Barry: Hello, good evening, and welcome to the inaugural Eurogamer Sports Day in conjunction with Sega; and haven't we got an action-packed evening's entertainment lined up for the viewers at home? It's not all Association Football, Rugger and Cricket around these parts, you know. Sometimes we like to slip on a baseball cap, quite literally the wrong way around, hop into a Tommy Hilfiger jumper and cruise to the "US of Stateside", and see what our American cousins are whooping and hollering to in their "World" of "Sport". This week, we knocked on the doors of Sega Enterprises, and with a cheery, cheeky, but professional grin, asked these "Sonic Boom Boys" to wow us with their latest sporting trio; NHL, NFL and NBA - or to us clueless limeys, Ice Hockey, American Football, and Basketball, eh Banal?
Banal: You're not wrong there, Barry; us limeys can be flaming well clueless at times! But the thing to remember is that American Football, Ice Hockey and Basketball are all based on British sports. Rugby. Hockey. Netball. Two of those are basically for girls, Barry. Two of them.
Barry: Ha ha, well you would say that, Banal, but after 25 years as a pro (two of them in a coma, remember) and 14 championship medals, who would argue with you?
Banal: My daughter's boyfriend tries it on occasionally, the earring-toting goth-wannabe scallywag. Shove him in the forces, I say! Then he can earn his jewellery instead of buying it from a market vendor with a staple gun.
Barry: Anyway. On with the show: barely able to contain our excitement earlier on today, we popped in NFL; a sport - we have to confess - we don't know the first thing about. I mean, isn't it just Rugby for wimps? We'd like to see how these so-called hard men would get on against our world-beating Rugby boys without their armour on.
Banal: Unfortunately they'd have to figure out where England is to do that. They don't have rugby pitches over there. It's all skyscrapers, running tracks and hyperturf.
Barry: And what about the game, Banal? I have to say, looking at it from the perspective of someone who knows precisely sod all about Gridiron; it just feels like the kind of game you need to go on a three week course to be able to understand. Without even the most basic knowledge, you'll be drowning in a sea of flow charts, and more tactics than your average Army briefing. Most of the time you have almost no control over your players, and overzealous CPU AI intervenes more often than seems fair.
Banal: I'd have to flaming well agree with you there, Barry. You were run ragged by my proficiency with the lemon there, failing to grasp even the most basic of mechanics, and there was no obvious way to work out what the screens and screens of "playbook" offerings and kick goal whomp thwacking tiddlywinks were in aid of.
Barry: You've lost me there, Banal.
Banal: You also had trouble actually throwing the ball whatsoever, I noticed. I was just pressing X or Y or B or L or some other button whenever one of my fellows scampered into space, carefully manoeuvring my little throw-man around the onrushing CPU opposition in the meantime, but you just got clobbered without recourse. 22-0? Bit of a walkover for me, Barry, but I had more fun at my sister-in-law's divorce party holding my Grandmother's colostomy bag whilst watching family friend Nora Batty do I Will Survive on the karaoke machine.
Barry: Right, so that was possibly one of the most painful, unenjoyable gaming experiences we've ever had the misfortune of getting involved with. Let's hope the next one's better eh, Banal?
Banal: Flaming well better be.
Barry: Surely Sega can't 'puck' up an Ice Hockey game, can it Banal? Even the complete Anglophile sport fan can pick up the game and be scoring goals in a matter of seconds. I mean, how complicated could it be?
Banal: You'd think so, Barry. Everyone played hockey at school, and knows how easy it is for that speeding blob of white concrete to outwit the slower eyes of the heavily-padded goal-minding fat kid. It's a sport in itself just picking him up afterwards.
Barry: Well quite Banal, but this is Ice Hockey.
Banal: It's still much the same thing I feel, Barry. You pass the puck a bit, and hit first-time shots like you're Darius Vassell and the Turkish goalie's showing too much of his top-left corner.
