season progresses, you can make trades with other teams and sign free agents, but like in every other franchise mode, you have to be aware of salary cap issues and other factors. For example, you won't be able to trade one player for another if the player you're trading for has significantly greater skill. Likewise, if you're looking to sign a free agent, you won't be able to sign any players whose salaries are greater than the room you have left under the cap.
When you go into the off-season, several different things happen. First, you'll see a list of players who have retired from your team and the reasons they've left, which are usually related to injuries or diminishing skills. If you lose some key players, then you'll need to make every effort to ensure that those positions are filled by free agents with similar skills or rookies who have solid potential. Unfortunately, most of the really good free agents are expensive, so you're frequently stuck with trying your luck in the draft, where you can select a rookie based on how you finished the season, much like in the real NFL draft. If you finished poorly, then you'll get a higher pick in the first round and have a greater chance of securing a star player. Conversely, if you won the Super Bowl, then you'll pick last. Fortunately, GameDay has an NFL combine feature that gives you a basic breakdown on the draft and provides you with an overall rating for each rookie. Following the draft, you have to sign your rookies with whatever cap money you've set aside for that purpose. When you're all done, it's time to start the next season and make another run at the Super Bowl.
Of course, GameDay 2003 also has other modes. There's a tournament mode in which you can select up to 16 teams and place them in a custom bracket. There's also a regular season mode, which is similar to the franchise mode, except it lacks the off-season component. If you aren't happy with your playbook, you can use the play editor to create an entirely new play by setting run-blocking schemes or passing routes. The interface for the play editor is a little cumbersome and probably could've been made a little cleaner, but you shouldn't have any problems designing your own plays after a few minutes of practice.
Perhaps GameDay's greatest most significant feature is its online play support. After connecting to Sony's server, you'll be brought to a screen where you can select a lobby, view your online stats (including average passing and running yards, disconnects, and several other details), and see who the best players are online. Overall, it's probably the most detailed of any of the online football games, and we haven't seen any significant lag problems when playing the game online. Unfortunately, the gameplay doesn't quite hold up, so the incentive to go online and test your skills against other players just isn't there.
The biggest problem with the gameplay is on the offensive side of the ball--especially in the passing game. Like some of the older football games, it's too easy to abuse out passing routes, as your receivers are almost always open and almost always make the catch. In addition, you can throw into triple coverage on a 20-yard pass and still have a high chance of completing the pass, whereas in other games that would be an almost impossible feat. The computer tries to counter this by throwing blitzes at you, but you can always change up the play to a short out route and gain 6 or 7 yards every time.
As for the running game, colliding with offensive linemen really isn't a problem because the holes in the offensive line are usually pretty wide. If you do happen to collide with a blocker, it's because the defensive linemen has managed to push him over and block the hole. The run blocking AI could have used some more work, as the fullback will miss his blocks a little too often on toss plays and runs between the tackles.
There's only one significant problem on the defense, and that's the defensive back coverage. Oftentimes, you'll have a receiver covered with two cornerbacks and a safety, only to see the receiver jump into the air and catch the ball with no problem. Moreover, there seems to be a general problem with zone coverage, as defensive backs automatically seem to flock to the receiver and their vicinity even if there's an open receiver a few yards in front of them.
Surprisingly, the commentary is NFL GameDay 2003 is quite good. The two primary commentators, Dick Enberg and former NFL quarterback Dan Fouts, do a great job of covering the game and interacting with each other. They also offer some valuable insight into the types of plays that you should run in certain situations and what their advantages are. On the other hand, the game's music is so mundane that you probably won't even notice it.
GameDay 2003 is probably the weakest of all the football games currently available in terms of graphics. The player faces actually look decent, there's a good amount of facial animation, and the reflective surfaces on the helmets are clearly visible. In general, however, the player models just don't have as much detail as the models in other games. The animation isn't all that great either, and it seems as though the development team essentially reused the animations from last year's game.
NFL GameDay 2003 doesn't have any significant problems, or at least any that make it a completely horrible football experience, but there just isn't anything about the game that makes it worth your while. The franchise mode and other options in the game are generic, the graphics aren't as good as those found in other console football games, and the gameplay still needs tweaking, which makes that game's one standout feature--online play--a little less valuable.