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Madden 99 (PSX) Review

Publisher: EA Sports
Release Date: Summer 1998

Background Info

Without a doubt, among the most highly anticipated titles in the Playstation world are the pro football games. In that genre, there are only two games worth speaking of: the Madden series by EA Sports and the Sony GameDay series, by 989 Studios (formerly SCEA). With both Gameday '99 and Madden '99 being released almost simultaneously this year, does Madden '99 have the goods to reclaim their crown?

Presentation/Graphics : 87
Madden '99 is EA's first polygonal graphics effort for the series, if you aren't counting Madden '98 for the N64. Madden '98 used a sprite-based "v-poly" graphics engine last year, and quickly looked outdated compared to Sony's Gameday '98 and Gamebreaker '98 efforts. The Madden '99 graphics apparently used the same graphics engine as NCAA '99. The players appear fairly crisp and sharp, with the now-standard numbers and helmet logos shining through. If the selected camera angle is close enough, even names can be made out, although they are still somewhat foggy. Player uniforms are detailed, down to the shoelaces and thigh pads. The greatest amount of detail can be seen using the instant replay feature where you can zoom in as close as you want to: even the black polish football players use to keep the glare out of their eyes is shown!

As clear and sharp as the stadiums were in NCAA '99, Madden '99 disappoints somewhat in this area. The stadiums are somewhat blocky up close. Especially puzzling was the fact that the texture mapping for the football fields were not especially sharp: it felt as though every game was played on Astroturf in that the surfaces were basically smooth, unlike NCAA '99 where the field had grass textures. It is much easier to differentiate turf and grass in NCAA '99; not so with Madden '99. Considering that Tiburon (EA's partner for development) designed both games, it was puzzling to see the difference in the stadium graphics.

All in all, the graphics are a definite upgrade and were even necessary given Sony's dominance in this area last year.

Presentation/Audio : 96
Like all other incarnations of Madden, Pat Summerall and the game's namesake, John Madden, provide the play-by-play and analysis, respectively. Summerall's play-by-play analysis is up to par with past efforts, and this time he actually exchanges barbs with Madden. One of the major complaints of past Madden games was that John Madden was virtually silent except for the occasional "boom" or "he didn't even see him coming!" Madden '99 features Madden's "Star Talk" commentary, where Madden gives the user information about certain key players as they perform in the game. For example, Madden will talk about Barry Sanders being one of the greatest running backs of all time. Summerall will also keep track of certain milestones during the game, such as if a running back goes over 100 yards or if a QB passes for over 200 yards.

The tackling sound effects are well done, as is the crowd noise. The crowd seems to become louder or quieter, depending on who has the ball and the situation. One minor gripe I had was that it was virtually impossible to hear the QB say his standard "hut, hike," no matter what the game situation was, and it was certain more difficult if the crowd was screaming loudly.

The menu music helps to pump up the adrenaline, however repetitive it becomes after awhile.

Thankfully, there's a good deal of generic, "Did you see that? That guy almost had his head torn off!" quotes, because if you play long enough in Franchise Mode, the current NFLPA stars will fade away and retire.

Interface/Options : 90
The interface is clean, and while not as sharp-looking as NCAA '99 or Gameday '98, it does feature short load times. All game options are accessible from the main menu, and navigation is a snap. The interface shouldn't be a hassle to get around, and EA sports has mastered that idea.

One phrase: Franchise (Dynasty) Mode. Madden '99 features an enhanced dynasty mode that allows you to play up to 15 seasons. While it pales in comparison to the 255 seasons that you could possibly coach in NCAA '99's dynasty mode, it is still a much-welcomed addition. Franchise mode allows you to select a team and play one, none, or all of their games, or simply sim them and deal with the results. Player ratings can change from season to season based on age, performance, and injury. Players can also retire due to age or injury.

During the season in franchise mode, you have the ability to take over every aspect of running the team, and that includes signing free agents, releasing players, and trading players. During the season, you have access to league-wide news, which gives a brief update on other franchises. If a coach is in jeopardy of losing his job, you will read it in that section! There is a coach's rating section, where you can view your overall record, your current season record, your average points per game, etc., as well as a brief comment about your team's performance or the status of your job by the week. You can view the players of the week, including the current week and every preceding week. Statistics can be viewed for either the individual or team, and there are statistical breakdowns to see where your player or team ranks with others in the league. Supposedly the trading AI has been much improved so that CPU teams will trade with other CPU teams as well as make offers to your team. This can occur during the season or during the offseason.

The fun, of course, occurs at the end of the season. At season's end in franchise mode, players can retire. The next order of business is re-signing your own free agents. Players are shown with their previous season's salary and what their expected salary is. During your negotiations, they will almost always refuse an offer that is lower than their expected salary, and often times will reject a salary offer that equals their expected salary. You must negotiate both an amount and for how long you are willing to pay that amount in terms of years. I've found that players will usually re-sign at a reasonable salary if you offer them contracts of 2 or more years. Players can also be released outright at this point. After this period of re-signing your own free agents, a pre-season trading option appears. If you're offered any trades by other teams, it will say so right here.

