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NFL 2K1 (DC) Review

Publisher: SEGA Sports
Release Date: September 9, 2000

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Last year, Sega quickly became the darling of the football world with NFL 2K. The graphics bordered on life-like and the play closely followed. Sure, there were problems with the running game, but despite this it went down as one of the best football games of all time. The game was revolutionary in its presentation and realism. Now comes its sequel, the aptly named NFL 2K1. And for the second year in a row, the team at Visual Concepts has stirred up the insurrectionists and successfully created another revolutionary title.

NFL 2K1 promises an enhanced running game, which by all accounts it has most certainly changed. New to the series is a franchise mode, which attempts to put it on an even playing field with another five-star football title from a certain competitor. And then there are all those animation sequences that have been motion captured to add to the sense of realism. But where the game is truly revolutionary is that it is the first console football game to go online. All the updates and additions are ingredients of a very tasty title.

Presentation/Graphics : 94
When I bought my Dreamcast last year, I brought it with me for a trip to visit my parents. I was in the middle of a game when my mother (who unfortunately is a Cowboys fan) walked in and was taken aback. She was floored by the realism displayed in the graphics. I think everyone can agree that the replays and post-play animations were nothing short of incredible. In that respect, NFL 2K1 started on healthy ground.

In NFL 2K1, the graphics have a definite NFL 2K look to them. Player models are similar in appearance. The uniforms are a carbon copy of the previous edition, with details such as the tiny ventilation holes included. Helmets are so clear that not identifying teams is an impossibility. You can still even read the label on the football. The static graphics of the players and referees continue to be at the upper rungs of quality.

Where the graphics take a bit of a nose dive is with the stadiums. The stadium structures look good enough; the pirate ship is visible at Tampa's stadium. However, if you look out beyond the stadium, the backgrounds are boring. Even the stadium turf leaves little to get excited about. Grass fields were too flat in texture to convince me I was playing on a natural surface. The crowd is animated, as they move up on down when near the goal. There are also sideline crowds of players and media, though they are so pixelated that they are a sharp contrast from the rest of the game.

Weather effects were hit and miss. Back this year are breath clouds in cold weather. You can see clouds of breath during replays as well as during the action. During cold weather with some precipitation, the snow may fall and cover the field in white. However, even when no snow falls, the field may be covered in a dull shade of white. I was expecting to see footprints left behind as players ran down the field. Unfortunately not one print was left in the snow. In addition, there is a weather bug for Texas Stadium. Playing with below freezing temperatures and precipitation, I was surprised to find that neither snow or breath clouds showed up.

The menus deserve mention in the graphics department. I really liked the play selection of NFL 2K, where the offensive and defensive players' moves were superimposed on the playing field. This feature gives you a better feel for the cuts receivers make and improves the passing game. Fortunately, this great feature is back in NFL 2K1.

The animations in the game put this title over the top. If you thought NFL 2K had incredible animations, hold onto your seat. After my first snap of the ball and tackle with NFL 2K1, I knew I was watching something special. After the play, I could see players shoving each other around. Defensive linemen would take offense to the blocking of the offensive line and give a two fisted shove. The player would recoil naturally and then pursue the shoving match.

The game boasts it has over 2000 motion-captured animations, and I believe it. The animations add to the enjoyment of the game. Running backs, when hit, may stumble. I have seen backs put their free hand on the ground to regain balance. They run in a realistic fashion. When hit they ramble slowly and you can tell they are off balance. Following blocks is a dream as the offensive line opens up holes. Quarterbacks release passes, and the path of the ball is a direct function of pass protection. I have seen bee-line passes, lobs, and ugly ducks thrown as the QB is whacked on his release. I experienced one pass where the ball hit my receiver's back. My receiver still caught the ball. I watched the replay to see how this could be. As the ball hit him, he slowed down and turned his head to watch the ball. As the ball was about to hit the ground, he twisted his body and scooped the ball off the ground.

On defense, the animations continue to impress. Linemen make swim moves to circumvent the guards and tackles. During wrap tackles players clearly grab hold of the ball handler. Safeties kind of hold on for dear life and hope to drag players down while linemen and linebackers are more forceful in their approaches. Dive tackles also are varied. Even on defense players watch the ball. Watching one replay, I thought my linebacker just blew his coverage. He made a motion to the offensive backfield and a tight end peeled off to the flat. He was headed to the QB when the open TE was spotted in the flats. The QB lobbed the ball, and my LB tried to intersect the path. Unable to do so, I could actually see his head and eyes follow the trajectory of the ball into the tight end's hands. Despite the blown coverage he kept his eye on the ball the entire time. Now that's realism.

