Sega’s NFL franchise is the sad tale of a plucky youngster, full of hope and optimism, having victory snatched from it’s grasp by the
wizened veterans over at EA. As they say, age and treachery beats youth and enthusiasm every time. But I’m not here to rehash what has already been hashed so extensively. Instead I’m going to give you my thoughts on the game itself which caused such a seismic shift in the way the NFL and EA do business with each other.
The 2k series was Sega’s way of giving the finger to EA, who had decided early on not to support the Dreamcast in favor of supporting the Playstation 2. As a result of this decision, Sega was forced to produce it’s own NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL games if it wanted to have sports fans consider purchasing their Hail Mary system. Sega may have intended to make these games anyway, but EA essentially gave them no other choice, and so the 2K series of games were born.
NFL 2K was a good game, a launch title which was probably a bit rushed, but which easily outclassed anything on the original Playstation, which it was then competing against. NFL2k1 was therefore a refined version of this initial title.
Playing this again after not touching it for nine years, it is remarkable how well the game has held up. At the time the graphics were stunning, very lifelike. Now you can tell it’s previous generation, but the only real complaint is the low polygon count of the players. Aside from that the fans look much too evenly spaced out and appear to be in 2D, yet I still run into games to this day that have that problem (Guitar Hero World Tour anyone?). The playing fields, which deteriorate over time when playing outdoors, look plain. The logos are low resolution.
Players could go through the goal post Terminator 2 style. In short the game doesn’t hold up graphically to what Madden looks like today, but it has certainly aged better than many other Dreamcast games I’ve had the opportunity to look at again recently.
The sound was one of the areas where NFL2K really hit the mark. It’s announce team AI was really terrific. You can’t coach that. However the sequel didn’t take the opportunity to add a lot of new dialogue, as any of the same sayings could still be heard in NFL2k1. Still, at least I’m not still hearing it in NFL2k9, like I was in certain other franchises, I guess that’s one good thing about it dying early. Still, the sound in NFL2k1 was outstanding, and set a high standard for others to try and attain. Hearing the defensive line trash talking the QB, that never got old.
Yet there were some quirks, the designers didn’t get the Announce Team AI quite right. There were multiple occasions when I would score a touchdown and get scolded for turning the ball over the next time I got possession. Not enough for me to give the game a bad score, merely something that I found to be a bit odd, considering just how good the rest of the game was.
There were some real improvements that the 2K series brought to the playing field. Amongst them was an actual running game. Setting up blocks and waiting for them actually produced results. You could win in this game by playing Steelers football. Not that I’d advocate that, but still. Possible, where before it had been just a fantasy.
In regards to play calling, Madden had its three screen playbook, 2K1 had it’s roundel of options. I remember at first it was a bit awkward to get into, but after playing it recently it felt very natural, it fit like a glove. Different teams had their own playbooks, there was no shotgun offense for San Francisco for example, and you are forced to use the style your team advocated. I suppose this could be considered a mark against the game, but I prefer to look at it as a pro, as it ups the realism.
Penalties happened at a somewhat realistic level in the game too. Your teammates aren’t robots, they get jumpy and will go off sides, interfere with the receiver, even get caught for clipping.
2k1 included one thing that it’s predecessor didn’t, and that was online play. Aside from that there was a franchise mode which would allow you to sheppard your team toward Lombardi Trophy glory for years. Finally there are varying difficulty levels if you find yourself marching down the field with little or no problem, posting shutouts and scoring 50+ points a game.
The learning curve that takes you between the different difficulties can be a bit extreme at first. I know for example that I never really had the patience to play the game enough to get good at playing on anything other than the standard level, but if you really are marching up and down the field like you were playing against peewee players, then I’d suggest upping the difficulty.
The running game is the primary reason this game is original. Yes sure the graphics were outstanding it their day but that’s not original.
No, the joy of having a premier back and being able to dominate a game in a mostly realistic way while using him, that was original. I don’t recall ever being able to do that in Madden.
Playing against your buddies, playing against the computer, playing online. On a system with more than a few great multiplayer games, NFL2k1 was as addictive as it got for the football fan.
For a brief shining moment NFL2k1 was the shining example of what a football game should be. Madden couldn’t hold a candle to it. In regards to Dreamcast games, and what you should have in your collection, this is right up there.
The game isn’t perfect. There are times when the animation makes you wonder what’s going on. Case in point, when handing the ball off in certain formations the QB has to go to warp speed to get from where he is to where he needs to be. Also, while playing this again there were far more fumbles than would seem normal.
Balance: Above Average
Originality: Very Good
Final Score: GREAT GAME
Short Attention Span Summary
This was one of the shining lights for the Sega Dreamcast, no question.