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OT: Sega NFL 2K3


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After seeing how beautiful the Skins' new uniforms looked in screenshots of 2K3, I cracked this afternoon and bought the game on top of Madden 2003, which I got yesterday.

I've only played it a bit, but the graphics are incredible -- a generation past Madden. The true glory of the retro uniforms is readily apparent. The ESPN presentation gets you completely pumped up for the game -- and then you get the same crappy announcer voices they had last year, which jolted me right back to earth. (They really need to get Dan Patrick and Theismann to do this. I'm sure they would have no problem getting #7 to talk into a microphone for pay.)

The play selection in this game always seemed more technically on the spot than Madden, which has seems just a tad simplified. Gameplay is extremely smooth and it feels and looks a little more natural than Madden.

So, my very initial impression is that this one is nirvana for hardcore football fans, while Madden offers more of the wholesale popular approach with the training camp game, Madden cards, etc.

Big thumbs up to 2K3 -- and I thought Madden was greatly improved this year as well.

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Thanks for the run-down, 70 chip.

I'm trying to decide which game to buy. I would like to get the game that most closely simulates the plays that Spurrier will run this year.

Madden, from what I've heard, has a "Spurrier" playbook, and a play-editor, should you want to add a few more. However, I've never liked the play-calling flow of Madden, and there is a lack of trick plays -- and we know Spurrier likes them!

2K3, on the other hand, doesn't have a play creator, but I've heard there are plenty of trick plays. However, a review I read said the playbook is based on every play the team ran the previous year. If that's true, I don't want to shell out $50 to play MartyBall :puke:

Does anyone here have an opinion on this? I want to have the most authentic "Spurrier Skins" playcalling experience. Which game should I go with?

Thanks in advance!

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Riggodrill -- I still haven't played it much (went back to Madden for a while), but the Redskins playbook has several different shotgun variations in it, and I kind of felt like I was having to hunt around to find some good running plays. Whatever it is, it's definitely not Marty's book.

The thing that Madden has going for it vs. 2K3 is that the whole darn thing just seems so "together" in an overall sense. It's very user-friendly and there are no outright flaws in the game anywhere. 2K3 has its shining moments but somehow doesn't seem as polished overall, even though it knocks your socks off sometimes.

I like how you can change controllers midgame in 2K3. That way, when the Skins lose the ball I can switch over and punt. :D

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I gotta disagree with you there. NFL 2K3 graphics aren't better than Madden 2k3 for Xbox and PC, PS2 version is the worst looking of them all. Also NFL series are waaaay too fast paced to be realistic, Madden is just right especially this year not to mention more realistic physics, coverages and DB play.

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Here is an article I found on NFL 2K3... Enough to make me buy it.


Gameplay: Presentation

Building on the success of 2K2, Sega and Visual Concepts have packed the game to the brim with features, stats and great presentation, an area that had always been lacking in the 2K series. They ditched Randy Moss, perennial crybaby, and signed tough guy Brian Urlacher as their cover athlete, a move that will surely be welcomed by football purists. Then they went and acquired the ESPN license when Konami released it. These two aesthetic changes signal a huge shift for Sega's game. With the inclusion of Urlacher, they're getting back to what football is about: being better, faster and stronger than the other guy. With the inclusion of ESPN, they gain credibility and visibility by adding an experienced partner (like EA's John Madden, an institution unto himself) into the mix.

They've done well not to waste the license they've acquired. The ESPN brand is woven heavily throughout the game. Sportscenter's Dan Patrick introduces things in an opening sequence, and from then on, the ESPN style of presentation permeates the game. All of the menus look like screens you might see on the network, the load screens and in-game overlays mirror the graphical look of their NFL broadcasts.

At first, it was strange to see the ESPN stuff everywhere, as it hearkens back to inferior efforts made by Konami in games like ESPN NFL Primetime. But Visual Concepts understands what the license is all about. It isn't just about a name and a look. It's about an attitude and an allegiance with the best network on television. It's about distilling the feeling you get watching an ESPN broadcast and knowing that the people who work for the network live and die for sport the same way you do.

