The first thing NFL 2K did to make an impact was to sign the hottest young WR in the NFL to be their cover athlete. Randy Moss had just come off one of the most amazing rookie seasons in NFL history, and now the receiver popular among kids and adults alike was on the cover of one of SEGA’s launch titles. The Marketing continued to roll in the right direction with memorable commercials consisting characters from different Dreamcast games interacting in genuinely funny TV spots.
More good news hit when the reviews began rolling in. IGN gave NFL 2K a near-perfect score, only knocking points off for the game’s lack of a Franchise Mode. And other gaming sites followed suit. NFL 2K was a critical success. Visually, there was nothing else like it on the market. From a gameplay standpoint, if offered a fun, realistic football experience, while Madden 2000 was clunky and looked poor still using the Playstation and Nintendo 64 hardware. Visual Concepts made the follow up game even better. NFL 2K1 added in a Franchise Mode and pushed online games with rival fans across the nation. However, NFL 2K1 suffered from something out of Visual Concepts’ control…
On October 26th, 2000, Sony released the Playstation 2, just under 2 months after NFL 2K1’s release. Even before the PS2 launched, EA released Madden 2001 for the new console, and it was apparent that the Dreamcast, after only a year in the market, was technically obsolete. Though Madden 2001’s gameplay was stiff and slow, it looked a lot better than NFL 2K1’s jagged polygons and framerate stutters. Add to that the fact that the PS2 could play DVD’s at a time where DVD players were expensive, and the Dreamcast, or any of it’s exclusive games, didn’t stand a chance. SEGA soon got out of the hardware business and switched their focus to software.
Luckily for football gamers, that meant keeping the NFL 2K franchise going. While still attempting to support the Dreamcast, SEGA released NFL 2K2 on the Playstation 2, XBOX, AND the Dreamcast consoles. While the Dreamcast version’s score continued to lower because of the technical limitations of the Dreamcast hardware, the PS2 and XBOX versions of the game were even more scrutinized for lacking much “style” and having a counter-intuitive menu system. The graphics were good, however, and the gameplay remained the best in the market, although a little more stiff than the Dreamcast versions.
In 2002, SEGA would partner up with ESPN, and NFL 2K3 would implement ESPN-style presentation to their menus, overlays, and audio commentary. The game featured a weekly wrap-up show, keeping you filled in with the rest of the league in Franchise Mode. Visual Concepts also spiced up the menu system a bit. The reviews applauded the effort put in from one year to the next, and the NFL 2K series was back on track to being competitive with Madden, and this time on the same playing field, but Madden still reigned in both reviews and sales.
For the 2003 season, Visual Concepts would create a feature for their newly titled ESPN NFL Football (aka NFL 2K4) that would be a big gamble. First Person Football would put you inside the helmet of your favorite NFL star. The sights and sounds of the field on an NFL Gameday would be represented, and players would have to use only the peripheral vision of their player to play the game. At first, First Person Football was a hit with critics for it’s groundbreaking vision, but over time, the flaws were apparent. It was incredibly difficult for the average consumer to play through a whole game with the discombobulating view, and most never touched the feature after their initial experience. Still, Visual Concepts continued to work on presentation and menus, while also improving the running game. The game reviewed well, but Madden always seem to be a step ahead.