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NFL 2K (Dreamcast)
MSRP: $49.99
Number of Players: 1-4
Developer: Visual Concepts
Publisher: Sega of America

Rating:
*****
out of
*****

Finally, the waiting is over. The ultimate console football game has arrived.

Visual Concepts spent over two years constructing this game from scratch. Whereas the Madden and GameDay series on the PlayStation have been building on roughly the same engines for the past several years, NFL 2K is a completely new animal and it shows in virtually all areas of gameplay.

The graphics are simply spectacular. The smooth, 60 frames per second display makes for a console football game presentation that simply destroys the competition. I guarantee you that Madden NFL 2000 (on either the PlayStation or N64) or NFL GameDay (on PlayStation) will look absolutely archaic to you after you play only one game of NFL 2K. You'll wonder how you managed to look at such blocky players and grainy fields for so long. I will concede that if you've played NFL Fever 2000 or Madden NFL 2000 on a properly tricked-out, 3D-accelerated PC, you're less likely to be wowed by NFL 2K's graphics. You will, however, still be amazed by the gameplay and that's what counts.

What really impressed me about NFL 2K is that, for all of its technical prowess, it's really easy to sit down and play a game for the first time. If you have any hesitation about the game being complicated as a result of the detail present, fear not. NFL 2K plays just like Madden or GameDay in terms of control mechanics. The actual game, however, is far superior.

One of the first differences you'll notice about NFL 2K is the play selection screen. When playing a single player game, the play is shown as an overlay on the field of play. The game will show you in graphic detail the routes of both receivers and running backs. It's really a nice touch. But the usefulness of the display takes a back seat in a two-player game, where that type of play selection will result in each player knowing what the other is doing. That problem is solved via the Visual Memory Unit's LCD screen. Each player can pick their plays from a text menu on their individual screen, keeping their play selection completely secret from the other. No more of that "Did you look at my play?" tension in NFL 2K.

Because the Dreamcast has the horsepower to deliver incredible detail, the nuances of football can be represented in a way that no console football game has ever done before. Although graphics and gameplay have usually been separated into two different schools of thought, in NFL 2K the graphics actually improve the gameplay by allowing the game to be more like real football than any game that's come down the pike. We've seen football games in the past with spectacular hits, catches, and running animations before. However, there has usually been a trade-off. Something had to be sacrificed for the sake of speed or detail. In NFL 2K, the hits, catches and animations are all present, but so are all of the extras -- like the animations and the player celebrations. Also present are added touches like players adjusting their equipment after a play, steam coming out of players' mouths on a cold day, and realistic depictions of on-field weather.

The players are all extremely detailed, with the faces of each player texture-mapped under their helmets. The body sizes are all proportioned correctly, which seems to be the big thing this year in other football games. The players move and react to tackles like actual humans, rather than polygonal representations. My only gripes are minor. One is that each player's hands are in a "cupped" position that never changes. So, when they make a catch or pick themselves off the ground, their hands are always in this stiff, cupped position that looks kind of odd. A very, very minor nitpick. The other is that the players and coaches on the sidelines are represented by 2D sprites. They aren't that bad looking, but they're so obviously 2D that they ruin the illusion that you're watching an actual football broadcast that the rest of the game works so hard to create.

The sounds in the game are as exceptional as the graphics. The commentary, provided by "Dan Stevens" and "Peter O' Keefe" (actually, the commentators are voiced by Terry McGovern and Jay Styne), is as natural sounding as I've heard in a football game. As a matter of fact, after playing several games, I began to tune it out. Not because it was bad, but because what's being described is plainly evident on the screen. Because it's very easy to see where the ball is being spotted, I didn't need to hear the commentators tell me about it. The commentary is mostly free from the bugs that have plagued some other football games this year. I say "mostly free," because they do make some odd calls at times. For example, a pass that results in a loss of yardage may provoke comments praising the accuracy of the pass or the agility of the receiver. I will say that the phrase "You can't coach that!" gets a little old when it's used to refer to just about everything, though.

The background music and noises are fantastic and very atmospheric. The hits are impressive and sound appropriately brutal. With the stadium announcer calling the downs and plays, crowd noises, coupled with the fact that the stadiums are all rendered with a great attention to detail, you'll be overwhelmed with the feeling of actually watching a game on TV. In fact, NFL 2K's TV presentation style easily surpasses Electronic Arts' attempts in the Madden series. In season mode, a sports ticker appears at the bottom of the screen, announcing scores from other games played that week as well as text ads for forthcoming Dreamcast games.

The computer's AI never seemed too easy, even on the easiest setting. I did notice that once I became better at catching passes, which is a little more challenging than on other console games for reasons I'll explain soon, I was able to complete some wild Hail Mary passes for a few exciting touchdowns. Running the ball was initially a bit tough, but got easier as I learned to do it like the pros: Follow my blocker and vary my attacks. Once I didn't try to run it up the gut every time, I did a lot better. Still, the stats for running, even in simulated games, were a bit on the low side.

I mentioned that the passing game is a little different from other games. By that I mean that the players actually have to catch the ball with their hands. If the quarterback fires a pass at a player who's back is toward him, the receiver will have to turn around to catch the ball, unless he manages to bat it down into his arms. It doesn't just appear in his hands if it gets near him, which happens in other football games. I've seen passes bounce off shoulder pads, helmets and out of the receiver's hands just like the real game. On the opposite side of the ball, interceptions are also required to follow these same rules. So, those passes that bounce off receivers can't magically appear in a nearby defender's hands either. The result is that the passing game in NFL 2K is the best representation of NFL passing ever seen on a console system.

I really can't fault NFL 2K on very much. Basically, all I'd like to see next year is Internet play and improved sideline graphics. If that's really all I could find wrong with the game, I think it deserves the rating of 10. This is the Dreamcast's first must-own sports game and is definitely a system seller. I can't say that about any other football games I've played recently.

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