Visual Concepts brings you football at its best, with NFL 2K2. - by Josh Hiscock
For years, Americans have been ridiculed as, among other things, lazy -- and that's the nicest
thing many nations have had to say about us. So, when a company like Visual Concepts comes
along and piles a multitude of sports games on their development plate like Hercules taking
on the Twelve Quests, it's a sight that should seem refreshing. Under most circumstances,
perhaps it would be -- Visual Concepts is, after all, one of the most talented development
houses out there. Unfortunately, the task of trying to maintain their reputation for excellence,
while simultaneously rescuing other floundering franchises (WSB, NHL), and trying to get the job
done before the Dreamcast is laid to rest, seems to have taken a toll on the team.
World Series Baseball 2k2 fell far short of expectations, and NCAA 2k2, while
representing a better-than-decent first effort, showed that it has a long way to go before it
joins its older brother in the big leagues. So what, then, should we expect from the franchise
that has become Visual Concepts' hallmark? Last year's effort, NFL2k1, was considered by
many to be the superior football game on the market...for any console. For one thing,
it was the first console football game -- and, indeed, sports game -- to implement online
That sounds simple enough, but the overwhelming success of NFL2k1 as an online game laid
the groundwork for a whole slew of other online games. It's true that it wasn't the first
online multiplayer game, but had a game with the mass appeal of football failed, it seems
unlikely at best that some of the subsequent online titles from Sega would have featured that
particular capability. NFL2k1 showed that it could be done, and the rest of the online
titles stood on the shoulders of a giant.
NFL2k2, on the other hand, makes what is a doubly unique appearance this season. On the
one hand, it's likely to be the last new football game the Dreamcast will see. In that sense,
one hopes that VC will send the series off to other platforms with a bang -- something they
failed to do with WSB2k2, and only partly accomplished with NCAA2k2.
Very nice fog effects, looks a little chilly on the field.
Nice green grass, but don't run into the camera.
Logically, one might expect that to happen. After all, Visual Concepts has had more experience
with their NFL2k series than any other franchise -- by the third generation, it should
be mostly tweaks, right? In a sense, that's true, but at the same time, it wouldn't be
Visual Concepts if they weren't doing their best to radically change the genre. They've rebuilt
the player models from the ground up, in an attempt to make them not only appear much closer to
the real thing, but adding animations to make them move more realistically as well. The
WWF-style tackling animations of yesteryear have received some new buddies; hopefully this means
fewer bodyslams and more track-'em-and-sack-'em hits. Don't get me wrong, the big tackles
were cool, but it rather defied believability that a running back could get hit that way 25 times
a game and still be good to go the next week.
The quarterback animations will be receiving an upgrade as well, and you'll notice a change in
the way the players handle their balance -- or lack thereof. If a player is having trouble
staying on his feet, you should notice this. The good news is, the graphical eye candy doesn't
stop there: the team uniforms will reflect the colors and designs present in the NFL this year
(as you might expect), and the stadium graphics have been updated as well. Whether or not this
means that the garish red and yellow color scheme of the Steelers' new Heinz Field is present
is anybody's guess. Personally, I'm rather hoping that the stadium is packed everytime I play
the Steel City Boys.
Further refinements have also been made to the celebrated game engine itself. The playcalling
interface has received an overhaul, hopefully similar to what we saw in NCAA 2k2. For
those who haven't played VC's college effort, NCAA 2k2 was able to fit five plays per
formation screen, easily dwarfing the three found in Madden. It's important to note,
however, that Madden is capable of cycling through several plays in a given set, despite
only showing three at any given time. That's certainly one area where EA's title holds the
advantage, and given that VC has added several new plays to each playbook, it's something that
I'd like to see make the cut here as well.
Here smell my arm pit. Nice.
However, if EA holds the edge in playcalling, there's one area where VC holds an undisputed
edge of its own -- the commentary. Madden has been derided for years for recycling their
commentary from season to season, updating only as necessary to reflect coaching and personnel
changes across the league. Visual Concepts, on the other hand, is proud of their atmospheric
excellence, and seems determined to maintain that reputation, adding more lines of commentary
to their games with each passing season. While it's still too soon to tell if NFL2k2's
commentary will be revolutionary in its freshness, it's almost certain that it will be the
best on the market (although that's an admittedly low bar to hurdle).
The passing game has been overhauled, similar to the way NBA2k1 represented an overhaul
from NBA2k -- that is to say, timing and accuracy are much more important this time
around. Blow it, and you're gonna see a lot of passes bounce harmlessly off the turf come
Sunday. On offense, efforts have been made to cut down on the use of the special plays, such
as spinning, to run roughshod over the CPU defense. While the spin will still be effective in
certain situations, using it at the wrong time will definitely cost you. This should hopefully
lead to an increase in strategic thinking on the part of players. Might we be in for more
realistic online matches? We'll have to wait and see.
NFL 2K2 - Box Art.
With that in mind, that brings us to the improvements in network play, which is in its second
go-round for the NFL2k series. Those who played NFL2k1 might remember that the
network was rather lacking in a few details, such as little things like connection quality.
We saw a vast upgrade in NBA2k1, and those refinements will make the jump to NFL2k2
as well, along with a new "Win/Loss" feature that will track the records of those who wish to
get their online groove on. Naturally, there's some potential for abuse there, so it's almost
certain that Visual Concepts will include some way of tracking forfeits or line disconnects to
prevent the sore losers with whom we're all so familiar from dropping games they're losing in
order to maintain a perfect record. Needless to say, we're pretty excited about the record
tracking -- the potential for some awesome tournaments exists as a result.
Unfortunately, with Sony's online network not scheduled to get up and running until late
fall/early winter at the earliest, and doubts abounding as to whether or not Microsoft's
broadband network will be ready to go for the Xbox launch, Dreamcast owners won't be able to
play across platforms the way they could on such games as Unreal Tournament and 4x4
Evo. That is, in a sense, consolation -- while the Xbox and PlayStation 2 get features like
size-based momentum tackling (in other words, big guys hit harder than little guys), the
Dreamcast will be the sole console this year with online football. After further review, the
ruling on the network stands -- we can't wait for this one to hit store shelves later this month!
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