The presentation extends beyond merely the NFL and ESPN licenses, however. The game mimics every facet of play in its visual style. For instance, when you're in the general manager's role, you're in an office customized for your team, at a desk with a computer and calendar. These objects aren't for show. They are how you navigate the various modes and features in the game. What's even cooler is when you go to the NFL draft. The whole experience takes place in a packed "war room," and you're armed with a PDA, laptop and notepad to keep dibs on your prospects. It seems like a little touch, but it goes a long way toward adding authenticity to the game experience.

The commentary is still stellar, but we'll get into that more in the Sound category. What bears new mention are the excellent replays that accompany the in-game experience. Last year, an upgraded replay system included a virtual telestrator, and in-depth commentary during replays. This year, the game plunges even deeper, exposing more nuances of the game as the replay runs. In addition, they've added a split-screen replay that shows what two players are doing simultaneously on a play. This is something not even the networks have been able to muster yet, but you can be sure they'll try after playing this.

NFL 2K3 boasts a new user records system, which allows you to compete and earn a nationwide rank. Each time you complete a game in Sega Challenge mode, you will be issued a passcode, which you can then take and enter at their website to see how you stack up to gamers across the country. This idea is a throwback to sending in Polaroids to magazines to show that you got the high score on River Raid... except that it's futuristic and instantaneous. Of course, this system hasn't yet launched, so we'll have to reserve judgment on how it actually functions. The idea rocks, though.

All these great things aside, 2K3 does have its share of problems in the presentation department. First off, when you're playing a game, it's often difficult to navigate to the specific play you want. Madden's system has always struck me as more intuitive and quicker to use in a pinch. Separating plays into the huge number of sets like 2K3 does just serves to confuse gamers, especially those new to the sport or genre.

Another thing Sega's football titles have always lacked is extras. Outside of racking up personal stats and winning Super Bowls, there is nothing compelling you to play multiple seasons and modes, unless you're a diehard fan. Unlockable cheats, teams and uniforms would be a good place to start. If you pass a certain win total, you should gain goodies. If you play (not sim) a certain number of games, that should unlock something (a la Super Smash Bros. Melee). Bells and whistles like creating a team, stadium and new franchise city would also be nice additions. Other football games do it and, well, Sega should too.

Gameplay: Franchise

Gameplay has always been 2K's strongest asset, and that continues with 2K3. This is the most realistic playing football game around, and that stretches from the field to the front office. Sega and VC have done an excellent job weaving a sim-style football game with an intricate management game. The result is the total football experience, an experience heretofore only hinted at by previous games in the genre.

This isn't to say that 2K3 is the perfect football game. It has a lot of room for improvement. But it's drawing ever closer to the lofty ideal that football addicts crave.

Let's first talk about what's been fixed since last year's version. First off, they've addressed some of the key features that were missing, especially an in-depth franchise mode. The one that VC's whipped up this time around finally surpasses Madden. It's safe to say that the depth of this year's franchise mode hasn't been reached before in a simulation style football game (that does not focus on purely management). A considerable amount of meat has been added to the off-season experience, and an already good trading system has been expanded.

We've already noted some of the changes to the draft, in terms of aesthetics. This year, you'll be able to scout the players in a Combine, sending assistant coaches to watch them and gather valuable information on each. The system is pretty cool: the coach has a limited number of hours, so you have to budget your time to get the broadest base of information. You can assign hours to watch each recruit, and gather varying levels of info based on how long you track each guy.

Then you'll take your knowledge to the Draft and pick the best of your crop. If you've done a poor or unrealistic job of cataloguing talent, your Franchise will be left in the dust. Once you get your guys, you'll need to sign them, manage salary cap, and make sure you have enough blokes for every position. It's harrowing work, but someone has to have fun doing it.

During the season, you can do all the standard things: set depth charts, pick up free agents and cut players. Those are the rudimentary things in any franchise mode. This one, however, boasts one of the stingiest trade systems around. You'll have to be a pretty decent negotiator to make it all work, or you'll get taken big time. The game allows for uneven trades, trades of draft picks, and counter-offers by each squad. The trading game can be fun and addictive... so much so that you may end up with an entirely different roster than the one you started with.

Still, the trading system has its problems. In addition to being pretty difficult to get good trades (especially for those not well-schooled in NFL dealings), it is a little hard to navigate the menus. You can only manipulate one team's roster at a time, meaning that if a deal changes, you have to cycle all the way through the list of NFL teams to do a counter offer. This could have been easily fixed by keeping your main team's roster always present on the trade screen, but as it stands, it's a minor pain to use.

