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NFL Gameday 2000 (PSX) Review

Publisher: 989 Sports
Release Date: Summer 1999

Background Info



Back in 1995, GameDay burst onto the scene as one of the smash games for the then-new Playstation, doing for that console what EA's Madden and NHL series did for the Sega Genesis. It was so impressive, in fact, that EA backed away from introducing their inaugural effort. Just as it seemed that EA was ready to catch up with Madden 98, GameDay 98 introduced 3D players and a more flamboyant approach to the gridiron. The war was on in full force, and gameplayers looked to benefit from the competition.

Then came 1998. The best football game for the PSX? NCAA Football 99 (EA). The most buzz? NFL Blitz. The PSX Madden was so-so graphically, and it was still hard to run the ball; GameDay 99, despite its vibrant graphics, was weak in the gameplay and AI department. The impassioned debate over which game reigned supreme continued unabated, although Madden appeared to prevail. It appeared as if the folks at Red Zone and 989 Sports had some catching up to do. It's a year later. Did they meet the challenge in GameDay 2000 (GD2K)?

Presentation/Graphics : 90
The GameDay series is renowned for its colorful, vibrant graphics, and that's the case here. The menus are sharp and clear; the stadia are reasonable (although not perfect) representations; the players look good, are proportionately-sized, and move well. New animations contribute to gameplay. Players now bounce off blockers and would-be tacklers, struggle forward for extra yards, and sometimes even shake loose from efforts to drag them down; there are different tackling animations that are equally compelling. The chain gang will come out on the field to measure for first downs (the game offers a bright yellow line to indicate first-down distance during gameplay).

There are a number of in-game views; most people will stick with the default behind and up view. While several plays are subject to instant replay, complete with telestrator analysis by Phil Simms, the normal replay system is also present, allowing you to view a play from nearly any view. The only weakness with these cameras is the limits on peripheral vision--passes to the sidelines for short yardage can be acts of faith (or a test of your ability to read defenses early and keep track of the corners). And, if you play defense while staying with the behind the QB view, it's equally hard to cover backs swinging out for passes (and some teams rely on that approach). Once in a while I'd just have my end smack down a back to put an end to such nonsense (and thus I can report that pass interference is alive and well--although it's not called on CPU-controlled players). Camera angles do shape gameplay--you can choose to make things difficult on yourself with a quarterback camera which attempts to bring you down to field level (although it badly limits your side-to-side vision).

One piece of nonsense is a post-play "celebration" button in which your player, regardless of what actually happened on the play, may choose to flip, breakdance, or whatever (Kent Graham breakdancing? Now you know why I have to create new quarterbacks for the Giants). Maybe the reason Jake Plummer's cheering after he throws an interception is that he's got some money riding on the point spread--or maybe he hates going to Disneyland. Folks, this is why they made NFL Xtreme.

One curious graphics choice that shapes gameplay is that on several running plays, pass receiver icons appeared onscreen. This might add to the confusion factor in a multi-player game, but I'm not sure how these icons served to confuse the CPU (they startled me the first time I saw them, and I was the one on offense).

I'll close with what opens--the intro FMVs (that's right, two of them). The first is an ad detailing 989 Sports's close collaboration with players and coaches on making their games. The second is straight from NFL Films, with Earl Mann doing his usual magnificent job of making a game sound like a clash of titans for world domination, a test of man's bravery, determination, get the picture. Just don't tackle your television or spike your console for six (even with the recent price reduction, that's a high price to pay for one moment of insane celebration). Maybe the news that once more images of scantily-clad cheerleaders in provocative poses await the victor at game's end will offer enough reason for restraining yourself enough to play the game--although I am beginning to sense a undertone of mockery that runs through all these images directed at people with game controllers in their hands. Just something to think about...

These observations aside, the graphics are solid, the animation and movement is fluid, and the resulting experience is highly positive. In light of that, one may forgive the excesses.

Presentation/Audio : 90
As with game graphics, GD2K offers players a robust aural environment. Although the crowds are generic, they can get loud; the stadium loudspeakers add to the ambiance. However, celebration music blares and crowds cheer regardless of who scores or makes a big play--so much for the home field advantage (the crowd will also hush if requested to do so by the away quarterback--although it seems an empty gesture anyway, as crowd noise has no perceivable impact on gameplay). The indiscriminate nature of the rooting and celebration may enhance multiplayer contests, but as a simulation something's seriously lacking in atmosphere when the away team scores and the loudspeakers pour forth "That's the way (a-huh, a-huh) I like it (a-huh, a-huh)." I was expecting something else from the fans in Philadelphia when my Giants went deep for six.

