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NFL Gameday 99 (PSX) Review

Publisher: 989 Sports
Release Date: Summer 1998

Background Info

For many sports gamers, the original NFL GameDay was a revelation and one of the main reasons they bought a Playstation in the first place. I include myself among that group. NFL GameDay was a very impressive game for its time, and further editions raised the bar even higher, as Sony tried to compete with EA Sports' Madden Football series. The 2nd edition, GameDay 97, added a new control system (dubbed Total Control) that gave gamers many more options on the field, such as leading receivers more or diving over a pile of would-be tacklers. GameDay 98 built upon the Total Control System, but most noticeably added polygonal graphics. This was a tremendous leap forward, as EA's Madden series (which still used sprites) simply could not compete with GameDay 98's graphical prowess. But EA Sports answered Sony's volley this year with Madden 99, a fully polygonal football game with astounding options and impressive gameplay. Sony's response is NFL GameDay 99 (GD99) and they are hoping that once again they will lead the pack in the PSX football wars.

Presentation/Graphics : 87
Make no mistake about it, GameDay 98 revolutionized PSX football games with its impressive polygonal player graphics. It set the standard for other companies to follow. Sony could have rested on its laurels and few would have complained. But give Sony credit: they made a concerted effort to improve upon already impressive graphics. This year, the players have much more detail and on the whole look terrific. Biceps bulge out from sleeves, pads can be seen through pants and the uniforms are for the most part very accurate and detailed. The only problem is that the animations themselves do not vary enough and are often quite unrealistic. There are only a few tackle animations, and nearly every one end with the ball carrier being knocked flat backwards. It's bad enough that it appears completely unnatural, but the fact that it happens almost every single time only worsens the effect. In fact, GameDay 99 seems almost 180 degrees opposite in this area from Madden 99. While Madden's players cannot match GameDay's level of detail, the animations are far superior and much more varied. It's unfortunate that the overall appearance takes a hit due to the animations, given that the players look so fantastic, but it really can't be ignored. New animations, such as players popping up and signaling first down, or flexing their muscles after a big hit are nice, but they don't add any thing to the actual gameplay. And once again, the jump animations are downright silly, looking more like a 3 inch hop.

The stadiums for the most part look very nice. They are no longer the bland, sterile environments from the past GameDays. The fields themselves look fine, and individual stadiums are easily recognizable.

Presentation/Audio : 86
GameDay 99 introduces a new play-by-play team, Dick Enberg and Phil Simms. They call the action for each play and also make (mostly) relevant comments throughout the game. Enberg is particularly effective: he sounds completely natural and his tone matches the events unfolding in the game. Simms comes off as a little bland, but at least his comments are pretty varied throughout the game. Unfortunately, sometime the comments they make come completely out of left field or do not belong in the game being played. Sometimes they will say "Flag on the play!" when in fact there is no penalty. Also, Simms will refer to players or teams that are not in the game: he made several references to the Steelers when I was playing the Rams versus the Broncos. Needless to say this is a bit disconcerting.

The sounds of hits and grunts during gameplay are pretty much unchanged from last year, but they are still very effective and convey the violence on the field. One area that is below average is the crowd noise. It is the same looping effect used since the original GameDay (and in all of Sony's sports titles since) and it simply is not adequate for today's PSX sports games. It is monotonous and adds absolutely nothing to the atmosphere of the game.

Rock music occasionally plays during lulls in the on-field action, just like in real NFL games, and it is well done with a very nice echo effect. This is a tiny addition, but it does add to the atmosphere a bit.

Interface/Options : 92
In the past, Sony has lagged far behind EA Sports as far as the interface of its football games were concerned. This has finally changed with GD99. The menus are simple, pleasing to the eye and easy to navigate. A help button can assist gamers who need it. Most importantly, there is nary a lag between menus: the switch from screen to screen is almost instantaneous, something that EA Sports cannot claim. CD load times are, on the other hand, a bit longish, though nothing unusual for PSX games.

One area where the interface disappoints is the stats screen. For the most part, stats are only viewable one at a time. So if you are looking at passing stats for example, you will see only passing attempts on the screen: you must turn the page to get the next stat (completions) and so on. This is an unnecessarily cumbersome way to do things. Most games (such as Madden 99) let you see 3 to 4 different stats per page, such as pass attempts, pass completions, completion percentage and passing yards. This is much more user-friendly than what Sony has incorporated for GameDay 99. While the presentation is lacking, the depth of stats is impressive. Not only are the usual individual and team stats included, but such stats as red zone percentage and QB hurries are also included.

On the whole the interface works just fine when navigating the different menus, and the instantaneous times between menus is very welcome.

Gameplay : 75
Any real sports video gamer will tell you that while graphics and audio are important, the actual gameplay is what really determines whether a game is successful or not in portraying the sport in question. Ever since the release of the original GameDay and the first PSX Madden game, there have been serious debates over which game more accurately portrays real football. While GameDay 99 does some things well, it unfortunately fails to significantly improve on GameDay 98's gameplay. Many things that happen repeatedly simply take away from any attempt by GameDay 99 to accurately portray football. Examples? Well, every time the computer kicks off, the kick will always end up in the exact same place in the end zone. The kick is always at full power, never varying in distance at all. Another problem, which has plagued the GameDay series since its inception, is punt returns. The return man will field any punt that is in the field of play, no matter how deep. It is a well-known unwritten rule in football that you don't field punts inside your own 10 yard line, yet the CPU will do so every single time. That this has not been addressed through 4 versions of GameDay is both bewildering and unacceptable. And once again, the CPU is deadly accurate with FG attempts, very rarely missing anything inside the 35 yard line. While others have reported missed FG's, I have yet to see one.

