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Champion of the Virtual Gridiron 2000 - The PlayStation Football Titles

The major players have weighed in with their football releases for the calendar year 2000. In the annual bizarre ritual of naming sports titles one year ahead of their release, we have in one corner EA Sports with NCAA Football 2001 and Madden 2001. In the other corner, please give a warm welcome to 989 Sports and their releases NCAA Gamebreaker 2001 and NFL Gameday 2001. In the classic wrestling cage match style, all four contenders can now enter the ring. The battle will be fierce and in the end only a single title can survive.

The titles from either camp really utilize the same respective engines. There is always a Madden look to NCAA and a Gameday look to Gamebreaker. However, one title from each publisher is usually a notch above the other. So who looks the best this year? Three titles collectively pinned the weakling in the cage, Gamebreaker. The other titles complained about the bland stadiums and boring player models in this college title. But the main reason it hit the floor first is the horrible collision detection which allows defenders to run through certain players without deterrence. The EA team then ganged up on the only 989 survivor left. The rudimentary on-field animations make this title look as though it was developed during the PSX's infancy. The game has the same pathetic look as Gamebreaker but lacked some of the more serious deficiencies of the college title. That leaves the two EA titles alone in the cage to duke it out. Beautiful stadiums, detailed players, and bountiful animations are common to both titles. However, NCAA Football 2001 just narrowly missed lifting its shoulder before the three-count. Madden 2001 wins by a hair.

To provide a good football atmosphere, the respective titles need a good sound package. The sound is almost as important as the graphics in the presentation of the game. Unfortunately for the 989 fans, Gameday 2001 falls first. Its terrible stadium sounds coupled with the bland commentary of Phil Simms and Dick Emberg have you turning the volume off fast. While the stadium and football sounds of Madden are better, the repetitive and obnoxious John Madden will have you wishing screaming monkeys were in the booth. In a clash of the college titans, NCAA 2001 pins Gamebreaker. The venerable Keith Jackson does a good solo job in the booth of Gamebreaker, but the rest of the sounds in the game are weak. There is simply no beating the atmosphere created by the PA announcer, crowd, and bands in NCAA 2001. If you close your eyes, it's the only title of the four which comes close to recreating the football experience.

The football atmosphere is a combination of sound and graphics. In this fall, the EA partners gang up on 989 and pin them simultaneously. The polished professionals John Madden and Pat Summerall, however, are no match for the total package of NCAA 2001. NCAA 2001's combination of graphics and the best sound to be found in a sports title are too much. NCAA 2001 is magna cum laude in realism.

Play Selection
It wouldn't be fair to judge the games on the teams since the college game has nearly four times the number of teams in the NFL. Even so, with all the extra teams in Madden, the Madden camp could stake its claim. Play selection is a discriminator though, and if we take a look at this category, we find an unnerving trend developing. Gameday 2001 has the worst play selection by far. It lacks the diversity of the other pro title let alone the college games. Next on the chopping block is Madden, which sticks with too many schemes that look like carbon copies from team to team. With the two college titles remaining, there can be only one big man on campus. And that crown goes to NCAA 2001. The number of plays in the game is remarkable. Play selection is intuitive. A special honorable mention goes to Madden for its ability to flip the play at the line of scrimmage.

Modes of Play
At some point you have to feel sorry for the two lads from 989. They simply don't have the muscle to contend for the title. When it comes to the options in the games, they simply fall flat on their faces. Gameday's franchise mode is a token gesture. It adds nothing of value to the game. The franchise mode has to be one of the determining factors since every title has the basic exhibition, season, and playoff modes. Following close behind is Gamebreaker, which lets you recruit high schoolers. However, much like its pro sibling, this feature was poorly implemented. NCAA 2001 barely loses out to Madden. NCAA has an incredible high school and junior college recruiting process, but the franchise mode in Madden is second to none at the pro level. The ability to negotiate with the petty players gives the game the sense of realism. Throw in the Two Minute Drill mode and the Madden Cards and the game shines.

Realism covers several areas. First, a good football title needs to have balanced playcalling by the computer. Unfortunately, this has been rare in titles of late. Games seem to pimp the passing game ad nauseam. Gamebreaker 2001 is the only game which gives satisfactory balance right out of the box. The other three titles ran once Gamebreaker entered the ring.

Next, the game should have a decent running package. NCAA and Madden let you run all day and get poor marks because of it. With the right offensive package, you can beat the top teams with the run. The other extreme was found with the 989 titles. Running the ball seemed like playing the slots; you never knew when you'd get three cherries. This one is a draw with a slight edge going to the EA titles.

In the passing game, the 989 boys again get tangled up in the ropes. The AI secondary is the worst I have ever seen in a game. I suck at passing yet I could complete 90% of my passes in Gamebreaker and Gameday. The receivers never drop a ball. The secondary in NCAA 2001 makes it difficult to complete passes. They converge on the ball with lightning fast speed. Six or seven players would always be on top of my receiver as the ball got to him. This leaves Madden as the king of the passing game. While you could pick apart the defense on short and medium passes, overall it provided the best sense of realism. There are plenty of intangibles that determine the final winner in this category. When it's all said and done, the 989 titles again bring up the rear, followed by NCAA 2001. This leaves King John as the victor.

Madden, NCAA, and Gamebreaker all told Gameday they didn't want to play with him anymore. I had a tough time motivating myself to play Gameday. It simply was uninspiring and not fun to me. The herky-jerky control of Gamebreaker had it leaving the ring on a stretcher. This left the two EA titles again alone in the ring. Despite the grand presentation of the college game, the seasoned pros were too much for the younger players. Madden is a more complete game that just nudges out its stable mate.

The Champion
The winner of this competition doesn't win anything from Sports Gaming. On the open market it might earn a few more sales, and judging by the sales charts for PSX games, the mass market has come to the same conclusion on which football game is king of the hill. The final tally is:

    4. NFL Gameday 2001
    3. NCAA Gamebreaker 2001

    2. NCAA Football 2001 (a very important role should the winner not be able to fulfill its duties as Champion of the Virtual Gridiron 2000)
    1. Madden 2001

It really comes down to the EA titles. They exhibit a quality far beyond the 989 offerings this year. Even though the changes are fairly minimal year to year, the Madden series is always on strong footing. Perhaps next year Madden will add a police mode to add to the realism of the pro game.

By: James Smith 11/27/00

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