ESPN NFL Football Review (Xbox)

The NFL 2K series has undergone more than a name change. Under the new name of ESPN NFL Football, Visual Concepts looks to take the game to a new level. With the addition of First Person Football and the ESPN license the game looks to try and take over as the best football game on the market. Everyone had their complaints with the NFL 2K series over the years, does ESPN NFL Football fix those problems and make a better game of football, or do we have to wait another year?? Read on to find out.

The graphics are jaw-dropping. A lot of player faces are dead on accurate. Stadiums are very well done and you can tell when you are playing in the morning, afternoon or at night. The lighting is perfectly done for each setting. If you are a fan of the Dallas Cowboys, like myself, you will notice in day games, there are shadows from the rafters, from the hole on top of the stadium. After every quarter, you will notice the shadows move, not during gameplay, but after the quarter. So by the time the 4th quarter hits in an afternoon game, you will be playing in a half shaded half sunny bright field. VERY VERY cool!!

The animations are SICK in this game. You will see "Gang Tackles", double teaming defensive lineman, stiff-arms, spin moves, juke moves, hurdles, swatting balls, diving/bending over for fumbles, one handed stabs (not as often as last year, THANK GOD), tip toe sidelines and back of the endzone catches and many more. Almost every game I played I saw a new animation somewhere. All of them come through looking superb, no herky jerky stuff, it's all fluid. You can now chain some animations together as well and they don't drop a frame and look very realistic.

If you don't like the way a player looks, go into player editor and change his accessories. Ricky Williams doesn't look right with a clear visor?? Slap in that tinted one. Joey Galloway needs more tape on his fingers?? Add some. There are so many things you can do to the players this year.

This game has it all, including cheerleaders doing somersaults and "Bouncing" all over the place. Coaches, yes real coaches on the sidelines getting animated. You can tell the difference between Bill Cowher and the "Slim" edition of Bill Parcells. Some of the coaches are downright perfect.

The instant replays are just as impressive. ESPN is written all over this game w/ all sorts of stat overlays and instant replay shots. While in franchise mode, the ESPN ticker comes into play and shows off some scores and key stats.

There are quite a few camera options available, but my favorite is the Custom cam. I can adjust it just right so I can see if my receivers are getting jammed at the line or if they are going to be open for that 5 yard in/out.

In first person mode, you will notice some clipping and some in instant replays on the regular mode as well. It's nothing outrageous and every football game has it. I just thought I'd mention it.

Let me first say that if you are familiar with the 2K series, you might want to bump up the difficulty from Pro to All-Pro as soon as you boot up. The game is far too easy on the Pro level. It might be fun to practice on, but that is about it. I was completing 16 out of 17 passes with Quincy Carter!!

Offensively you have so many options. Pick your play, read the defense pre-snap and decide whether you want to audible out of the play or hot route a receiver. Reading the defense is so nice this year. Like last year, you'll have fake blitzes that drop into coverage. Last year, for the most part, you could tell when and where the blitz was coming from. It's done a lot better this year, since it's so varied. It makes it that much harder to read the defense, since you really don't know if they are coming or not until after the snap.

Anyone get frustrated over the dropped passes last year?? Here comes Galloway streaking on a post pattern WIDE OPEN, I fire in the perfect pass and he DROPS IT!! How frustrating was that last year?? Even when a defender came in a little late to knock the ball loose, it happened a little too often last year. Well, that has been fixed this year. I have seen some drops but it's no where near as bad as it was last year. I've had a few drops, don't get me wrong, but they were believable.

The running game is oh so nice. You can tell the difference when using a bruiser like Bettis and a scat back like Faulk or Dunn. You can run over some DB's with Bettis and the momentum reacts accordingly. If you are in mid juke and get hit flush w/ a heavy hitting safety or linebacker, Faulk will go backwards. The stop and go running animation works well, but I didn't really use it much. I used my sprint, spin and juke moves to get around. I managed to average 4.1 yds per carry with Hambrick in my season and averaged 5.1 with Ahman Green when I played a few games with the Packers.

The CPU can run wild on you sometimes, breaking tackle after tackle. It doesn't happen with all the backs and it does NOT happen every game either, but it's something you have to watch out for. I mean I'm all for breaking tackles, but sometimes there are just too many.

Maximum passing is back this year and it's definitely more sensitive. The more pressure you put in the direction you want to lead to the further it leads. You will notice QB's like Gannon passing with precision, while seeing QB's like Quincy Carter throwing a little less accurately. One of the greatest things you see is when you put pressure on QB's like David Carr, he seems to rush his passes and throw more interceptions, then other QB's like Vick or McNabb you will see them run away from trouble and throw on the run or just run for the first down. It's very dangerous playing against the mobile quarterback and very fun to have the realism there. Very rarely will you see a non mobile QB take off running. Just like in the NFL, it happens, but it's not very often.

Faster players will run away from a defense so you can add up the YAC. You will no longer see that slow safety catching up to your speedy receiver. If you break away, go ahead and high step your way in. While it's hard to get that perfect play, the reward is there when you accomplish it.

