Does it get any better? This year's version of the Xbox Live game is better than last year's, if that even says much as last year’s versions was riddled with the difficulty in the running game and cheaters alike. These things have been tweaked and provide a much better and smoother transition from offline to Xbox Live play. You have the same menu options for Live play, like Opti-Match and Create-a-Match. The ability to download rosters is back as well. If you have a decent connection, then the Live experience won’t be much different from the offline experience. I found myself trying to play a match against someone in First Person mode and we both kind of agreed to end the match and play in the regular mode. First Person is fun but extremely difficult as far as Live goes.
Thinking a few years back to Sega and its first rendition of this game, I almost cried as it seemed as if I’ve watched a little brother grow into a full-fledged warrior. The NFL 2K series has always been about realism with a punch and ESPN NFL Football builds on that tradition. The menu and selection of plays has increased considerably over last year’s version. You can even, for the pros, customize your own playbook from beginning to end or simply utilize plays from each NFL team integrating them into one. Challenging plays makes its way back and is much improved. Pay close attention to how the announcers call it and that will usually indicate how the call is going to go. The controls are spot on as running is a bit easier and more controlled. The passing game still has its flaws but the number of 70 to 80 yard completions is somewhat limited and this is because of the redefined AI in the game. If you’re good though, you’ll complete them no matter what. Play calling is simple enough in that each formation or set has a variation of it for you to choose from. If you don’t like how a play is unfolding or lined up, you have the option of audibles and hot routes. I flick in either direction of the right analog stick will bring up a hot route. Then simply press the corresponding receiver button to issue the hot route. Easy and simple I say. Other “on the line” adjustments include LB (linebacker) and DB (defensive back) adjustments. You can use the white and black buttons respectively along with pressing up or down on the right analog stick to move your LB’s or DB’s toward/away from the line of scrimmage.
The running plays are again identified as just a yellow line while passing plays are noticeable with arrows all over the place. If you’re a beginner to the game, pressing the L trigger will immediately jump to a coach’s play (recommended play). In addition to all of these things, the action has been tweaked. It’s not as slow to play out as year’s past. Running or sprinting responds much better with tapping the A button than usual. Holding the A button will result in a power move. Learn this move and you will truly be the master. Did I mention anything about the ESPN integration? Well let me do that then. The gameplay mixed with the ESPN license is magnified at least a dozen times. You’ll pull off a good play and have it broken down with the flava it deserves. Even the halftime shows are well done as they show “actual” plays throughout your game. This extends during season and franchise mode as well. During the season you’ll have the option of watching your own NFL Primetime highlights, which cover the entire week’s action. Amazing.
This may be the one thing that got the most attention. It’s spotless. As I’ve said, the ESPN license has been used and used again to give off a completely authentic feel to this game. You could easily mistake playing this game for the real thing on Sunday afternoon. The player models also look a lot more realistic with player faces and body models as close to perfect as they can be. I’d go so far as to say that among all football candidates, ESPN NFL is the best at recreating actual football players. Even the celebrations on the bench and in the stands are well done. Player animations during these scenes are a site to see but not because how well they look but how well they come off as generally excited or disappointed in the play or end result. I won’t mention the cheerleaders because they really are just a throw in.
In First Person mode, the graphics are slightly comprised for feel. But that isn’t a bad thing because FPM is actually a huge standout in this game. If you can manage to learn it, it may be the best addition to any game of any genre.
The commentary in ESPN NFL Football is yet again heads and shoulders above the rest. You’ll find references throughout the game of past things and even future things that could happen, have happened and will happen. Mixed with 5.1 Dolby Digital support, this game sounds like an NFL game on Sunday. Chris Berman adds his usual flare to the franchise and does a commendable job. There’s nothing like a fresh “He, Could, Go…All..The…Way” from Berman.
Custom soundtracks are supported during the menu system and add your own thump to things.
XBOX Live play is once again the extra butter on your biscuit with this game. The regular options (Opti-Match, Create-A-Match etc.) are there. You can even jump into a First Person game of football on XBL which is amazingly smooth. With the same experience in offline modes crossing over to perfection with XBOX Live, it's hard to put this game down.
If you haven’t purchased this game already, then do it. Do it now. This is the best football game on Xbox. Period. The Crib alone will have you wasting dozens of hours on this game. Throw in Xbox Live and you’ll be making your own brand of Sunday afternoon football.