2003 Gaming Awards, Part 12

ESPN NFL Footbal 2K4
Developed By: Visual Concepts Entertainment, Inc.
Published By: Sega
Release Date: 09/03/2006
AWARD WON: BEST SPORTS GAME, 2003

Christopher Bowen

When you make the most popular game of the most popular sport in any country, and do it for a very long time, said game tends to become a bit of a pop culture phenominom. Needless to say, the John Madden series of American Football games by EA Sports has been selling very well due to that name recognition, due in no small part to the fact that many of today’s crop of players have grown up playing the games themselves; it’s literally gotten to the point where players will complain to the company if they feel their ratings are too low, forgetting the fact that the game allows you to edit said ratings.

In the beginning of the reign of dominance for the Madden franchise, other franchises tried to take it out from the top of the Mountain. Sega Sports tried adding actual play by play. Acclaim tried adding in the Quarterback Club challenge course (a modern day version of the Punt, Pass and Kick competitions, only for NFL quarterbacks). Other companies basically tried ripping off Madden’s play style and wiping their asses with it, hoping a player endorsement – be it Deion Sanders, Emmett Smith or Troy Aikman – would be enough to fool the masses. It wasn’t, and it got to the point where EA Sports spent the latter part of the 90s as the only legitimate American Football game in town.

Over the years, Sega Sports – their own football franchise having died years ago – started quietly building a reputation on the Sega Dreamcast, with the NFL 2K and lesser known College Football 2K series. They were known as very good games that took some getting used to, but had solid overall control, and… is that online play!? Soon after, the Dreamcast died, and Sega said it would become a software company not unlike Capcom or Konami, showing allegance to no system. The results of that have been debatable (as in “debatable as to how disasterous”), but in the sports department, it’s been all shine, as most of the 2K line of games have been solid, even rating better than those from EA Sports.

ESPN NFL Football – more commonly known today as NFL 2K4 – swung for Madden’s fences. They changed the running mechanics, improved tackling controlls, and even stung EA in the one area they always excel: presentation. It’s passe nowadays, but the “Crib” was in it’s first year for 2K4, and it was a huge addition; think Madden cards, but with first person view and more things to unlock. Plus, the other big addition – more a novelty than anything, but a tremendously fun one nonetheless – was the addition of first player mode. This literally put you inside the helmet of the player you were controlling, be it the running back, quarterback, or defensive lineman. The good part of this was the ability to see someone coming right at you, but it didn’t work as well in practise, unless you locked onto one player. Add in flawless ESPN integration – something EA STILL hasn’t figured out – and you have a winner in all regards.

I was always a fan of the 2K football games, and 2K4. I’ll save my rant about 2K5 until next month, assuming 2K5 won this award that year. But 2K4 definately deserved this award, even if it wasn’t my personal favourite sports game of this year (that award goes to NHL ’04, still the best next-generation hockey game of all time).