Sega Sports NFL 2K1 Preview

If nothing else, the plethora of additions to NFL2K1 is proof positive that Visual Concepts is committed to improving on the existing gameplay of the NFL 2K franchise by offering a substantial modifications in overall gameplay, graphics, and sound.

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Hindsight is always twenty-twenty. At least that's what conventional wisdom maintains. Maybe that's why it's easy now to see the wisdom in Sega's purchase of Visual Concepts (the developer of last year's NFL2K and NBA2K) a couple of years ago. The developer's release of its share in the line of "2K" titles exclusively for the Dreamcast last year trumpeted something of a "call to arms" for other gaming companies. VC's idea seemed simple; couple some smooth, motion-captured graphics with realistic play-by-play, rock-solid gameplay and - presto - the sports simulation is taken to the next level. Naturally, that's why expectations are nearing stratospheric proportions among fans who have begun salivating over the next iteration of the VC football franchise, unsurprisingly titled NFL2K1. Like any company concerned about improving its product, Visual Concepts has turned a very receptive ear toward these expectations and concerns. In finding ways to improve on its debut, VC is listening to the fans' demands.

First and foremost in the minds of most gamers is the state of the running game in NFL2K1. Where you could only spin, stiff arm, turbo, or hurdle (unrealistically, I might add) before, Visual Concepts has added what many believe should have been there in the first place - a joystick-controlled "juke" feature, which lets you effectively fake out defenders, leaving their feet grounded on the turf as you blow by down the sideline. Old maneuvers have been improved as well. The spin move no longer slows your speed to a crawl and the move maintains your running back's momentum. Stiff arms, on the other hand, are no longer as powerfully effective as they once were. Hurdles have also been decreased in their effectiveness, and players attempting to tackle the jumping back will find that their window is much wider now. But the biggest addition to the engine is flat-out speed. It seemed that in last year's edition, all the players except Jamal Anderson and Terrell Davis were essentially variations on Old Man River and the crippled ghost of Red Grange (that is, running was really hard). All that's changed now in NFL2K1, which boasts plenty of overall speed for all characters (especially running backs).

Indeed, speed seems to be the name of the game in NFL2K1. Backs flow through holes in the line with a galloping grace, QBs can rip a bullet through coverage, and defensive backs feel so spry that it feels as though you're actually playing pass defense instead of a demented game of volleyball (die-hard fans of NFL2K are probably very familiar with "tipping syndrome" by now). More speed means plays flow more realistically as a result. It also means some trial and error in getting used to controlling your characters. You may find yourself hitting the practice field again to relearn exactly how to weave a bomb downfield past vigilant coverage (defensive AI is being boosted), but, as most changes are being made for the sake of realism, it shouldn't be too frustrating.

Turning the game speed up a notch is just one in a number of noticeable changes in the game's engine. Playbooks are getting a total makeover; now they parallel the actual playbooks of each NFL team. Play-by-play is being enhanced, and it is now timelier, more verbose, and more varied. The graphical ante is also being upped, yet again. Though the graphical "style" will remain unchanged, more than 500 new motion-captured animations will be featured in NFL2K1, most as transitions between previously jerky sets of animations (running to a sudden stop, etc). Stadiums, too, will feature more unique details than in last year's version. Also new is the addition of a "franchise" mode, popularized by the Maddens and Quarterback Clubs on the N64 and the PlayStation. This mode lets you play as the general manager of a team of your choosing. You guide them through several consecutive seasons as the head honcho. NFL2K1's franchise mode is the choice for you football fanatics who have to control every minute detail of the team, from playing the games to choosing the plays to making the trades and drafts that keep your team on top of the very competitive football heap.

Despite all these much-ballyhooed features, no addition to NFL2K1 is greater than the "out of the box" online play that Sega is promising through its SegaNet. With a release coinciding with Sega's "network debut," many gamers will conceivably be "cutting their teeth" online with NFL2K1. A lot of people can conceivably "cut their teeth" at the same time too, due to the fact that Internet play allows four players per Dreamcast, per team. This means that up to eight players can battle it out over the Net in a single game at the same time - something that's totally unique for console sports titles.

If nothing else, the plethora of additions to NFL2K1 is proof positive that Visual Concepts is committed to improving on the existing gameplay of the NFL 2K franchise by offering a substantial modifications in overall gameplay, graphics, and sound. The fully developed franchise mode and online play may prove to be worthwhile innovations in there own right. Visual Concepts' thorough revamping of NFL2K1 could be just enough to make it one of those rare sports titles that won't require hindsight to appreciate. Look for the new season of Dreamcast football this September - just in time for training camp.

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