Collision detection in NFL 2K1 can get screwy at times. I've had a few plays where receivers turn into four-legged and four-armed freaks of nature; safeties or cornerbacks dive at a receiver and their heads disappear into the receiver's torso. During passes the collision detection appears to be based on a simple box volume rather than a true contact dynamics simulation package. Contact dynamics is a tricky business, and there is no way true contact can be modeled in any computer or console based football game. The contact model is better than the other players on the market, however.

Presentation/Audio : 85
NFL 2K1 has several sound packages available. If you listen to the audio commentary, you'll recognize the familiar voices of the fictitious booth and on-the-field reporter. Dan Stevens, Peter O'Keefe, and Michelle Westphal had their contracts renewed and call the action yet again. Dan who? Sure no real commentators grace the game, but by hiring amateurs, Visual Concepts was able to fill the disc up with commentary. You won't hear repeated Maddenisms but rather fresh conversation.

However, while the play-by-play is on the mark much of the time, there are many times where the calls are way off. If the defense commits an infraction on an extra point and the point is good, the obvious call is to decline the penalty. Doing so will earn the wrath of the booth and they question your mental stability in declining the penalty. A common mistake made by the booth is when the offense gets the ball back. If on its last possession, the team punted the ball away, the commentators always refer to it as a turnover. I have even heard mistakes on what down it was.

If the TV style presentation starts to bug you, you can utilize one of the other sound packages in the game, such as the in-stands or on-field environments. The in-stands audio package turns the volume down on the TV booth, raises the stadium announcer's voice, and puts an emphasis on crowd noise. If you want to hear the chatter of the players, the on-field setting is great. You hear trash talk from players, players calling out coverage strategies, and more. The stadium announcer is the only feedback you'll get on plays. He's a straight caller with the action. The announcing is similar to that of the NCAA series on the PlayStation. Unfortunately, unlike NCAA, you don't get the player name or number in the stadium announcements.

Interface/Options : 82
The biggest improvement aside from online play this year has to be the addition of a franchise mode in the game. Trying to close the gap with the competition, the franchise mode is done well. Other modes of play in the game include season, practice, tournament, playoffs, and fantasy. With the fantasy league, all players in the game, including some retired players, are put in a giant free agent pool. You then have a 55-round draft to set your team. That's a whole lotta pickin', but if you want to play with Marino or Elway, it's your only choice.

But the real heart of the game is the franchise mode, which lets you both control the team's play as well as personnel moves. In the front office, you can make cuts and sign free agents. At the end of the season, you are presented with a list of retiring players. To fill the holes, you have six weeks to scout college players. Players have their characteristics listed for a variety of aspects, such as tackling, running, stamina, etc. During the scouting process you can also seek out the relief of free agents. Once the six-week period concludes, a 7-round college draft is held. You then have 8 weeks to finish up the financial end before the pre-season begins.

Negotiating with the players can be tricky. You have control over the length and value of a contract, but when you submit your offer the player may walk away in disgust never to return. You can't be cheap in the game. However, by lowering the salary and extending the contract, you may reach a happy medium. All the while you have to consider the ramifications of the salary on the cap. Evaluating free agents can be tricky at first. The manual does not adequately address the franchise features of the game. If you activate the on-screen help, you will be told you can get the players' attributes by pressing the A button. I found you actually need a quick double tap of the button to access the attributes.

There are option aplenty for the game. Difficulty ranges from the ridiculously easy rookie level to the next-to-impossible All-Pro level. Between the two you find the pro level, which for many may prove too difficult. There is a substantial jump in difficulty between rookie and pro. Playing as the Broncos, I had a two-play, 80-yard drive solely comprised of runs by Terrell Davis. I went to change an option and noticed I accidentally had the game set to rookie. I changed the setting and the running was more difficult (though not impossible).

One of the options in the game is injuries. Injuries are set to either on or off. I play with injuries on, yet I don't get a sense of realism. The most I've had a player injured is a couple of series. I have never had a player miss a game due to injuries. Fatigue is modeled in the game. Fatigue levels are shown below the players when you pull the screen back to view the entire field. If you're on offense, you can slow the pace down to let your players recover from the previous play. As you wait at the line, the energy meter slowly replenishes.

