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Score: 9.0 / 10
All competing football video game
franchises -- with the exception of Blitz -- have released their titles
for this football season (as of this writing), and we’ve seen some
rather unexpected surprises.
In the previous years of the 2K franchise (now the ESPN NFL franchise)
repetitious bugs and gameplay problems held the success of the franchise
to a minimum. Thanks to the gradual gain of experience, a handful of
sleek new additions, and ESPN, this is the best of the 2K games yet.
The most profound enhancement from the previous 2K games can be found
simply by reading the title. Ever since Sega brought ESPN on board a
couple of years ago, all of the 2K games received more attention because
of the worldwide popularity of
ESPN. Now, ESPN has taken over everything.
The title has been changed and the game itself has received a massive
facelift to compete with Madden 2004 as the best football game. In
retrospect, the 2K series was the third string quarterback. Madden was
always the all-star, pro-bowler, MVP winning…you get the picture.
Despite the numerous qualities Madden holds, the 2K series sold millions
copies as well, due to its high fun factor. While Madden concentrated on
the realism of football, Sega concentrated on the more pleasurable
ESPN NFL Football has particularly impressive graphics. Though the
players’ faces look somewhat awkward on the field, recognizing the more
popular players without their helmets on is easy. The actual player
movement is, in my opinion, outrageously silly. On kick returns or any
other type of long run, the leg movement of players is absolutely
dismal. The legs were created much wider then any real players run. But
then again, Sega isn’t appealing to football sim fanatics.
The stadiums look marvelous, and include all the new stadiums such as
the Eagles’ new Lincoln Financial Field. The fans within the stadium, on
the other hand, don’t blend well with the amount of detail of the
stadium. Up close on fan cut scenes, the fans are animated to an extent
never before seen. These cut scenes occur during key game changes. On an
interception your fans begin booing and quiet down; while on touchdown
passes explode, stand up, and celebrate with other fans. This is a
welcomed addition, though more detail should’ve been given to the fan
detail from afar.
As for the sound, ESPN excels far more then any of its competitors. The
commentating is wonderful and filled with animated analysis by Chris
Berman during the pre-game show NFL countdown, and at halftime with his
report. A reported 40-hours of commentary was recorded by Chris Berman
alone (excluding the two in-game announcers), and after playing the
game, I can honestly say it's no exaggeration.
Speaking of the in-game commentary, there are no misses. It is as much
informative as it is hilarious. On challenges and replays, the breakdown
is almost always spot on. The replays show exactly what is being
challenged and does follow exactly what the commentator is pleading.
The crowd sound is just as impressive as the commentary, with mood sways
prominent in every situation. Converting that big 3rd down plays
includes the eruption of the crowd; as well as the disappointed "Awe"
when fumbling near the goal line. The sound on the field might be
exaggerated quite a bit, with hits sounding like train wrecks instead of
pads crunching. Despite of this, the player sound and hits are well
conceived and much better than the 2K series. Voices of the players can
be heard during audibles and during the play, sometimes guiding you
towards where the play might go.
Now for the biggest factor in determining a football game: the gameplay.
Last year's 2K3 received hundreds of complaints from many different
places. From the length of a dive tackle to the responsiveness of the
AI, Sega heard it all. Now they had the option of leaving these problems
alone, like many series do, but Sega isn’t like any other company. These
problems were all confronted and eradicated by ESPN NFL Football. Those
fifty yard leaping tackles are gone, the cornerback motionlessness is
gone, and many other problems are gone. What’s left is a complete
football game with great gameplay. The old play selection menu is gone
due to the complaints regarding multiplayer. While playing with a
friend, your play was vulnerable to plain sight, degrading the value of
playing with friends. The AI responds very well, sometimes to the point
of frustration. In Madden, Vick would step out of the pocket and run for
a gain of twenty yards every time. Not in ESPN NFL Football. When trying
to do the same maneuver, you’ll find two lineman and two linebackers on
your tail ready to knock the ball out of your hand when taking one step
over the line of scrimmage. This creates a more realistic approach not
seen in prior 2K games. If there is one part I’d immediately change
about the gameplay is the tackling system. You’ll find it a rare success
to bring down a running back with one person. Almost every time you try
and tackle a player, they break the tackle. In a given game there are
200 broken tackles. A very annoying and tedious problem that demands
change in the future ESPN Football game. The only way to tackle a runner
is with the help of two players or a repetition of hits.
Though there isn’t anything close to an "owner mode" seen in Madden, the
Franchise mode of ESPN NFL Football will last a long time. The sleek
e-mail interface in the Franchise mode is irreplaceable and wouldn’t be
as much in-depth without it. The e-mails you receive range from a
congratulatory message from the owner to injury reports to deadlines to
opponent scouting reports to weather alerts and countless more. The
e-mails make your future judgments and changes to your team much more
Previously, in my Madden review, I stated that Madden was "the one game
to own come this football season." Despite the surprise of ESPN NFL
Football, I stick to my earlier judgment due to the minor flaws in the
game. If you want a more action filled football experience without the
technicalities of Madden (and of course the infuriating commentating of
John Madden) then pick up ESPN. Madden 2004 may include more realistic
gameplay and statistics, but ESPN is a much more satisfying experience
when breaking down the purpose of games in the first place. To be fun.