Dick Enberg and Phil Simms return for a second stint as GD2K's broadcasting team. Each announcer has added to his repertoire; and, should a created player bear a name already in the list of names pronounced by the intrepid duo, they will speak the name (although sometimes they make curious errors). As with other announcing efforts, sometimes the comments are inappropriate descriptions of the play in question; in analyzing plays on the telestrator, Simms is especially prone to praise offensive plays that in reality fall short of success--and he has a tendency to repeat himself.

(Note--although Simms is in the game, if you flip to the 1987 Super Bowl champs, their QB is "number 11"; maybe Simms doesn't want to talk about himself. :) )

Criticism of the performance of announcing teams, of course, tend to overlook the very real advances made in that area--as if gameplayers can never be satisfied and perhaps expect too much. I would settle for making sure we are talking about the right teams and that comments fit into context better (the announcers have no idea whether it's a close game or a blowout in their play-by-play descriptions; Enberg's "Oh, my!" can be badly out of place). Better use could be made of Simms. The music is fun (if sometimes inappropriate); the on-field noises and PA system are fine (but not functional--how about "I'm open!"). One senses that in both graphics and sound, 989 Sports has gone about as far as it can on the Playstation (especially as new systems place demands on design and development teams).

Interface/Options : 70
The menus are easy to navigate, although I learned that it was best to craft a playbook and make roster changes and save them before entering into a new season. The play selection screen closely resembles its immediate predecessor, with four formations onscreen, and others available by rotating panels, a process repeated when one has selected a formation and is selecting a play. I would personally like it if ball location (right hashmark, left hashmark, or somewhere in-between) and wind direction and speed were available on this screen to assist in making certain decisions.

The controller options are the same (or virtually so) as in GD99. One may play the game using the d-pad/analog stick and the square/x/triangle/circle buttons alone, or use the shoulder buttons in combination with the basic buttons for more detailed player movement and action. By now the pattern of presses should be familiar to GameDay vets, including snapping the ball, bringing up receiver icons for a pass, and then pressing the icon corresponding to a receiver; for runners (and receivers in possession of the ball), one may press buttons (or combinations of buttons) to make a move, speed up, or dive forward. "Total Control Passing" reappears, enabling would-be quarterbacks to pump fake, lead receivers, or run the no-huddle offense (among other options). User-controlled players may jump, tackle, use swim moves, deliver forearm shivers, or play bump and run; use of the L2 button in combination with the basic buttons opens up additional options. One may choose from four button configurations, calibrate the analog stick, or activate the Dual Shock's vibration feature. New to the button options is something called Pro Max (maximum protection), allowing a running back scheduled to go out for a pass to stay back to block, and the next-to-useless celebration button.

Several reviews claim that you can choose to control a single player throughout the game in some sort of new mode. It would be nice to see that option outlined in the manual. That's what manuals are for. Get it?

Players manage their rosters, choosing whether or not to be bound by salary-cap restrictions. You may trade players, acquire free agents, or cut players. However, there's no bargaining involved when it comes to salaries--and certainly no renegotiation option ("Gee, Mr. Steve Young, please restructure your contract so we can sign a poor misunderstood running back."). The usual player creation option is here again, but this time it is augmented by a separate super player option, in which you may choose from the attributes of various players to construct a sure Hall of Famer--so long as you are willing to pay a salary that is excessive even by current standards (although you may choose to circumvent that by turning off the salary cap). Prominent rookies are present in the game (Ricky Williams, Tim Couch, David Boston, and so on). In general manager mode, you may construct fantasy league teams by drafting players; as a new option, you may also draw upon seniors created during Gamebreaker 2000 seasons. The manual mentions that there must be a minimum number of players at each position--but fails to list those restrictions. Except for the super player and college draft option, it's GD99 all over again.