Penalties in NFL 2K1 range from offsides to clipping. I can't remember the last time I saw a clipping call in a console football game. If you watch the replays, you'll sure enough find the clip. However, the referees do blow calls. On one play, my lineman was rushing the QB and beat his man. He had a clear path to the QB when he got pushed in the back. No call was made. Other times, the defense starts a rush and they look offsides at the snap of the ball but the call is not made. This happens rarely, and I guess you could say it's more realistic. Refs do miss calls in real games.

Controlling the players is nearly identical to the previous version of the game. The exception is on offense, where a juke move has been added for running backs. To juke, you press both analog triggers simultaneously. You have to time your jukes, stiff arms, and spins, however. The moves are not instantaneous.

You can question the statistical engine in NFL 2K1. In the franchise mode, I played as the Broncos with five minute quarters at the pro level. After my first season, the records and names of the playoff teams were somewhat realistic. From the NFC, the Rams, Bucs, Skins, Falcons, Cowboys, and 49ers made the playoffs. A couple of those teams don't have what it takes to make it in real life this year. The Cowboys and 49ers made it with 8-8 records. In the AFC, my Broncos at 13-3 led the Titans, Bills, Colts, Jags, and Ravens into the playoffs. Where the game seems to break down, however, is on individual stats. I led the league in rushing with 2651 yards (6.5 yard average) using Terrell Davis. He only had 1 fumble in 407 carries. The next best back was Edgerrin James of the Colts, who finished with 1247 yards on 373 carries (3.3 average) and 5 fumbles. The passing stats were out of this world. Nine QBs had over 4000 yards passing. Cade McNown led the QBs in touchdowns with 47. The receiving stats were footed in realism, but then the punting was extreme. Six punters had averages over 50 yards. In the kicking department, my kicker, Elam, led the league with 25/27. The next highest was a paltry 14/17. From a team viewpoint, the Titans led the league with 538 points scored in 16 games, whereas I had 282. On a positive note, the run and pass plays were reported as being balanced.

Online play makes an appearance this year. Playing online is essentially the exhibition mode of the game. There can be as many as 8 players with 4 per side. To achieve that grand total, you must have 2 teams of 4 players physically located at each Dreamcast on the net. The manual did not do a very good job at describing the full ins and outs involved with online play, but with perseverance you'll get there.

In the main NFL 2K1 menu, an option for network gaming is shown in the bottom right of the options. Selecting it brings up a menu where you can enter your dial-up information. You don't need Sega's own ISP Seganet, though you may find better ping times with their service. I have successfully used ISPs other than Sega's with NFL 2K1. Once connected, you have to enter a screen name and password, which is permanently stored on Sega's server. Once you've entered this information, you enter the main NFL 2K1 lobby, which shows three locations from which to choose - US Eastern, US Central, and US Western. Next to each label is a number representing the number of other players online who haven't yet started a game. Once you enter one of the regions, a list of cities and states are shown with the number of available participants. Select the city of your choice and view the list of players. Players' screen names are listed as well as their "rate," which is an indicator of the connection transfer rates. Rates range from great to poor. Poor rates usually mean a game filled with lag, or you can expect very choppy play. I've had games where you could count the seconds between foot steps of the players. Getting good rates or above practically ensures you of a smooth game at a pace close to having players side-by-side. You can challenge a player on the net by moving the cursor down to the screen name and pressing the A button. If the player accepts the challenge, you are taken to the game setup menu where you select your teams. Once there, don't try to make choices at the same time. You'll end up fighting over the cursor and won't get anywhere. Take turns. If you have a keyboard, you can type messages to each other at this point and during the game. A keyboard is strongly recommended. It helps for setting up the game, and it is even better for trash talking or congratulating your opponent on a good play. More on the on-line aspect of NFL 2K1 is discussed in the next section.

Gameplay : 92
So far I've been impressed with the title. Visually the game bridges the gap between reality and simulation. At times the animations are so real you'll do a double take. But even pretty gals get boring after awhile if all they have is air between the ears. So is NFL 2K1 a decent date? Well, yes and no. It really depends on the team you choose to play with.