There are positives. Total Control is back, virtually unchanged, and this is a good thing. Being able to deliberately overthrow and underthrow receivers is important, and some of the moves the runners can pull off, particularly diving over the pile, are very useful. There are plenty of formations and play to choose from, though there is no play creator/editor.

Passing is fairly well done, though it is still too easy to complete passes in coverage. This may suit you fine when on offense, but when it happens with you on the defensive side of the ball you may just change your tune. QB's lead the receivers adequately, though sometimes not without using Total Control Passing. Finding receivers is easy enough, though you cannot see them all on the screen prior to the snap, even when using the button that pulls the camera back. The familiar icon-passing system is used here and will be instantly familiar and easy to use for all PSX footballers.

The running game is familiar to GameDay 98's, though it is far more difficult to break off big runs than it has been in the past. While some of the moves you can pull off do help (such as spins and stiff-arms), the juke move is almost completely ineffective. In addition, the defenders will seemingly go right through blockers and the ball carrier is too often taken down on the first hit. Establishing the run can be quite a challenge, and while this can be good, the lack of big plays will turn some gamers off.

Defense is a mixed bag as well, with tackling being far too easy for the most part. Often the ball carrier will be following a blocker that has you tied up, but by simply hitting the dive button you can still somehow make the play. Pass defending can be rewarding. There is no longer the infamous GameDay interception bug, where you could hit the receiver as he caught the ball and easily come down with the deflection. In fact, interceptions seem to happen at a pretty realistic rate, with players that are pretty much in the open pulling them down, while defenders in a crowd will usually knock the pass away. Fumbles, on the other hand, are virtually non-existent.

Rushing the QB is an exercise in frustration. Often it is very hard to get close to the QB, and when you do, one of two unfortunate things may happen: first, you may get called for roughing the QB when you clearly did not hit him late. This is very frustrating, to say the least, when you are trying to stop the opposition during a crucial drive. Secondly, when you actually do hit the QB late, the ball will drop out of the air like a shot duck. Rather than being penalized for a blatant late hit, you are rewarded with a ridiculous looking incomplete pass.

Special teams are also a bit lacking. Punts do not get enough air time, allowing for too many long returns. The field goal kicking bar still moves a bit fast for some people, though I myself have gotten used to it.

A real problem, especially in multi player games, is onside kicks. An unbelievable number of them are recovered by the kicking team. In one game, I used the onside kick on every kickoff I attempted. I recovered 6 out of 7, including 5 in a row. Even the most casual football fan will tell you that this is ridiculously high.

There are plenty of gameplay options and modes available, enough to keep most fans happy. A season mode is included, along with player trades, salary cap numbers and schedules that change from season to season. This substantially increases the long term play value of the game. There is also a create-player feature, which is now standard in nearly every sports game. Another disappointment is the inability to save audibles from game to game. Instead, players must pause the game and set up their audibles in each and every game.

With so many niggling little problems and exaggerated animations, GameDay 99 comes across as far more of an arcade game than a sim. This may please some gamers, especially casual players, but there are already plenty of pure arcade football games on the market, including Sony's own NFL Extreme. In my opinion, Sony's flagship football game needs to resemble actual football far more than GameDay 99 does.

Difficulty : 75
Sony has made GameDay 99 as customizable as possible as far as difficulty is concerned. There are 4 different difficulty levels (5 if you include the Easter Egg code "GD Challenge"). In addition, as in GameDay 98, you can alter the effectiveness of the CPU's running, passing, run defense and pass defense. This is a tremendous option for a football game and Sony is to be applauded for it. The intelligence of the CPU controlled team can also be adjusted. GameDay 99 also introduces Sony's new football AI, Authentic Football Intelligence. In principle, these are all excellent concepts. In their execution, however, there are serious shortcomings. First and foremost, Sony still confuses cheating with increasing difficulty. Far too often, receivers or running backs with 15 yard leads on defenders are tracked down with stunning swiftness. The rate at which the defenders close in on the ball carriers has to be seen to believed. Increasing the CPU running game largely means that the ball carriers are now supermen who refuse to be tackled. Rather than making them smarter and more agile, Sony has made them damn near invincible on the harder difficulty levels. I don't know about you, but this is not my idea of fun or fair play. You will see similar results when you increase the CPU's defensive abilities: your team will lose all ability to block and the defensive backs will stick to your receivers as if they know the pattern being run. As far as the new AI is concerned, it is improved a bit over GameDay 98, but it is still far from perfect. I still see dubious play calling and questionable clock management on occasion.

While the levels of customization for difficulty may indeed extend the life of the game, it does so in a cheap manner. Yes, the game can be made challenging for players of virtually any skill level, but at the cost of realism and fair play. Gamers may be more frustrated than anything when increasing the game's difficulty.

Overall : 83
Sony's NFL GameDay 99 will certainly appeal to many gamers. But I get the impression that most gamers who are looking for a serious simulation of football will be disappointed with GameDay 99. It simple does too many things wrong to resemble real NFL football. On the other hand, if taken as less than a sim, it does have many positives to offer the casual fan. Which category you fall into, simmer or casual gamer, may well determine the amount of enjoyment you get out of NFL GameDay 99.

By: Jim S. 9/17/98

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