NFL 2K3 on Xbox Live

We try out the online portion of Visual Concepts' upcoming game.

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The latest installment in Visual Concepts' respected NFL 2K franchise, NFL 2K3, marks the return of one of the series' key features. The recent conversions of NFL 2K2 to the GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Xbox lacked the online support found in the Dreamcast version. Fortunately, both the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions of NFL 2K3 will feature support for online play. We've been especially eager to see how the Xbox version of the game fares online, as it's set to feature voice support. We recently stopped by Visual Concepts and had an opportunity to see how the feature is coming along.

While all the versions of NFL 2K3 will feature the same content, there will be some significant differences in the versions' online functionality. On the Xbox, NFL 2K3 will offer the features that will be standard with Xbox Live. We weren't able to test out the login process for the service, as Xbox Live still isn't quite live. A final date has yet to be set, since it's still undergoing testing and tweaking. However, once we did get online, we got a look at the game's options.

When you go online with NFL 2K3, you'll have six options on the game's online menu: quick match, optimatch, create match, leaderboard, downloads, and user options. Quick match throws you into a match with just a few presses of a button. Optimatch will let you search for a game according to your preferences of game type, quarter length, and difficulty. Create match will let you set up your own game and wait for challengers. The leaderboard will let you keep an eye on who's leading the pack. Downloads is where you'll download roster updates and other content for the game when it's available. User options lets you set the parameters for your online experience and keep track of your gaming. You'll be able to set whether you appear offline, which works much like appearing invisible when you use ICQ. You'll also be able to choose whether or not you'll use a voice mask (at the moment the game only has one, the robot, to choose from). The friends option lets you keep tabs on the status of people you play with and invite them into games. The final user option, recent players, keeps track of the people you've played against recently.

The game we tried was a breeze to set up. We created a short match and waited for our opponent to join us. Thanks to the broadband connection, there didn't appear to be any noticeable lag in the gameplay. The game handled smoothly, with tight and responsive control. There was a slight delay when using the communicator to chat, but it wasn't that noticeable. The voice masking also worked like a charm and was easy to toggle on and off. Hopefully Visual Concepts will have time to implement to more voice masks to offer more variety.

Judging from what we've played so far, NFL 2K3's online play on the Xbox is pretty slick. The gameplay is solid and seems to be low on lag. The voice chat and masking add a new dimension to trash talking, and the various user options and functionalities when playing the game online really make the game accessible to players of any skill level. We're eager to see how the final online experience plays out when Xbox Live takes off later this year. NFL 2K3 ships this month for the Xbox.

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