Another area of trading that could use some work is the Trading Block feature. This allows you to place a member of your squad up for trade in an open forum. It's basically "trolling for takers." You can also peruse some of the other NFL ballers set to be dealt from this menu. While it may be interesting to see what other teams consider scrap, it doesn't do much good for you to place your own players on the block. But since you're seldom offered anything substantial for them, and there aren't yet RPG elements in football games where players refuse to be a part of a team, or demand to be traded, there seems to be little need for this feature.

The Franchise Mode, as a whole, adds a lot to the game experience. It allows you to make the front office decisions you've always wanted to try with your favorite team, and it also gives a good sense of how difficult running an NFL front office can be. When you string together a series of championships, or piece together the ultimate team on a shoestring budget, it feels just that much better to play and win with them.

Gameplay: On the Field

In terms of on-field play, NFL 2K3 stays true to its roots. There have been marked improvements to this area as well, but if you've ever picked up this game before, you'll instantly recognize the system and fall right into the rhythm of the game. The controls are still tight and easy to get a grip on, but hard to master.

A few things were pretty unbalanced in VC's last effort, but they've been mostly fixed in 2K3. The first is broken tackles. In last year's game, Jerome Bettis could easily go all-world on you in one game by breaking tackles and refusing to go down. It all felt very cheap. This year, the broken tackles have come back down to Earth. You'll rarely see a string of more than two broken tackles, and if you do, it will be a back that is good at doing it. The downside, of course, is that it's increasingly difficult to run against an opposing defense. Their defenders, like yours, possess the new kung fu grip, and aren't going to let you go.

Another thing that has been toned down is the amount of interceptions. This was a cause for concern among many gamers last time out. The game will still punish you if you fire it into too much coverage, but it tends to bat down rather than intercept, which will lead to a lot less hair loss among fans of this game.

Last game out, it was difficult to go downfield deep. Unless you were fairly adept at Maximum Passing, it was tough to accurately lead a receiver. This time out, if you put good touch on a ball, it's possible for your receiver to catch it in stride and get a head of steam going to the end zone.

That's not to say that the AI is dumber. In fact, it's even sharper than it was last year. Especially in the realm of pass coverage, 2K3's AI has taken a serious step up. Last year, CPU linebackers would do a circling motion for no reason when dropping into pass coverage (especially zone). Defending a tight end or back coming out of the backfield was like lining up planets for an eclipse--maybe their orbits would meet, and he could defend properly, and maybe they wouldn't, and your guy would be dinged for a huge gain. That problem seems to be ironed out, as well as the deep coverage by DBs. Once in awhile when playing defense in last year's game, a safety or corner would charge toward the wrong player or jump too early if left to his own devices. True, this happens in the NFL as well, but not to such a degree. In this year's version, as long as you've called the appropriate coverage, guys are generally in the position to make a play.

There are other cool AI touches that exist in 2K3 which bear mentioning. If you do accidentally throw the ball into coverage, and you have an aware offensive player nearby, he will actually turn into a defender quickly and knock down the ball rather than give up the interception. All players react to a ball in the air, especially when it's been tipped. This can produce some great moments, where players on both teams are vying for the ball. If you pump fake the ball, you may actually see players downfield take a step toward where the throw would have gone. The same is true of play action. Linebackers will move towards the line, dropping their coverage to stop the run. That you can use real NFL techniques to foil your opposition is the sweetest thing.

But there are still some problems. With all of the advanced line blocking that's going on, it's tough to get a defensive lineman through to pressure the quarterback. There is a nifty bullrush move that's been added (where your offensive lineman pushes the defender straight back into the quarterback), that can disrupt the play, but the D-line sacks have been cut considerably.

All in all, the game plays a little slower overall as well. You can still adjust the speed in the options menu, but the default is a more languid pace than 2K fans are used to. Cutting on a dime has been toned down, so you can no longer move like a Tron bike on turf. While this is a welcome bit of realism for some, those used to the fast-cutting lifestyle might be disappointed.

