ESPN NFL Football 2K4 Xbox
Developed by Visual Concepts
Released: 28th November 2003
NFL fans must feel well blessed this year. Not only have we had NFL Fever 2004 but we've had probably the best Madden game in the series too. To put the icing on the cake however we have ESPN NFL Football 2K4, which not only is an excellent representation of the sport but also brings Xbox Live support with it. Online play is not the only trick up SEGA's sleeve either as the game is almost filled to the brim with NFL goodness.
Let's get right to the heart of the matter and discuss the game modes. For those one off matches you have the Quick Game mode that allows you to pick your team and opponents and get straight into the game. Next up we have Game Modes, which consists of Franchise, Season, Tournament and Situation modes. Franchise mode is the core of the game and what a core it is too. This year the Franchise mode has been significantly improved and now includes a superb email notification system that introduces you to various gameplay aspects and allows you to keep an eye on all the events that occur. Season mode is for a one off season whilst Tournament mode allows you to create a tournament for 4-16 teams. There is also a Practice mode where you can acquire basic training, scrimmage drills or access a reference guide that explains all the terms and rules etc. of the game.
Madden has trading cards but ESPN NFL 2K4 goes one better and gives you your very own crib. This is basically an apartment where all you items that you have unlocked are kept. Unlocking items in ESPN NFL 2K4 can be done in numerous ways such as completing all of the basic training exercises to accessing the Franchise mode for the first time or achieving certain milestones during a game. You can choose the wall and floor coverings for your crib too, to make it just the way you like. You can unlock a trivia game, an air hockey table, a paper football game and jukebox tracks and movie clips for your home movie centre (although these last two items aren't much use for deaf gamers) to name but a few things. Essentially the crib is an excellent feature and one that will encourage you to unlock as many items as possible.
Should you want your NFL action up close and personal you can opt to play First Person Football which is the same as Quick Game except that you'll play from a first person perspective as opposed to a third person perspective. This may seem incredibly difficult but thankfully the developers have included a visual warning system when an opponent is near to you. You can also press down the right analogue stick to go into a temporary slow motion mode to enable you to get a sense of direction and as a result it becomes less difficult to play in this way. You can even play the Franchise mode and Xbox Live games in the first person view if you really want to. It's a novel, and welcome, feature but not very practical if you want to excel in the game. Having said that though it's great that you have the option to play in this way and some gamers might actually prefer it.
Madden didn't have Xbox Live support but ESPN NFL 2K4 has. You can jump right into a quick game or search for a game with the options setup in a particular way by using the Optimatch feature. You can even create a game of your own and turn voice communications off too so that way you'll won't have to worry about a hearing opponent trying to converse with you, excellent stuff. You can view the rankings table for all the different difficulty modes and even the games that were played in the first person mode.
Of course all of these features would mean nothing if the gameplay wasn't up to scratch but thankfully ESPN NFL 2K4 plays exceptionally well and even offers an advanced passing mode that initially proves difficult but with practice is far more effective than the regular icon pass mode. The punting, the tackling and plays are as good as in any other NFL game out there and you can use stiff arm moves too. The basic training will accustomise you with the control system and prepare you for taking on a full game should this be the first NFL game that you've played. You can even ask for the coach's pick when selecting a play (by pressing the 'L' button). Essentially then ESPN NFL 2K4 is as welcoming to complete beginners as it is to seasoned NFL veterans.
Graphically ESPN NFL 2K4 also stands out. Not for the stadiums or crowds though but for the player models. The quality of the player models and especially their faces is nothing short of incredible and completely life like. These have to be the best player likeness and animations in any sports game to date. The presentation of the game is of course in the ESPN style and occasionally the camera will pan out to the crowd or to the cheerleaders. These don't look as good as the players but they look OK. If you want the best looking NFL game then this is certainly it.
On the whole there are no real problems for deaf gamers. Some aspects of the game such as the TV style introduction to the game, the games commentators and the movie clips are not subtitled but these are not key features. The reference book is completely in text and the basic training is delivered via text too. All the information in Franchise mode is delivered via text so you'll be aware of everything that's going on, which is excellent.
Of course with a few NFL games already out there you'll want to know if this is the best NFL game out there. Well it's certainly as good as Madden and better than NFL Fever and with the addition of Xbox Live play and the novel feature of being able to play in first person mode if you so wish, it becomes the top NFL title that you can buy this year.
Game Rating: 9.2/10
Superb gameplay, a plethora of excellent features and Xbox Live support mean that ESPN NFL 2K4 is the premiere NFL title this year.
There are a few omissions but none of these cause a problem. You can even choose to play your Xbox Live matches with the voice chat disabled.