Developer: Visual Concepts
It's difficult to develop a title for platforms with a power disparity as wide as the PS2 and the X-box's, and still release the game on time. Visual Concepts has done a good job of this however, adding just enough to the X-box version to make it stand out a little. The biggest addition, easily, is the bump-mapped jerseys featured only in the X-box version, which look absolutely fantastic and make a big difference in the overall look of the two versions. In fact, the texture quality in general is much better in the X-box version, which is a nice change from NFL 2K2, which looked virtually identical on the PS2 and X-box. I wouldn't say that NFL 2K3 uses the X-box potential by any means, but it closes the gap a bit between itself and NFL Fever, and is a much nicer looking title than Madden 2003, which has players that look like sumo-wrestlers.
NFL 2K3 still features the incredible tandem of Dan Stevens and Peter O'Keafe doing the commentary, and this dynamic duo is better than ever, with a whole new slew of lines to add to their reportoire. The menu songs make use of the newly acquired ESPN license, and are infinitely better than the old, generic sports music the other NFL 2Kx games used. The sound effects are mostly unchanged from NFL 2K2, which isn't a bad thing, since they were well done in the first place. Add to the bag a few new stadium songs and the return of full Dolby 5.1 support, and you've got a nice sounding football game.
In the gameplay regard, NFL 2K3 is the most improved title in the series since NFL 2K1. The things that made NFL 2K2 so great, namely the perfect passing engine, are still here, and are even improved in a few ways. But where the real tweaks took place is in the player movements. No longer can you rapidly run in a tight circle or instantly alter your direction to make defenders miss their tackles; players change directions much more slowly now, eliminating some of the silly plays that took place in NFL 2K2. Visual Concepts thankfully didn't go so far as to implement a full acceleration/physics model into the game, ala the Madden series, as the player controls are still crisp, and avoid the sluggish feeling that plagues the Madden titles. However, they did take a nice middle ground, and instituted a much-needed change by slowing down the player movements and the simulation in general. NFL 2K3 also borrows some pages from the Madden book, allowing you to switch the direction of a play, and change hot routes at the line of scrimmage. Also, your fellow offensive players actually make key blocks downfield now, resulting in even more added realism and cool plays. In summation, NFL 2K3 takes all of the positive gameplay elements of both Madden and NFL 2Kx, and sticks them in one fantastic playing game.
The only real beefs people had with NFL 2K2 was the occasionally arcade-like gameplay and the poor franchise mode. As discussed above, the first element has been improved dramatically. The second element is just as improved; NFL 2K3's franchise mode is, for the first time ever, superior to that of Madden's. The presentation is innovative, and the addition of a real scouting combine, which forces you to choose which players to scout and for how long, along with outstanding career stat tracking, and detailed player stats which can be viewed from any menu, makes for the best franchise mode ever to grace a football game. The ESPN license, which Visual Concepts acquired, is the icing on the cake, and is used to its fullest, starting with a jaw-dropping "Sportscenter" intro, and absolutely amazing "Weekly Wrapups" during franchise/season modes, which even feature a Play of the Week replay from a game you didn't even watch or play! I can't say enough good things about NFL 2K3- it's the best football game ever, bar none, and the best in the series since NFL 2K1. In addition, there is no doubt this year as to which series has the better edition: NFL 2K3 is a superior game to Madden 2003 in every single respect.