I'm sorry this review is so late in coming. I'm getting footballed out. I've played just about every football game under the sun this year for the various consoles and NFL 2K2 for the PS2 just arrived so late in the season that I had to get the excellent Madden 2002 out of my system. At least I never had to play Gameday 2002. Whew, escaped that perennial piece of junk.
It's not as if we were saving the best for last. Madden 2002 is still tops in my books for the 2001 football releases, but NFL 2K2 on the PS2 is a worthy contender. It definitely ranks as the second best pro football title on the PS2. And in some ways it surpasses Madden. The transition from the Dreamcast to the PS2 has certainly been a good one for the team at Visual Concepts.
Presentation/Graphics : 90
You'd expect the latest generation of sports games to capture the graphical essence of the sport they are representing. Without waxing poetic too much, NFL 2K2 delivers graphically when it comes to player appearances. The uniform textures are pleasant to the eye and players are well proportioned. The players don't seem as robotic as the previous versions on the Dreamcast, which is a big positive. Their movements are more natural in all aspects of the game. After plays the motion continues as players battle with each other after the whistle. In fact, some of the best animations occur in between plays. Player models are detailed to the point of making each player easily recognized. Also, if your back has been getting a workout you'll see him gasping for breath as he lines up for the next play.
The stadiums look great as well. The team and media personnel on the sidelines are rendered in three-dimensions compared to the cheesy 2D character models of the previous Dreamcast versions of the game. Stadiums are adorned with plenty of ads and fan banners much like real NFL stadiums, and the overall appearance of the venue is second to none. Likewise, the fields look great, though NFL Fever on the Xbox has set the new standard for accurate looking grass.
Watching the game occurs with one of six views. Unfortunately, I find all but 2 a complete waste. It's next to impossible to play the game with a blimp or iso view, so the only two views you'll likely ever use are the standard or far view, both of which follow the action from behind the offense. The views are great for the running game. However, I found them to be sub-par for the passing game when throwing to receivers running out patterns or backs running out to the flats. The camera doesn't zoom out far enough and often you're left throwing to a receiver blind. Many times I've throw interceptions in single coverage out patterns simply because I couldn't see where the defender was. Another nasty which creeps up with the passing game is occasional slowdown; the game gets choppy during some receptions.
Between plays the television style presentation pays off big. Some plays are telestrated during a replay and the action is stopped at crucial points to emphasize a superior move by a player. The presentation in this respect is the best of any football game on the market and really adds to the atmosphere of the game.
Presentation/Audio : 98
To go along with the visual TV style presentation, NFL 2K2 surpasses the competition in the audio department as well. The same fictitious booth from NFL 2K and 2K1 return for more play-by-play and color commentary. The presentation is seamless during the action. During replays the booth analyzes the play remarkably. One of the best features of the NFL 2K series has been the on-field chatter of the players. The default sound package provides a realistic game atmosphere, but if you want to adjust the sound, you can tweak it to your liking. This means you can listen to the game from the stands, from the pressbox, or on the field. With the nice sound options and great implementation of sound effects, NFL 2K2 has set a new standard in the audio department.
Interface/Options : 85
With NFL 2K2 you have the ability to play through multiple seasons in the franchise mode. If you don't expect to devote much time to the game, there's also a single season or single game mode. During franchise play you have full control over the team with respect to player personnel moves. Trades can be initiated, free agents signed, players released, and college boys drafted. The personnel moves rival those found in Madden and are a highlight for the game. The game makes you aware of what needs have to be addressed and pointers to contract length and value. But you can alter the amounts at your discretion in order to make a little more room under the cap or guarantee locking up a stud player for the long term.
When playing in season or franchise mode, the stats tracking engine reflects fairly accurate values. The league leaders in passing seemed to be on the low side in terms of yardage, and the rushing averages were also a bit high, but overall things like receptions, touchdowns, QB ratings, sacks, and interceptions were at reasonable levels. For your players, I found good statistical equality playing with 7-minute quarters. The quarter length can be adjusted from 1 to 15 minutes.
There are plenty of options to tweak the gameplay of NFL 2K2. Audio and visual settings can be tweaked to your liking, and the rules of the game can be customized. Right off the bat I had to adjust the penalty settings upward as the default slider settings netted only 1 or 2 penalties for an entire game. Even with the penalty sliders bumped up a few ticks there seems to be an unequal balance of penalties for my team. Rarely does the CPU team get called for an infraction.
