You can play as any NFL team in a variety of modes: practice, tourney, exhibition, season, playoffs, franchise, fantasy, tutorial, and network (against up to seven other players nationwide). The franchise mode is again one of the game's strengths, as it offers a variety of scouting and free agency options, letting you customize your roster as a general manager based on the statistics and financial demands of actual players. Now you can learn what the Washington Redskins already know--the salary cap is a cruel mistress.
The player animations are again the star of the show. There are literally dozens of potential endings to any collision in NFL 2K2, from stumbling five yards after a shoestring tackle to spinning dizzily between two linebackers to somersaulting through the air after stretching for a catch over the middle. And although the tackles can be spectacular, the game doesn't betray its simulation roots by making them too extreme. These aren't torn from the comics pages, as in some games.
Sega Sports has talked up its new passing system quite a bit, and it is both challenging and intriguing--perfect for the hard-core simulation expert. Unfortunately, the rest of us are left struggling to complete 5 to 10 passes a game. Essentially, the game asks players to expertly anticipate routes and time the receiver's catch. This is no easy task in a fast-moving game such as this, as receivers routinely drop wide-open passes on the rare occasions they do get open, and you'll find your primary receiver blanketed by two or more defensive backs on most plays. The passing engine isn't overwhelmingly flawed, but average gamers will need some serious time to overcome the Ravens-like pass defense they'll face early on.
The running game was the original NFL 2K's main weakness, and it remains the single biggest improvement over the evolution of the series. Sometimes running between the tackles in NFL 2K2 can be a tad too easy and running outside can be too challenging, but the game rewards players who see holes develop and are adept at cutbacks.
It's the small details, though, that make NFL 2K2 the sports simulation triumph that it is. The commentary--although still prone to calling turnovers incorrectly--is first rate, the on-field player dialogue is highly entertaining, and even the stadium music and crowd chants add to the atmosphere rather than annoy.
The game isn't necessarily worth an upgrade for people who already own NFL 2K1, as the improvements aren't dramatic (unless updated rosters are your main concern). But for football fans who want one of the best-looking sports simulations ever made--and who don't mind the initial frustration of lousy quarterback ratings--NFL 2K2 is a Hail Mary come true. --Rivers Janssen
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