Players may play a preseason contest, engage in a tournament (not an NFL playoff, for there are no byes), compete in a season, or accept the challenge of the multi-season general manager mode. They may choose from one of the 31 present NFL teams, or use single-game contests to relay past Super Bowls or all-time All Stars (although sometimes attention to detail is lacking here, unless I'm wrong in recalling that neither Emerson Boozer nor Matt Snell were white). You may even play games wearing old uniforms or in some old stadia (the Orange Bowl, for example). On the playing field, players may choose an arcade or simulation style, one of four difficulty levels, weather (although the impact on gameplay is minimal), quarter length, and the frequency of penalties and injuries; within the game there are several more adjustments one may make to the CPU's skill level, IQ, and an assortment of other options--although these in-game choices must be set each game or they will return to their default values.

In addition, one may take to the practice field to work on designing new plays using the play editor (or practice current plays). Now, there's some advantage to this, especially for the player learning his team's style and strengths. But you may want to hold off on praising the playbook editor. I decided to install some new plays, then start a sample season with my playbook ready for use. I got the ball, went to my playcall screen, flipped to my custom playbook series--and found a mess, with player symbols scattered all over the place in the box where that formation was displayed and a frozen game. Repeating the process from scratch, I encountered the same result. I did not have the same trouble when I loaded my playbook to play for an exhibition game (and scored immediately by calling the house special). By the way, the manual says nothing about how to load any of one's options into season play, leaving it unclear as to whether you could play a season with classic jerseys, for example. Promise does not translate into performance; a poor manual complicates efforts to implement changes. No need to press the celebrate button here, folks.

The season statistical package includes numerous categories of performance; unfortunately, at times drive summaries are in error (the best being an interception returned for a TD presented as a 5 play drive), and I guess no one gets sacked in simulated games between CPU-controlled opponents (at least not until week eleven in my first season). One player can secure player of the game honors, only to find that a teammate--or a player on the opposing team--is conference player of the week. These faults were also in GD99; perhaps no one cared to correct them.

Finally, as before, GD2K comes loaded with an assortment of easter egg codes. I choose to prolong the suspense. :)

In short, there are several new options, especially when it comes to roster management and player creation/acquisition; however, most of the interface is carried over from GD99--including large chunks of the manual. You'll need an entire memory card to engage in the multi-season mode; otherwise, five blocks will hold a season, with roster changes, user records, playbooks, and game options taking up a block. However, temper your enthusiasm for the playbook editor, at least when it comes to season play (or until 989 Sports details how to implement it so that it works in season play--we're waiting).

Gameplay : 70
Early versions of GameDay, despite some AI problems, were highly regarded, given the state of the art in game design and development; some people remain father fond of GD98. In contrast, GD99 was roundly criticized for glaring AI flaws that turned the game into a search for money plays (although one wonders how many players are determined enough to find them). Part of the problem was that Madden99 offered a telling contrast. Did GD2K respond to that challenge? Er, maybe . . .

The CPU AI, especially at the earlier levels, is feeble; one can achieve success by relying on a handful of plays (especially passes to backs in the flat). The more demanding the difficulty level, the more likely it is that the CPU will stop your offense (or at least limit the damage), although here and there one finds chances to score on the long bomb. This offers players a puzzle they can hope to solve in one of several ways: by creating new plays on the play editor (see above), by creating new players with outstanding abilities, by experimenting with plays, and by using audibles to full advantage. Old problems with clock management appear again. The CPU simply does not know how to use time outs well in the last two minutes, fails to work time off the clock when ahead, and when way behind still tries to strike one last time (leading to scoring opportunities off turnovers and short drives--I once scored 21 more points in the final minutes of what was already a blowout, aided by CPU-called timeouts and incomplete passes).

Nor were these the only annoying tendencies. CPU-controlled teams rarely commit penalties (and I mean rarely); some CPU-controlled players on my team appeared to have trouble staying onside in certain formations. However, I saw plenty of pass interference (by offenses and defenses), roughing the kicker, and other rules violations, as well as an illegal onside kick; sometimes punt coverage went awry when cover men overran the returner. Fumbles are few and far between. There's a halftime trivia game, but its impact on anything else is unclear and possibly nonexistent.