Still, the bottom line is that Sega's game feels realistic, gritty and intense throughout. The plays are dynamic and hotly contested. You feel like you're in control of your own destiny. In order to win, you'll need to be on top of your football, because this is one game that gives back as much as it takes. It forces you to keep a team's strengths in mind, and focus on them while play-calling. Fortunately, there's enough stats and background on every team on the disc to do considerable homework before heading in.

While the rabid fans out there think that sounds like paradise (and it is), it also points out a problem Sega is going to have going forward. It can be summed up in one axiom: "With great realism comes great responsibility." Putting a lot of pressure on gamers can work against the overall fun of the game. It's safe to say that Sega has built its fan base out of the diehardest of the diehard, but an overly technical, overly simmy game may alienate the casual gamer. While the controls are easy to learn, it's tough to teach years of both general and specific football knowledge to newcomers who are looking for a fun game to play. Madden faces the same kind of problems, but seems a little more forgiving than 2K3 in terms of difficulty, especially in the higher settings. Point blank, the learning curve is too steep for the casual gamer.

However, for its few problems, 2K3 does a thousand things right. And it's meant for sim-heads anyway. There are so many little intricacies in the game that you'll still be discovering new things to tweak and use weeks into gameplay. In fact, there are so many that we can't possibly go into them all within the scope of a review (who would read the thousands of words that would take?). For instance, you can change your coverage during a game so that specific athletes cover specific opponents. You can set in-game audibles on the fly. You can sub athletes all over the field, whether it's a good idea or not. A quick tour through any of the in-game menus will reveal a host of high-level changes. Not everyone will be able to use them, but it's a wonderful thing to now they're there. This is definitely a game where you'll want to read the manual cover to cover, just to know all the cool stuff you can manage.


There are two areas where NFL 2K3's graphics outshine any game on the market: player models and player animations. Since the goal is to produce the most realistic-looking football possible, these are two key building blocks.

Early in the 2K series, the models looked too shoulder-heavy. The exaggerated upper bodies of these early models seemed blocky and jut plain wrong. Last year toned down that look, and this year, the models look downright believable. Everything is properly proportioned, according to position, player size and body type. You'll be able to see differences in Warrick Dunn and Peter Warrick just by glancing.

Individual body parts--arms, legs, butts (man, there are a lot of butt shots in this game), fingers--all look great. The muscles are realistic-looking, and the limb movement is better than it's ever been. The uniform detail (especially the texture of the jerseys) is great as well, and the helmets look amazing shining under the hot lights of the NFL.

The face models are arguably the most accurate out there, but they still look strangely flat. At least this year there's a lot more of them in the game, and we don't have to see that generic kicker mug over and over again. The facial animations are a little more pronounced this year as well, making for a much angrier, happier and disappointed game. True emotions are difficult to portray, but the game makes a step in the right direction.

Probably 2K3's best graphical assets are its exquisite character animations. Damn, these are pretty. VC has added a ton of new details to this area. Tackles are a lot more varied, for instance. A defender may just lower his shoulder and drop you , he may rip you down by your shoulders, or he may grab you by the ankles and spin. All of these things are context-sensitive, and the game does a great job of diversifying contexts and coming up with at least a couple different tackles for each.

The ball-batting animations have gotten a lot better. There's a ton more play when the ball's in the air, and the defensive backs have a whole new set of moves to get in the way of a pass. My favorite moment playing the game thus far happened like this: the opposing QB tossed what looked to be a TD pass into the end zone. At the last moment, my DB swatted it into the air. The opposing player tipped the ball back to himself and was about to catch it when my defender tackled him. Not only is there some tremendous AI at play there, there's an amazing amount of graphic detail.

The running animations showed a great improvement in last year's version. Getting "skinny" through the line was one of them. More have been added this year, including stumbling animations that recover (and fall), skirting the line maneuvers, and enhanced stiff arm animations.

Some of the best touches come when the play has been concluded. If a ball has been deflected out of a player's reach, he will look down at his hands as if to say "why?". If a player catches a crucial first down, he may just get up and point downfield. Showboat. End zone celebrations repeat a lot less this year as well. Basically, the animation team seems to have packed all that they could into the game in time for it to ship, and you can be sure they're already plugging away adding stuff for next year.

But it's not all fun and games. NFL 2K3 falls down in a few graphical areas. While the player models are highly detailed, the same cannot always be said of the environments they play in. Sometimes grass textures look downright splotchy and bad. In particular, the GameCube's mip-mapping and filtering isn't up to par with, say, the Xbox version. So, some of the fields just look blurry and even confusing in terms of texture design. On the other hands, some fields such as the astroturf are decent.

