NFL 2K3 Preview

We check out the latest entry Visual Concepts' football franchise.

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With the NFL season fast approaching, the development team at Visual Concepts is putting the finishing touches on the fourth game in Sega's NFL series, which originally started on the Dreamcast. As expected, this year's game will feature a number of improvements on the previous versions, ranging from new animations and character models to a revamped franchise mode. NFL 2K3 also marks the first time that the series will feature online play on two platforms--the PlayStation 2 and the Xbox. We had an opportunity to check out the latest build of NFL 2K3 to take a look at the new options available in the franchise mode and some of the game's other features.

NFL 2K3 will be released on the GameCube, PlayStation 2, and the Xbox.
NFL 2K3 will be released on the GameCube, PlayStation 2, and the Xbox.

Responding to numerous complaints about NFL 2K2's franchise mode, Visual Concepts went back to the design board to come up with an entirely new franchise mode that would offer greater involvement with your team and generally make the mode more playable for everyone. When starting the franchise mode in NFL 2K3, you'll have to create a coach by customizing a variety of different details. You'll then be taken into a full three-dimensional office, where you take the seat behind the desk and in front of a computer monitor. During the season, you can manage the team calendar, where your team's schedule will be displayed. There is also a game plan option that allows you to select plays from any package and formation and put them into the team playbook. Unfortunately, NFL 2K3 doesn't offer the ability to edit or create plays, but there are approximately 220 plays to select from.

But only the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions will feature online play.
But only the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions will feature online play.

The front office area is where you can conduct trades, view the current contract status of players, or put up to three players on the trading block. The trading block is actually one of the more interesting aspects of the franchise mode because you can essentially tell other teams that a particular player is up for grabs, simulate a few days in the schedule, and then go back into the trade block area to see what kind offers are on the table. You can view the details of all the possible trades and then decide whether or not you want to go through with them.

When the season comes to an end, and you've guided your team to a Super Bowl championship or into the depths of mediocrity, you'll have to keep track of few different things. First, you'll have to find out which players have retired and then attempt to fill those holes through trades or free agency. Thankfully, NFL 2K3 will give you a complete listing of free agents, as well as their scouting details, so you can get an idea of which player is best for your team. If free agency isn't your thing, or there aren't any viable trades on the table, then you can always try your luck with the draft and attempt to turn a rookie into one of the league's best players.

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The character models and animation have been improved for NFL 2K3.
The character models and animation have been improved for NFL 2K3.

The draft in NFL 2K3 essentially pans out much like its real-life counterpart. You'll have access to various types of data, including scouting reports on individual players, information on what your team needs or the areas that it's lacking, and general advice on how to play the draft. There's even a mock draft that predicts which players teams will select based on their individual needs and the rookie lineup, but, of course, the actual draft doesn't necessarily unfold that way. The franchise mode has been given a significant amount of depth, almost to the point that it may be too overwhelming for those who have only a moderate interest in the sport.

But for that type of audience, Visual Concepts hopes that the Sega Sports challenge offers something of interest. This mode basically keeps track of statistics that you earn in individual online games, such as rushing yards, passing yards, and sacks. At the end of each online game, you'll receive a code that you can enter in at SegaSports.com and see where you rank among the other players around the world. Sega currently has plans to offer prizes to the players with the best statistics in certain categories, so the leading passer for one week will win a downloadable feature or possibly even a T-shirt.

We can't wait to try it out online.
We can't wait to try it out online.

Though Sega's licensing deal with ESPN was announced only a few months ago, the ESPN influence is already quite apparent in NFL 2K3. At the start of each game, you'll see a split-screen view of the coaches and players on each team as the commentators discuss the keys to the game. Some replays will also feature a split screen to show a play from the perspective of two different players. Visual Concepts also has plans to integrate a weekly wrap-up feature where a commentator will briefly discuss all the games that were played that week.

As far as gameplay is concerned, there are a variety of subtle options to utilize. You can tell defensive linemen to shift left or right along the line of scrimmage. It's also possible to tell your linebackers to play up on the ball or play back and look for the pass, and the same goes for the defensive backs. Audibles can be made on the fly by selecting a play in the regular play option menu with a specific button. Blocking has been refined, as have some other components of the AI.

Of course, NFL 2K3 also features a number of improvements on the graphics of the previous games in the series. There are quite a few new player animations, which give the game an incredibly realistic look. The character models have been improved and now feature some incredible detail in their faces, their hands, and even their socks, which are bump mapped. The stadiums have also been redesigned and look about as close to the real thing as possible. Needless to say, football fans will have quite a bit to be excited about when NFL 2K3 is released this August.

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