Time and again my games fell into a frustrating pattern. In the first half, I would pay a great deal of attention to playcalling, reading tendencies, and so on; if I built a lead, I chose to believe that it was due to my ability to select and execute plays. However, in the third quarter the CPU would start becoming desperate, and the quarterback would forego swing passes (which, even when read, were hard to stop, especially as the receiver was off-screen); time to call nickel and dime formations. By the fourth quarter the question was when I wanted to call off the dogs (and I began to second-guess my earlier assumptions about my brilliant playing in the first half). Before long I understood that I was playing a slightly different version of GD99. At least this time CPU kickers missed field goals; some CPU teams were overly fond of fake punts.

In short, many of the problems that plagued the gameplay of GD99 remain in evidence here. Hardcore players will soon crank up the difficulty levels, and then search for money plays (and the pre-rendered custom playbooks offer even more opportunity to find them). Patient playcalling and execution in the first half will usually pay off in securing a substantial lead--and then the CPU opponent will unravel. But that calls on the player to concentrate and to display a degree of deliberateness akin to taking the SAT (at least until the patterns are revealed); it will also encourage players to adopt the stronger teams (or bolster their own favorite team's roster, as I did) to prevail. A time limit on defensive playcalls, a willingness by the CPU to detect patterns and respond accordingly, less predictable responses by the CPU, an error factor built into play execution (I have seen a receiver simply stop his route, leaving a cornerback free to intercept a ball)--that might complicate matters just enough so that one could have a competitive contest throughout the game on easier levels.

Replay Value : 65
While commencing the game in rookie or even veteran mode might do for casual or new players, intense video football players will want to progress quickly to at least veteran mode with several CPU skill levels cranked up or to the All-Pro or Hall of Fame levels. At these latter levels one may spend time looking for possible money plays--or devise one's own (which I would find more satisfying, if I could learn how to import those playbooks into season play). One suspects, however, that many of the old loopholes persist, given the similarity in on-the-field gameplay.

The problematic nature of both the gm mode and the insertion of custom playbooks into season play will also limit players' long-term interest. I have already resigned myself to treating the game as a single-season exercise where the best challenge is trying to configure an ideal difficulty level. Should I come across that, I won't mind playing several seasons, perhaps jumbling up division alignments for added spice (gee, I miss the multiple schedules). But the challenge of finding out how much I can run up the score in the final minutes of a game already out of hand (and with no fear for retaliation) against a CPU team still calling time outs grows thin rather quickly.

Overall : 80
If you liked GameDay 99, you'll like GameDay 2000. You'll welcome the new options, the expanded playbooks, the general manager mode, and the play editor. Those feature build upon a basic package you've already embraced.

If you hated GameDay99, you'll shrug your shoulders at the new edition. Sure, there are some new features, but the basic game experience is a slightly-tweaked version of what came before--and you'll wonder why Red Zone and 989 Studios didn't address several bugs in GD99. And if you prefer Madden, chances are you'll stay with it. Indeed, I believe that this year Madden might increase the margin over GameDay, for there may be some defections.

For people who have mixed feelings about GD99, you will find much of the in-game experience rather familiar. The play editor will offer an opportunity to create your own sure-fire plays, and the general manager mode is a stripped-down version of more elaborate multi-season play options found in other games. For some people, that will be enough; for others, these bells and whistles may not be worth the bucks.

For those people who are looking to buy a football game for the PSX, perhaps for the first time: GameDay 2000 is an entertaining game, flaws and weaknesses notwithstanding. It is not perfect, due in large part to the performance of the computer-controlled teams, especially on the easier levels. Simulation devotees and hardcore players may well prefer Madden 2000, while those gameplayers who take a more arcade approach may find GameDay 2000 ideal.

It's not that GD2K is a bad game; it's that there was so much to learn about on-the-field play from GD99 that appears to have been ignored. Perhaps 989 Sports has gone about as far as it can on the Playstation, and perhaps it's responding to its competition in ways that divert it from the real challenge of creating a game that both the casual and committed player will find compelling. Perhaps the need for new bells and whistles, new features and FMVs (with no impact on performance on the field), and new modes (imperfectly implemented) have taken away from the goal of creating a solid on-the-field challenge where a good player must think about playcalling and execution, carry out gameplans, adjust to one's opponent, read and react, and engage in rather basic roster management and player creation (and development) to improve one's team. Sometimes less is more.

By: Brooks S. 8/20/99

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