GameDay was the game that toppled Electronic Arts' venerable Madden series in 1996. Its original incarnation shocked EA into the realization that
Madden needed serious retooling to compete in the 32-bit arena. In 1998, however,
the gap between the two games has closed. Some might say the two games run
neck-and-neck, with only hardcore fans nitpicking the faults and features of
each one. That might be true, but it's a heck of a lot of fun doing so.
Last year, the GameDay series introduced its polygon-based graphic engine.
It was the first of its kind in a PlayStation football game. In fact, many
people believed that the PlayStation hardware wouldn't be able to handle 22
polygon players on the field at the same time. However, Sony pulled it off
and did it with flair, driving another stake into the heart of the Madden series,
which didn't produce a polygon-based football game until this year.
This time around, GameDay's developers seem to have placed more emphasis on
presentation and further enhancement of the graphics. The polygon engine was
great last year, but gamers are a fickle bunch and demanded slicker, less blocky-looking
players for this year's game. 989 Studios delivered spectacular new player
graphics, which now include more detailed uniforms (with player names on the
jerseys as well as the numbers), more detailed players and better on-field
graphics. Other enhancements include the players shaking hands before the coin
toss and, when a player is injured, he limps off the field, assisted by a teammate
and trainer. The stadiums have also been redone and look a lot better than
last year's batch. Graphics-wise, GameDay 99 is the best looking football game
ever produced for a console system. It's not perfect, but it's damn near it.
big addition this year is a complete overhaul of the audio effects, with
the dual announcer team of
Phil Simms and Dick Enberg calling the plays
as they happen. Unfortunately, the idea of dual announcers is much better than
the actual execution, at least in this game. Frequently, it seemed as if Phil
and Dick were watching a completely different game than the one I was playing.
After I'd thrown deep to a wide receiver, Simms called, "Underneath, to
the running back." Scores for games in progress were given incorrectly.
A run for negative yardage would prompt a comment about the effective running
game. Occasionally, Simms' voice would sound like a Cylon robot from the old
TV series, Battlestar Galactica. When the comments did manage to correspond
with the action, the dual announcer feature was really cool. Unfortunately,
those times were few and far between. Announcers that comment on the action
in progress have been done well before, such as in EA Sports' NHL '98 and Triple
Play '99. Hearing the extremely flawed commentary here, after hearing how it
can be done, makes it all the more disappointing.
As a result
of the time and effort spent on the game's overall presentation, it seems
the gameplay has suffered a little bit. Nothing catastrophic,
mind you, but there's a different feel to this game as opposed to GameDay
For instance, the running game has practically vanished. Last year, the polygon
engine helped open up the running game because holes in the defensive line
were easier to see and exploit. This year, those holes seem to develop much
less frequently. The special moves, like stiff-arming and spinning, don't seem
as intuitive as before.
Some of the gameplay mechanics have
a distinctly arcade flavor. A new "trash
talking/celebration" option has been added. (Just tap the triangle button
after a play and the player responsible for the action will celebrate and/or
taunt the other team.) While it's fun, it's not exactly realistic to see a
player celebrate after running for 1/2 a yard. However, you can see it in this
game. Another less-than-realistic move is the stiff-arm. Now, it resembles
something just short of a shotgun blast to the face of an oncoming defender.
Just stick out the arm and watch the defenders double backwards and fall over.
It's also fun to watch, but not quite the way it happens in the NFL.
The passing game remains as unrealistic as last year. Threading the needle
between defenders and still having the receiver catch the ball is still as
easy as ever. The Total Control passing option, one of the game's strongest
features (for those willing to take the time to master it), has returned to
make passing a little more like the real thing. TCP allows the quarterback
to lead receivers, underthrow the ball or adapt to situations requiring a little
more touch on the ball. However, for me personally, all TCP has done was allow
my quarterback to be sacked more often. I've never had much success with it
and haven't attempted to master it yet again.
The tackling, which was a little suspect last year, has been changed, but
not necessarily improved. Last year, tackling someone usually resulted in a
two-to-three yard gain in yardage for whoever had the ball. This year, to apparently
stop that from happening, the whistle sometimes sounds immediately following
player contact. This means the play is whistled dead before some players even
hit the ground. This change doesn't prevent tackles from being broken, as it
doesn't happen every time someone is wrapped up, but it looks and feels a little
strange to have forward momentum seemingly negated when it does occur. The
abrupt halt to the plays just doesn't feel natural.
The play selection menus, while 100% more attractive than last year, have
a slightly confusing layout, which presents four plays at a time, with the
two plays in the middle being highlighted and the two plays on each end being
slightly obscured. While not overly difficult to understand this layout, it's
somewhat odd to not be able to see the full name and diagram of the plays on
the ends. Still, the menu screens are highly responsive to the controller when
flipping through all of the selections. Kudos to 989 Studios for making the
menus so zippy-quick, which gives the game a fast and slick feel.
GameDay '99 is much more impressive looking, but slightly less
satisfying, than last year's model. The attention to the graphics and presentation
is evident, but the gameplay took a backseat in the eyes of the developers.
Next year, 989 Studios should simply refine the problems with the gameplay
mechanics and leave the graphics alone. With just some simple tweaking, and,
of course, roster updates, NFL GameDay 2000 could retake the lead in the PlayStation
football game wars.