My brother came home this week with a Microsoft XBox, the original one, as he had promised for many months. Included with the system were several hit videogames: Knights of the Old Republic, Madden NFL ’97, and the star of the show, NFL 2K5.
You know something? I’d still rather play NFL 2K1 on the Sega Dreamcast. Is there something wrong with me?
I’ve skipped out the entire 2K series since Dreamcast died, which is a shame because it’s always been my favorite football franchise. I even loved the original NFL 2K enough to consider it the best football game ever made, despite the fact that the running game was completely, hopelessly nonexistent. It was nearly impossible to ever gain more than a couple yards before crashing into a wall of linebackers. But so many of the intangibles — hecklers in the stands, referee conferences, snow on the field, the astonishing animation (one television reporter in 1999 famously quipped that these videogames were starting to resemble acid trips), and the acerbic play-by-play commentary — all of these built into the best football experience I’d ever enjoyed.
The following year, NFL 2K1 fell upon us like a hurricane. Unlike the tepid approach EA takes with its Madden franchise, Visual Concepts radically retooled and improved the game. The running game was working, and it worked spectacularly. The TV commentators still rambled on endlessly, dragging us into their arguments. Online play was available for the first time. Passing was a great improvement, introducing the ability to lead passes in any direction. The animation was even more detailed and intricate, putting Madden to shame. And the most beloved feature of NFL 2K1? Late hits.
This was something that was done ages ago on Genesis Madden, and is probably the most shameless fun you can have with the game. You have to remember to turn off the penalties that apply, and just start knocking heads. You hit another player after a play ends, you laugh, you shout out, “It never gets old!” It’s really the perfect stress reliever.
You can even make a drinking game out of it. The goal is to strike down the football player that the camera has focused on, after the play. It’s so unbelievably funny to see a closeup of some star player, strutting after making that long catch, getting nailed from behind. Does the camera even follow him when he goes down? Hah! Another shot!
At the venerated Dinkytown Pizza Hut, we played Sega Dreamcast every weekend night until daybreak. NFL 2K1 was the champion bar none. There were always six or seven games lined up before the thing was even hooked up to the televisions. Beer, soda, bread sticks, pizza, all flowed freely. I have countless memories of team breakdowns and legendary comebacks, of haunting ghost sounds from the back of the kitchen, and grudges that never end. And, of course, a hundred late hits per game. Hah!
My favorite comeback was this one spectacular 4th Quarter finish with Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers. I was completely drunk, couldn’t even see the television screen unless I squinted with one eye. Even then I never really saw what was happening. It was all blurs and blobs. I still managed to win that one in the closing seconds. Hah! What a game.
You see, this is why I never like reading most videogame reviews. They always focus on the same cliched categories, as though the writers are filling out Mad Libs. The graphics are “so-and-so.” The audio is “so-and-so.” The gameplay is “so-and-so.” How boring is that? Such reviews read like the back of a cereal box. Nobody ever bothers to mention the little intangibles that stay with you, those throwaway moments that really define the great videogames. Perhaps they’d never admit it, or perhaps the publishers wouldn’t want consumers to take away the wrong impression. There’s so much hype to transform videogames into the Digital Hollywood, into something “respectable,” instead of what they should be, which is “fun.” A videogame is not a work of high art, whatever that means. It’s not even work. It’s a form of play. That reporter who mentioned LSD trips hit it right on the head.
So when I finally had the chance to play NFL 2K5 on the XBox, what were the first two questions that popped in my head? The same ones I had when I learned 2K Sports was bringing back the franchise this year with All Pro Football 2K8. One, do they still have those play-by-play announcers? Two, are there late hits?
NFL 2K5 has just about everything you’d ever want in a football game. It really is a wonder, packed to the gills gameplay depth, extra features and online leagues that command a fan following to this day. It’s still leagues ahead of EA’s tired, stale Madden.
But there are no late hits in NFL 2K5. Nuts to that. Sega tried to be respectable and play by the rules. Look at where that got ‘em. Whatever. I’d rather play NFL 2K1 on my Sega Dreamcast. Set up the chips and shot glasses.