ESPN NFL Prime Time for the Xbox is a football game that's best suited for people who are really into the management aspect of football, mostly because it features an incredible list of management options--but also because it's simply not the best-playing or best-looking Xbox football game out there.
ESPN NFL Prime Time features a full NFL license and has all of the actual teams, players, and stadiums. It also has the typical ESPN game presentation that tries to emulate a TV broadcast, complete with commentary by Chris Berman and Tom Jackson. The game comes with four standard modes of play-- exhibition, franchise, practice, and tournament. The franchise mode in Prime Time is really the game's only strong point. It has an incredible amount of depth and lets you totally control every aspect of the team from the draft and into the post season, with players both resigning and retiring. The game even features a create-a-play mode in which you can set routes and actions for just about every player on your squad. You can then go into the game's practice mode to perfect the play and then add it to your team's playbook. The game also gives you the ability to come up with an entire game plan so that you can create a winning strategy that uses your team's strengths. You can even set the amount of playtime that each player should have in the preseason, which will affect his abilities on the field during the season. Prime Time also features a scenario option in the exhibition mode, which lets you create specific scenarios for your team to practice. For instance, to see how your team performs, you can set up a scenario in which it's fourth down on the 1-yard line with only 10 seconds left in the game. Aside from this impressive list of unusual off-the-field options, Prime Time gives you the ability to create your own players, trade players, and accept CPU-initiated offers.
While ESPN NFL Prime Time certainly has an impressive franchise mode, the actual playing of the game leaves something to be desired, especially if you've already seen or played any of the other football games for the Xbox. The controls, while fairly responsive, are very basic in execution and feel. Making the right play selection seems to almost have more importance on the field than actually controlling your players-- especially since it's basically impossible to break a tackle once a defender touches the ball carrier. You do, however, have a great number of actions to execute--such as stiff-arms, hurdles, and jukes--to keep defenders from getting a hold of the ball carrier. And because the game's play selection screen is typical and intuitive, calling plays is very straightforward. The artificial intelligence of the CPU-controlled team and players are decent on the game's advanced difficulty setting--they manage the clock fairly well, call intelligent plays in general situations, but get a little crossed up when the clock and situation become very specific.
ESPN NFL Prime Time isn't the most impressive-looking Xbox football game on the market. The player models are fairly bulky, the animation is rather limited, and the textures are very plain. You can recognize players by their faces, and while some do look better than others, the game does a decent job of representing the players of the NFL. ESPN NFL Prime Time tries to re-create a TV broadcast look with the usual replays and commentary and succeeds to a lesser degree. Odd graphical quirks--like the fact that players seem to continuously breathe steam no matter the time of day or weather conditions--are evident. The front-end menu system, however, does look very sharp.
In the end, ESPN NFL Prime Time is a very simple football game, which makes it the least exciting NFL game on the Xbox. The game does feature one of the most robust franchise modes, which gives you the ability to become the general manager. These two facts combined make ESPN NFL Prime Time the perfect game for anyone who's big into fantasy football but just isn't very good with a controller. The flip side is that ESPN NFL Prime Time isn't the right game for anyone who's greatly concerned about the presentation and handling of his or her football game.