Additionally, on occasion, the players don't look like they're realistically interacting with the ground. They bounce and carom off each other beautifully, but when it comes to hitting the ground, players look a but like they're floating on a thin layer of air, like a puck floats on an air hockey table.

Interaction with the environment, and objects within it, is a problem throughout. There can be bad examples of clipping, where one character seemingly passes through another's body. This has occurred in every NFL 2K game that I can remember, and the problem lingers still. It's especially bad when the play is stopped. Officials are like ghosts, and objects, players and other refs pass through them at will. While clipping does not affect gameplay, it still may bother the graphics snobs out there.

The lighting also does not look quite as good as some other games on the market. And no one has quite perfected the effect that sunlight has on a game. When you're watching a harshly sunlit game on TV, the light jersey colors wash out and, if they're white, even appear to glow (like light colors do in Sony's Ico, but to a lesser degree). The field appears light green, almost white in places where the sun is directly shining. To date, no videogame has even approached this effect. That said, the weather effects look great. There's nothing quite like playing in a soupy game at Soldier Field or running over a dusting of snow at Lambeau. The shadow effects in domes are nice as well, and the mild self-shadowing going on here looks good, but the lighting still doesn't vary enough or look quite real.

There's also a slight frame rate drop in all versions, especially when all eleven players are interacting in the same general area (down near the goal line is worst). The problem is most pronounced on PS2 and GameCube, but exists slightly on the Xbox as well. Again, only snobs need apply.


The ambient football sound effects and crowd noise are the best in the business. It's nice to hear the roar and swell of the crowd drown out even the game announcers when something monumental is happening. These crowds are smart, too. They cheer when a penalty goes against the other team, and groan when their own team gives one up. After a big play or score, the crowd stays active and is quicker to build when the next big thing happens. Dynamic crowd noise has never been more accurate, or more invigorating. Crank your home system and let it wash over you, and you'll be surprised how much it can affect you (especially when the neighbors call the cops).

The on-field noises are good, too. The crack of helmets and grunts in the trenches are all well-done, and sound a lot like the background noise you hear in any typical NFL broadcast. You can also hear players calling each other out, jawing across the line, calling out coverages, etc. All of this stuff adds another layer of realism.

As stated in the Presentation section above, the commentary is once again strong. It features the same fictitious team as in years past, and these guys still call a mean game. It's a good blend of straight call, analysis and humor. For instance, after an especially bad play, the color guy said something to the effect, "I haven't seen a play fail like that since I starred as Puck in my college's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream." This kind of commentary helps keep the game fresh, without going as off-the-wall as something like NHL 2002.

Show me a game commentary that doesn't get repetitive, and I'll show you a happy man. Sadly, even this commentary repeats itself. It's not as bad as in years past, but you'll be sick of some of the remarks by the second season.

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I have been very pleased with NFL Fever 2002. The Graphics blow Madden out of the water and they come closer to a Spurrier-like offense IMHO. Also, if you play with two or more players on the same team, as a reciever, you can run different routes and the QB will hit you whereever you are. You can also audible AND change the route of a reciever before the snap which I found to be VERY cool and reminded me a lot of SOS's offense as well. This game seems to slip under the radar screen, but I like it much more than Madden thusfar. Maybe it's just me...

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After resuming 2K3 play, through my own inattention and poor play I allowed Matthews (I forgot to sub in Wuerffel) to be sacked.

All of a sudden the machine defense talks trash to me -- I hear "Matthews! Who the heck is Shane Matthews?!"


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I was kind of disappointed in Madden's playbook for Spurrier. In fact, overall, the plays for Madden haven't changed that much at all over the last several series. I did notice there is a reverse-pass and RB-toss pass for the Redskins in Maddens.

I've usually bought both games each year, up until last year after playing NCAA2K2. Like Smoot Fan said, the game play on the field can sometimes be too fast. I feel I have more control over what my individual player is doing in Madden's. But both games have their fans who prefer one style over the other. I;m more of a Madden's guy myself, but my friends who are 2K lovers, think this is by far the best release of the NFL series yet. I'll probably rent it first.

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