STAFF REVIEW of ESPN NFL Football 2K4 (Xbox)

Saturday, September 13, 2003.
by Yellowlab

ESPN NFL Football 2K4 Box art For the 5th year in a row, Sega's ESPN NFL Football (2K4) wins the Super Bowl of console football games. This year's version even manages to surpass last years (2K3) tremendous game in just about every way. There are several nice changes this year. Headlining the changes is First Person Football (FPF), in which you can step into the shoes of a football player and play from first person perspective. This is a blast, and completely changes the way you play and view the game. It actually feels like you're on the field, and I would literally cringe every time I got hit by a 300 pound lineman. However, there's a lot of room to grow with FPF, as I would like to be able to jump in and out of FPF as I see fit, and view the replays from FPF. Can't wait to see what they do with this in future years. The next noticeable change is "The Crib". This is your bachelor pad where you can earn trophies, wide screen TV's, unlock mini games (trivia, table top football, air hockey), unlockable videos, bobbleheads, leather recliners, etc... It's very nicely done and so much better than the Madden Cards from EA's football offering. It also gives you lots of incentive to reach certain benchmarks, and keeps things fresh. The next change is the use of the ESPN license. Last year it was kind of only halfway used and felt tacked on. This year they pull out all the stops. Chris Berman's Prime Time reports at the end of each week are a thing of beauty. He seemlessly recaps all the weeks plays and big players, along with ESPN highlights and commentary (he...could...go.. The halftime reports also beautifully recap the action on the field. Berman details the game like he was actually there watching it. On the field, the gameplay has not been changed greatly from the 2K3 version. It plays nearly identical, but with an improved running scheme, and the ability to make "hot routes" for receivers on the fly. Also, they included an option to challenge plays.

The only major change to the gameplay was the play calling menus, which were "dumbed down" in an attempt to draw in fans of the Madden series. While I completely understand the need to "dumb" down things for fans of the Madden series, I really liked the old play calling scheme used in the previous versions. The new scheme isn't bad, but not as good as the old. The running game has been improved slightly over last year's version. The passing game is also very well done. The defensive AI plays smart and can be a challenge, especially in the harder difficulty levels.

Sega has made great improvements to the facial models. The players look very good. I play the game on a 57" HDTV widescreen TV, and it looks beautiful. Two minor complaint are the Cheerleaders and the various scenes with the 6 fans celebrating. First, the Cheerleaders look god awful. They look like Gumby clones with long skinny plastic arms that nearly touch the ground when they are standing. And the group of 6 fans that represent the 'fan reaction', look like it was shot in a stadium 2,000 miles away, and really does not look like part of the action. Also these 6 fans are in every stadium, and always seem to root for whichever is the home team (bunch of traitors!). But, those are extremely minor flaws to an otherwise beautiful game.

Chris Berman's voice work during the Primetime Weekly show and Halftime analysis puts this over the top. The gameplay commentary is also very good, and almost always spot on. If there was one thing they could improve on, it would be to make some of the tackles sound more bone crunchingly loud.

This is the closest to perfect football game yet. But, there is still room for improvement. Make FPF more intergrated (jump in, jump out, replays, etc...). And for god sakes, fix the look of those zombie clone cheerleaders (they kind of scare me)!

Overall: 10.0 / 10
Gameplay: 10.0 / 10
Visuals: 10.0 / 10
Sound: 10.0 / 10


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