After the pre-season trading period, the free agent signing period begins. The free agent signing period lasts 75 days (in Madden time, of course). During this time, you can make an offer for free agents, and as time goes by, if that player receives an offer, that offer will appear next to their name. If you make an offer to the player that is higher than his current offer (or if it's the first offer he's received), a red dot will appear next to his name. If that free agent is offered a better contract, the red dot will blink and you can offer him a bigger contract if you wish, or just wait it out and withdraw from negotiations. As the signing period goes on, players will sign with other teams. You can advanced the signing period by one day at a time, or just forward to the end of the signing period from wherever you're at. After the free-agent signing period, the NFL draft occurs. The draft lasts 4 rounds, and you must negotiate contacts for each of your draft picks. Remember, THERE IS a salary cap in franchise mode, and you must keep this mind when making offers to your draft picks or free agents. After the NFL draft, the next season starts.

There are other options in addition to Franchise Mode. There is Tournament Mode, where you can take part in an 8 or 16 team single-elimination tournament. There is a Fantasy Draft option where you can complete a 48 round NFL-style draft and then play a 4-, 8-, or 16-team tournament. Finally, there's a practice mode, where you can hone your skills by running any play in your teams' playbook against a defensive formation of your choice.

Madden '99 FINALLY includes adjustable quarter times. Long a feature requested by gamers, EA implemented it and finally realistic statistics are within reach.

Gameplay : 98
But how does it play? Let's face it, last year's Madden '98, despite the graphics, played well. Despite the discovery of money plays galore, poor tackle collisions and detections, and the almost impossible task of running, Madden '98 was fun to play.

This year, EA put the needed effort into the gameplay, and I'm happy to say it pays off. The running game has been completely overhauled, and like its sister game NCAA '99, running is much easier to accomplish. Running is much easier to do with one of the zoom camera angles, but overall, even with a distant camera angle the holes are easier to see and to shoot through. In most cases, when you're stopped for a loss, it's due to the offensive line breaking more than your not picking your way through. The usual running animations, such as spin moves, stiff arms, jumping over defenders, are there, as well as the "juke move" (done by pressing "R2"), which is also included. The juke move is effective in that it allows you to stutter-step sideways to avoid would-be tacklers. Mixing up sweeps and traps inside are the most effective means of gaining positive yardage. The stronger running backs will drag tacklers with them, while shifty backs such as Barry Sanders will juke and jive their way to touchdowns.

The passing game was refined in Madden '99 and adds to the overall challenge of the game. No longer can gamers, especially in the more difficult All-Pro and Madden levels, be able to heave the ball on every down and end up with 700 yards passing. Defenses are much tighter and your favorite targets will often be double- and triple-teamed. Passing involves much more thought in this version, as you need to make sure your receiver has enough separation from the defensive player in order to catch the ball cleanly. Using the R1/L1 shoulder buttons, you are able to check the location of each of your receivers and what button/shoulder button that needs to be pushed to get the ball to them. A feature in NCAA '99 functionality that allows you to see what routes your offensive players will run was left out, and would have been a welcome addition.

Playing defense in Madden '99 is almost as fun as offense. The tackling animations are a joy to behold. There are wrap tackles, shoestring tackles, tackles that can up-end the runner or receiver, and full body tackles. Most tackles look simply vicious, and gamers will be pleased by the realism. There are several standard formations to choose from, such as the 4-3, 3-4, Nickel, Dime, and Special Teams, with each formation having several plays in them. With the ability to "mirror" a defensive play by hitting R1, the defensive playbooks are doubled. With the higher difficulty levels, defending against the run and the pass become much more difficult, especially against the pass. Often times QB's will be able to complete passes in double- and triple-coverage. Most of the time if a team is successful running the ball against you, it is because of the quality of their running back.

The control of the players on both offense and defense is very "tight." Gone are the days where players looked as though they were slipping and sliding around: the movement animations, such as a linebacker moving laterally or a running back doing a spin move, are simply outstanding. EA claims that the computer AI adjusts to the player's skill level and reacts accordingly. At the higher difficulty levels, this is certainly true.

Difficulty : 95
As stated previously, the higher difficulty levels, All-Pro and Madden, offer the greatest challenges. The AI is much tougher in those modes, and you may struggle to keep up with the CPU. The Pro difficulty level is rather easy to master, and the All-Pro level seems to strike a nice balance between easy (Pro) and impossible (Madden). I've found that the most competitive and realistic games (stat-wise) are a combination of the All-Pro level and 7 minute quarters.

Overall : 95
EA Sports has struck gold again. On the heels of the incredible NCAA '99, Madden '99 is more than a worthy challenger to Gameday. With another year of a non-career mode Gameday on the horizon, Madden '99 appears to be the PSX pro football game to buy, in terms of gameplay, graphics, and replay value. It appears that EA Sports will once again wear the crown of "best football game."

By: Gabe Gador 8/21/98

© 1998-2006 Sports Gaming Network. Entire legal statement. Feedback

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