Barry: Well, I know I'm bad at games, Banal, but I have to ask, what was that all about? A whole hour before scoring a goal? What the hell's going on? And what's that colour scheme all about? Who turned the lights out? Give us EA or Midway's versions any day over this. This was gaming pain; a stodgy, unplayable mess with a mere fraction of the playability, verve or fun factor of its rivals. You could say, Banal, that Sega's had a shocker today…
Banal: They flaming well have, Barry. That wasn't the high-scoring, low-maintenance NHL I remember. I only managed two goals and it was you in goal. Surely that's an AI bug there Barry.
Barry: Well Banal, I'm not actually artificial!
Banal: What was the score, Barry? I almost forget. The thing is, this NHL game is coming at the subject from a simulator's point of view, with fewer goals, very easy tackles - unlike either EA or Midway's slaughter-oriented offerings - and less of the fighting. We didn't even manage a punch-up that time, did we?
Barry: Not even one.
Barry: Battling gamely on, we were convinced that the mighty Sega couldn't possibly fail to pull a top-drawer Basketball game out of the hat. We'd heard that Sega's sport range had underperformed in its native territory last Christmas, but in our naivety we believed that couldn't have had anything to do with the games. After all, didn't Sega have a pretty mighty reputation for sporting greatness?
Banal: I think you made that up actually Barry.
Barry: Woo hoo! Drink my Whup Ass, Banal! 62-54…dunk my slams. Well at least we managed to score some points in that one. But, um, it wasn't actually terribly good was it? What was going on with the graphics for a start? The green arc of piss that emanates from your player during penalty taking is just too funny for words. And watch those crowd members pop up like a box of frisky Pop Tarts in a nervous toaster factory. Permission to barf up my lunch over your lap…this spinny camera nonsense makes us feel ill.
Banal: The demented stick insect approach to character animation was a bit of a let down too Barry, and it was almost impossible to pull off interesting shots, or net anything from outside the semi-circle. And you're flaming well right about the green arc of piss - having to move your pressure-sensitive triggers down in unison ever-so-gently to concentrate the two arcs on the ring is a clever idea, but the flow of arrows is too comedic for words. I also felt that the replays which shifted between embossed and inverted visuals looked like some sort of crazed graphical bug. As did the aforementioned Pop Tart spectators - wouldn't it be nice if Sega took the time to get things on the court right before bothering with the background?
Barry: And so ends a somewhat disappointing Sega Sports Day, in which the American arm of the Japanese giants were sorely exposed for having let its sporting arms slip alarmingly close to its arse. Some might say we're ill-equipped to review sports games not meant for us, and they'd probably be right. Certainly in the case of NFL, we've got more chance of performing accurate, life-saving brain surgery with a Phillips screwdriver than understanding the reams of tactical nonsense thrown at the player. But we take issue with this; no sports game, apart from anal management simulations should demand quite so much prior knowledge. We're sure there is a specific niche that understands all this, but for what it's worth, we think that alienating a large chunk of your potential audience from the word go is commercial suicide.
Banal: I'd certainly agree with that, Barry. Although I'm not familiar with your anal management simulations, I do think that a detailed training, 'strap your balls to the basics' mode would add all sorts to that game. As it is, we clicked through virtually anything and the on-screen help menus were like the bloody paperclip on acid.
Barry: But as for NHL and NBA, these are two of the most straightforward sports in the world, and making a good looking, slick, intuitive and playable game out of each of them should be par for the course for a company with the depth of experience and talent of Sega. NHL is just plain dull; if you've never played an Ice Hockey game before, you'll probably never want to again, it's such a chore to be able to string together any coherent and deadly attacking or defensive manoeuvres. We didn't have the same abject failure to score in NBA, but there was just something so "will this do?" about it. When at least three companies churn out annual updates of their various sports titles, you just expect so much more than half-baked inferiority. Piling an Everest high mountain of stats and options onto your sports games does not hide the ugly truth of the mediocrity of the game's graphics or playability. EA Sports has never looked so unassailable, which is a worrying state of affairs. Any parting words, Banal?
Banal: No I flaming well haven't. Netball, for goodness sake!
Barry: See you next time.
Ratings NFL 2K3 - 3/10 NHL 2K3 - 4/10 NBA 2K3 - 5/10