Defensively you can send a "Hot Blitz" with any of your players. Wanna send to or three?? Go for it. It's all under your control. I like to play as a safety or linebacker usually, but it is still just as fun playing as a DB matching up one on one with a great receiver like T.O or Moss. Getting burned or making the play on the ball never felt so good. Strafing around getting into position is played out perfectly. I haven't seen the phantom leap this year, which happened a little to often last year. If you are not controlling the DB, most of the time they will play the ball but sometimes get in too quickly and cause a pass interference penalty. Usually you see 1 or 2 a game in real life and I have seen about the same here. Very nicely done. You can also position your DB's to defend against the inside or outside pass, line up for bump and run or play loose. Sacks were hard to come by last year using your defensive lineman. This year I can usually get 1 or 2 if I played exclusively with a defensive lineman. I know a lot of you guys are loving that.

Stats are everywhere and they even have 1/2 sacks and assists!! Oh yes, VC finally listened to the diehard gamers. They are recorded right as well. They also fixed the stats being messed up on "Challenge" calls, where stats were not recorded properly.

More often than not, when the CPU throws out the red flag, the play will be overturned. The one that happens the most frequently is the "Ball Spotted Wrong" red flag. So far, every single one of those red flag challenges has burned me, some even look like the CPU was wrong, when in fact the official will overturn it anyways. Kind of annoying, but it's all good. I've had a few calls go my way as well, very few I might add.

One thing I've noticed is that I fumble more often than the CPU. It might have something to do with me being the Cowboys though. I have seen the CPU fumble, but it just doesn't happen all that often. I fumble at least once a game. I'll be lucky to see 1 fumble in 3 games from the CPU.

Special teams is so nice. I've noticed on kickoff returns that the kicker will stay back as the safety man to attempt to bring you down as a last resort. I feel embarrassed to mention it, but the kicker has tackled me a few times. DOH!! It's so nice to see that though. On most games, the kicker is one of the first ones down the field. I've been getting a steady 10 to 12 yards on punt returns and on kickoff returns you can definitely see holes open up quickly, if you are quick enough you can turn a short return into a long one, but watch out for that damn kicker.

With ESPN you get ESPN Power Rankings. I think it's easily the coolest thing going. It's such a good feeling to see your team shoot up the Power Rankings after a huge upset win, then you get the huge letdown feeling when you just lost to the worst team in the NFL at home. The email system is nicely done and is a great feature. It shows injuries around the league, your injuries, your owner emailing you complaints or compliments. You even get emails talking about your next opponent and how you can be ready for the game. In that email you can see wear your team ranks in total offense and defense.

In some of the NFL Primetime shows you can see key stats and on a few occasions to see if a certain QB is 1st or 2nd in passing yardage, RB is leading the league in rushing, WR leading the league in receiving, etc. I thought that was pretty cool. Just like last year you can go through your season and at the end sign your players, release them to free agency, try to talk a player out of retirement, etc.

In the draft you will see players from more major colleges, instead of the weaker schools in previous years. You will also notice punters and kickers won't be selected in the earlier rounds, which makes things more realistic. Also, you will see teams like the Texans drafting for need, unlike before when they would draft a QB in the first and second rounds. If the Texans need CB help, they will draft for it.

While simming multiple seasons, I noticed 2 teams finished 7-9 and made the playoffs. This only happened once when I simmed multiple seasons, so I don't consider this to be a problem. I also noticed the powerhouse teams made the playoffs and won their divisions for the most part. There were a few surprises and that is to be expected in the NFL. I mean really, did you expect the Rams and Patriots to win Super Bowls a few years ago?? It's all good.

Crib Mode is a neat feature that shows off things you've unlocked. You can play a few mini-games in here as well if you unlock them. There are many things to unlock in Crib Mode so it will keep you playing the game for many hours.

For the fans of First Person Football, I have mixed feelings about it. It DEFINITELY takes some time to get used to. You need to start on the Rookie or Pro level at the beginning so you can get a feel for it. It is almost impossible on the All-Pro level since things are so fast. You can slow things down, but most of us would rather go for the realism and not slow things down. After quite a bit of time with it, you can master FPF, but it will take quite a bit of it. On passing plays you are designated as being the quarterback, you can scan the field left and right and read the defense pre-snap. Then snap the button, read the defense and find your receiver. After the ball is thrown you are now in the view of the receiver you threw the ball too. It slows down some as you catch the ball and then you can take off. You need to find those passing lanes if you want to see through your offensive lineman, because you can't really look over them. On running plays you are designated the running back and can view the defense pre-snap as well, then after the snap look around and find the hole. It's definitely a different experience and definitely worth the time playing around in, but I'll do most of my playing in the normal mode. Defensively, you pick your player pre-snap and find that ball carrier, stick your man or sit back and play zone, whatever you called for.

Dan Stevens and Peter O'Keefe are back and better than ever this year. They seem to be behind on occasion, but for the most part they are spot on. On instant replays and on "Challenges" they do a great job describing the action in front of you. On "Challenges" Peter actually breaks down the rule book for you and shows why or why not a play should or should not be reversed. NFL Primetime checks in after the week is complete while in the season and in the playoffs. The halftime show is very cool. It shows snapshots from within the game you are playing and shows keys stats. Chris Berman even chimes in with his thoughts and gives his "Player at the Half". There isn't anything better than Berman's nicknames for players. They are in the game baby!!

The PA announcer does a great job, and during timeouts or sometimes even during huddles you can hear the stadium music in the background. Very well done!!

I'd have to say this is one of the finest football games I've ever played. The first person mode doesn't thrill me, but it's fun to go into and play around with. The bread and butter of this game is it's gameplay and presentation. The graphics are bar-none the best out there. If you are looking for football at it's best, look no further than ESPN NFL Football.

ESPN NFL Football Score
out of 10