As mentioned earlier, I used the Broncos in my quest for the Super Bowl. I played on the pro level since I am an experienced NFL 2K player. All-pro simply kicked my butt and had me running with my proverbial tail between my legs. Pro seems like a nice balance. The first thing I noticed, and which was born out above, was my ability to run the ball. Whereas a 3.5 yard average in NFL 2K was deserving of player of the year honors, the running in NFL 2K1 can be way too easy. I say can be because it really depends on the back and team. My Terrell tore up the league with a 6.5 yard average. If you play with some of the other teams in the league with good backs, you can expect similar types of numbers. For example, the Seahawks aren't anything special in the game, but Ricky Watters can run like a mutha. Playing as the Cardinals, my running stats went in the tank. The problem appears not to be the blocking employed by the line and receivers but the running backs themselves. Some players have tremendous east-west speed to get around corners. Usually these same players are quick enough to hit the gaps before the linebackers can close in. But if you like to run in football games, and I do, the game is much improved in the area. If you play with the Browns, for example, you'll get realistic run stats. For the top name rushers, the running game just needs to be toned down a little. On a positive note, however, defenses wise up to repeated runs to an area. For example, there are only so many times you can call sweep plays on a given series.

In the passing game, expect the same level of quality found in the inaugural version of the game. Maximum passing returns where you can lead your receivers. In addition, you have three types of passes at your disposal. Tapping the receiver button tosses up a lob; holding and releasing the button just before the QB throws the pass results in a normal pass; and holding the button down even after the QB releases the ball throws a bullet. All eligible receivers follow their pass routes and make cuts at the appropriate spots. Because the game is so good visually, you can quickly tell which receivers are open. Furthermore, the clean graphics helps to read the pass coverage as it unfolds. My one complaint about the passing game is that receivers will drop catchable balls when they are wide open. One of my favorite plays is a play option where McCaffrey executes a sideline slant move. After a string of running plays, the defense is suckered into a run defense. Calling this play is money. Unfortunately, if I go to the bank too often, the game appears to penalize me by dropping the ball. Even if I take control of the receiver he often drops the ball. Also, just like running backs, some receivers are virtually unstoppable. Some of my Bronco receivers couldn't catch a beach ball, yet some in the game (Randy Moss anyone?) are Superman on the gridiron.

I feel the offensive play selection is limited. While there are around 100 offensive plays for each team, I just want more. Many of the schemes have repetitive formats. Going from team to team, however, is a treat. The variety in offensive schemes is impressive. I was shocked to see the Seahawks with a 3-back set. One glaring omission from most of the teams is the absence of a QB sneak play. That play is crucial when only inches are needed. Attempting to construct a QB sneak with the available play editor was unsuccessful.

On defense, the play selection looks to be the same for every team. There is an assortment of 4-3, 3-4, nickel, and dime defenses available with combinations of pass coverages and blitzes. Player move as scripted in the plays. Lineman will cross if specified, and linebackers, cornerbacks, and safeties blitz where appropriate. Depending on the offensive formation, the defense automatically shifts. For example, if an offense lines up in a triple wide scheme, it is not uncommon for a defensive player to move from one side to the other to help out. Likewise, players in motion may or may not be followed. It all depends on the offensive formation.

For the most part, the secondary plays a zone coverage and does a good job. I have seen receivers cross which causes the pass defense to switch off. This can create mismatches (a LB on a WR), but the same happens in real football. Pass coverage down the field is pretty good, but most coverage breaks down on screens. Many times the coverage follows the receivers and will forget about a back releasing late to the flat. While the pass is completed, the secondary quickly converges once the ball is released. As a whole, the pass coverage gets a passing grade. The secondary converges with realistic speeds and will provide single, double, or triple coverage where appropriate. I just get frustrated by blown coverage. Some may call this a bug, but I call it an artifact of a good simulation.

I am paranoid about long passes, so I typically play with pass defenses. The AI exploits this with the run. My run defense is second to none, yet the AI teams have run amuck on my defense at times. The AI offense recognizes when it has the upper hand and will playcall accordingly. If it senses a weak run defense, it will run until it is stopped, mixing up dives, sweeps, and draws. The AI breaks down offensively once the 2 minute warning hits. I have yet to find a game that has a degree in clock management. Teams burn their timeouts quickly. Often, it will run when it should pass and then call a timeout. However, even with this flaw it still runs a balanced game. Pass and run play distribution is balanced except when the CPU is behind by a significant amount, at which point it abandons the run. To give you a sense of the conniving AI in the game, the CPU decided to go for it on 4th and inches near midfield. I lined up in a goal defense and saw his offensive package. Realizing I'd probably get burned, I called a timeout to adjust. After the timeout the AI takes time to think about things and switches to a punt formation.

Defensively, the CPU can be deficient. On short yardage situations it does not always line up in a run defense. It will call a 3-4 pass defense with no blitzers. However near the goal line it can shut you down. I've started 1st and goal on the 1-yard line only to be pushed back on too many occasions.