Once nice thing is the ability to adjust the game speed. I prefer a realistic-feeling game of football, and the default speed was way too fast for my liking. Even on the slowest of three values the game plays at a quick clip. One area where NFL 2K2 is deficient is in the customization of the AI, or lack thereof. One of the great things about Madden is the ability to tailor the AI settings to your liking. Many times I find the secondary of NFL 2K2 weak and would love to improve it. Sadly there's no way to do so. Another area where NFL 2K2 needs some improvement is with the menu design. The game menus, including the play selection screens, can be tough to navigate through with the analog stick.
Gameplay : 80
The single most important thing for me in a football game is AI. AI will make or break a football game. Witness the perennial dogs Gameday and QB Club. Both suffer from horrendous secondary AI which leads to unrealistic passing stats. In the past the NFL 2K series has been my benchmark against which all other football games were compared. But Madden 2002 changed all that. The complete game that Madden 2002 is means a new standard is out there. While NFL 2K2 compares favorably in many respects, in others it simply falters.
Overall, I enjoy playing NFL 2K2. One of my complaints with Madden is the implementation of the exaggerated momentum based physics engine. EA went over the top in this area. In reality players can stop and cut better than what Madden lets on. Of course, they can't move nearly as well as they do in NFL 2K2. They move somewhere between the two. But my preference for player motion lies with NFL 2K2. Players react to your every command, and the pinpoint control lets you stick a runner where you want.
The running game is similar to NFL 2K1 on the Dreamcast, meaning you can rack up some big gains. Run averages are a bit on the high side due to the pinpoint control which makes the game fun. By spinning, juking, and stiffarming, you can run a player down the field easily. You also see this when the AI team is on offense. Never before in a football game has the CPU rushed so effectively on me. However, part of the problem when I'm on defense is that the AI back just bowls right over my defenders. I like to play as a linebacker, and many times I'll shoot a gap and stand up a back just as he gets the ball. But my head start is no match for a back just getting started. He bounces right off and pushes through the line for a big gain. Some AI sliders would mitigate this phenomenon. Another problem in the running game when I'm on defense is some circular running by the AI QB. During draw plays the QB may circle the backfield unrealistically (instead of dropping back), cut back towards the center, and hand the ball off. When I see the QB running away from the running back I think pass and drop back. The quick leap back towards the back is a cheap misdirection.
The passing game has its own hits and misses. The negative is the secondary AI, which is not as good as previous games using the NFL 2K engine. On floaters the secondary often stops, sets up out of position, and leaps prematurely for the ball. It's actually comical to see a defender completely miss the timing of the pass. Another negative is the QB passing accuracy. I can understand missing a throw while on the run, but there are times when my QB has no pressure and is set in the pocket. When I pass the ball it gets thrown to the wrong area. You could say that this adds to the realism where receivers and QBs aren't on the same page, but when the play screen tells me a player will run a hitch, I expect the QB to throw short and not 10 yards over his head. On the positive side, however, is the play of cornerbacks on out patterns. While you can exploit the secondary in loose coverage, if you go to the well too often the cornerbacks close quickly on passes to the sidelines for easy picks. Another plus is the variety of incomplete passes. You can expect several passes to be tipped by the defensive line or linebackers protecting the middle of the field.
One last problem which plagues NFL 2K2 is the AI clock management and play selection. When not worried about the clock, the CPU calls a balanced game. But as soon as the clock strikes two minutes in a half, the CPU continues to call a balanced game. There's no sense of urgency with the CPU. Poor use of timeouts and an inability to move the ball effectively (due to run plays or short passes) are two traits that afflict the half-ending ball management decisions of the CPU.
Replay Value : 80
If you don't mind some AI problems, NFL 2K2 is certainly worthy of your football dollar. The presentation aspects of the game provide the best atmosphere in pro football. The running game, though on the easy side, is entertaining. The passing game presents its own issues while on defense, but even so the game is still enjoyable. The franchise mode allows you to extend your team's play for multiple seasons, and the management options are fairly deep and provide a game within a game. However, if you're looking for a pure simulation, NFL 2K2 may have you looking for more.
Overall : 84
Don't get me wrong. NFL 2K2 is still an enjoyable game. After NFL 2K1, I thought I'd seen the best console football had to offer. The mix of arcade control with the realistic AI was a match made in heaven. But the more realistic playing Madden 2002 changed the landscape, and in so doing surpassed the NFL 2K series in terms of overall enjoyment for sim fans. Many of the problems of NFL 2K2 could have been addressed with AI sliders. The running back strength is excessive, and some of the secondary play is suspect. If these parameters were addressed, I'd probably switch allegiance yet one more time since the overall graphical and audio presentation of NFL 2K2 is the best around, and the tighter control makes for a fun play.