Hands-onNFL 2K3

We play updated versions of Sega's professional football game on all three platforms.

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Sega let the press sample an updated version of NFL 2K3 for all three platforms at a recent event held at Pacific Bell Park in San Francisco. Featuring a brand-new graphics engine that makes it look considerably better than last year's game, NFL 2K3 also features a wealth of gameplay enhancements, including a completely revamped franchise mode.

When you enter the franchise mode you'll see a completely modeled office, complete with a computer monitor, a day planner, and other items that you can use to make decisions. Most all of the features in the franchise mode can be toggled on or off, including preseason games, a trade deadline, and a fantasy draft. If you don't feel like taking care of these options yourself, you can always turn the duties over to your assistant coach. The franchise mode has a number of unique features to it that will set it apart from the competition. You can create your own coach, place up to three of your players on the trading block and accept or decline offers from other teams, trade draft picks, and create your own playbook. In the franchise interface, a ticker is present at the bottom of the screen that will let you follow the happenings of the league. In addition, you can adjust AI and penalty sliders to adjust the gameplay to your liking.

In addition to the franchise mode, NFL 2K3 has a wealth of other gameplay options. You can play single seasons, jump straight to the playoffs, or practice your skills with no pressure whatsoever, and up to 16 players can join tournaments. There's also a situation mode that lets you set up just about any scenario you can think of and then play it through. The PlayStation 2 version of NFL 2K3 will have both broadband and dial-up support for online play, while the Xbox version supports only broadband connections. Both versions will include a top-50 ranking board for online play, complete with wins, losses, and the number of times you quit games before finishing them. The ranking system will eventually be used to award prizes.

From a graphical perspective, NFL 2K3 is vastly improved over last year's game. The Xbox version has real-time environmental mapping on the helmets and a bump-mapped field surface for added realism, though the frame rates in the somewhat early Xbox version we played still need to be optimized. If you simulate games in the franchise or season mode, highlights of the simulated games will be shown during halftime and pregame reports. Perhaps the most impressive of the upgraded graphical features is the animation. Players react to each other so realistically that you'll never see two players doing the same thing at the same time. This is particularly evident while watching the line of scrimmage, where each blocker will take on defenders in a different way. The game will include a multitude of classic uniforms for most teams, and a telestrator is used by the game's commentators to outline strategy or especially impressive plays.

In all, Sega's NFL 2K3 is shaping up to be an excellent football game. The graphics are already the best available, and with its impressive franchise mode, the gameplay looks like it could follow suit. Look for much more on NFL 2K3 as its late-August release date approaches.

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