Of course, much of the play in NFL 2K1 will be had with the online games. The online experience is extremely gratifying. However, something that PC owners have known about for years is that there are some bad apples out there. The players you'll encounter out there vary from the true student of the game to the real jerk who thinks he knows about football simply because he is the NFL Blitz champ at the local arcade. In the short time since the game has been out, I've encountered both extremes and plenty in between. Unfortunately, my negative experiences have outweighed the positives. With time, leagues will form and word will get out on who to avoid.

One type of player you may encounter is "The Wuss." He's the kind of guy who quits. If you get an early lead on him, he'll simply quit. He'll go for it on every 4th down like a true idiot. Screwing up once too often sends him home. Next, you have "The Jerk." He's the kind of player who will do nothing but blitz all day long. He's pretty easy to beat. A few slant routes or a quick out and you have his number. Depending on his offensive abilities, he may turn out to be a "Wussy Jerk." Now one thing you should know about online play is that everything a player does can be seen on the other end except for play selection. So pulling the camera out to view receivers is seen on both sides of the phone line. If you are playing a "Superjerk," he'll press the trigger out quickly. The quick camera zoom out is the same type of phenomena you have at the beginning of a play. You are fooled and jump offsides. He does this repeatedly picking up cheap penalties. I encountered this to such a bad degree with one player that in the end I just jumped offsides on my own until he was down at the goal. I could easily stop him because he could do nothing but pass. At this point, he turned into the "Super Wussy Jerk," going for it on 4th and goal. Poor guy didn't make it. Then there's the pass happy player. We'll call him "Mr. Flirt." He does nothing but run out of the pocket and wait for an open man to throw to. He'll pick a team like the Bucs or Vikings with fast QBs that can escape the defense. Usually Mr. Flirt, the Wuss, the Jerk, the Wussy Jerk, the Superjerk, and Super Wussy Jerk can be one and the same. The always share the same trait - they pick the top teams in the league. I can't count on two hands the number of times I've played against the Titans, Bucs, Rams, or Jags.

Then you have Mr. Pupil. I fit into that mold. He plays an honest game. He understands the game and comprehends situational defense. He knows not to blitz all day long but to mix it in. He's the chess player. Football is more than brawn; it is a thinking man's game. He understands this. There is a time for smash-mouth football, but there is also the need to keep your opponent guessing. These guys are the ones to play. I must put a plug in for one such player. I played a fellow named "sweetkakes" online, who despite picking the Bucs, played a pretty honest game. He had me guessing quite a bit, although in the end I prevailed easily. He was down big in the second half yet wasn't a quitter. He stuck it out and even challenged me to another game. I appreciated that. Of course, I beat him again. Hehe.

If you have a keyboard, you can mitigate some of the rude behavior in the game. Mix up the trash talk with comments about good play. Also, set the rules. If you are an honest player, tell him you won't stand for ploys like the quick zoom out sham. If the opponent does nothing but drop 30 yards back and wait for an open receiver, tell him you don't like that. Each game can take an hour of your time. You deserve a quality game. There is absolutely no enjoyment to be had playing that type of game.

Replay Value : 95
With the addition of the franchise mode, you now have reason to continually play NFL 2K1 as a solo project. The graphics add to the game in more ways than visually. The graphics enhance your ability to make passes or find holes in the line. Every time I play against the computer I am thoroughly enjoying myself. Despite a few flaws with the game, it is the best football game I have played this year.

The addition of the online component just makes the game that much better. The moment I got online I was hooked. Every time I play an anonymous player my heart pounds faster. The suspense involved with each game is incredible. Playing the computer is one thing, but being able to play a human at any time during the day is another. Sometimes you don't always have someone available to play in the same room. Now you do. If you find the right opponent, the games are memorable whether you win or lose.

If you have a Dreamcast, run, don't walk, to buy this game. If you don't have a Dreamcast, it's time to get one.

Overall : 93
Of the console football titles released this year, this one is by far the best looking one. Rising above the pretty face, however, this game continues to excel. There are a few issues to be address. Namely, Visual Concepts seems to have gone too far to the other side with the running game. Whereas NFL 2K was next to impossible to run on, NFL 2K1 is too easy with certain players and teams. One of my big complaints about football games is the unbalanced playcalling by the CPU. NFL 2K1 calls a realistic game mixing pass and run plays equally. The AI has a few holes in it, but overall it rises above most of the competition.

If I could sum up my over 5000 word review in one word, it would be "Wow."

By: James Smith 9/26/00

Related Link: NFL 2K1 PA

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