Football focus

Head-to-head gridiron games bring television-style action to the digital field

Rating: NNNNN

So massive is the appeal of the NFL that you can essentially sell the same game twice and no one will make a peep.

In game forums and chat rooms, most people who bought NFL 2K3 say they also picked up a copy of Madden NFL 2003 for good measure, and vice versa. Football fanatics are an obsessive bunch, and the more ways to get into their game, the better, apparently. There are very distinct differences between the two games, but put the two leading NFL simulators together and it’s the similarities that are most striking.

Madden is the original, the franchise that has become one of the best-selling video games of all time and racks up massive sales year after year with few or no changes between editions. Sega’s NFL 2K3 was initially a hit on its short-lived Dreamcast machine, but has survived to give Madden a run for its money.

Madden 2003 tinkers little with the proven product. Featuring commentary by Al Michaels and its namesake, John Madden, the game is deliriously smooth to play, with players who look and act like the real things and a flow to the game that’s utterly natural. There are dozens of little sub-modes and features like Ask Madden, where our man offers advice in tough situations, but people buy this game for the action on the field, and in 12 years, very little of that has changed. It’s hard-hitting and as true to the gridiron as you can get.

NFL 2K3 is virtually the same game, just better-looking. With graphics that feature the sweat on players, grass stains as the game goes on and a field that gets choppier with each tick of the clock, the obvious aim was to make this as close to the actual game as physically possible.

The use of television-style camera angles and replays is hardly new the look of the short-lived XFL was actually based on a video game. NFL 2K3 blurs the line further by basing its entire look, feel and sound on an ESPN broadcast. It’s branding at its most blatant, but it works, making this disturbingly addictive, even for those who hate the game of football itself. Someone should do this for the CFL.

NFL 2K3 for PlayStation 2, XBox and GameCube, $80. Rating: NNNN

MADDEN NFL 2003 for PlayStation 2, XBox and GameCube, $80. Rating: NNN

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