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Madden 2000 (PSX) Review

Publisher: EA Sports
Release Date: Summer 1999

Background Info

PSX Screens(18)
EA Sports' flagship title, John Madden Football, is the biggest brand name in sports gaming. It is usually the most eagerly anticipated release of each year. Madden NFL 99 was by far the best-selling sports title on the Playstation last year. But, as always, Madden is challenged by competition on every platform. Is Madden 2000 good enough to retain its mass appeal and dominant status in the gaming industry? Or has this ten-year-old franchise seen its better days?

Presentation/Graphics : 95
At first glance, the graphics in Madden 2000 don't look much better than Madden 99. The player and fields look better, but not dramatically. But the difference in graphics is significant once you watch the game in motion. Madden 2000 is much smoother, faster, and more fluid than last year's version. The overall framerate is noticeably better, and that makes a huge difference in the look and feel of the game.

Another significant improvement in Madden 2000 is the movement and animation of the players. EA has done an outstanding job of going beyond motion-capture modeling to design animations that emulate the natural movement of real football players. In Madden 99, there was an impressive animation where a runner lost his balance and put down a hand to steady himself. In Madden 2000 there are lots of similar animations - players stagger sideways, buckle under the weight of a defender, and sometimes lose partial balance when hit. Here's an example from a game: my slot receiver cuts sharply towards the sideline, where he leaps for a pass, grabs it, and lands. A CPU defender dives at him and partially wraps him up. My receiver is pulled halfway to the ground, but then breaks free of the tackle, spins, runs forward about five yards, where another defender hits him from the side. Still on his feet, but toppling forward, my receiver dives for the first down and is tackled by a third defender, who slams my twisting, diving player onto the turf on his side. The combination of several unique movements, reactions to different types of tackles and hits, and the realistic-looking final tackle were simply incredible. And such plays are common. The overall effect is vastly improved realism and natural-looking player movement. In this respect, Madden 2000 has taken a big step forward.

Madden 2000 also adds new special animations that give the game more personality. Players react not only to touchdowns and sacks, but to defensive stops on third downs and after big first down plays. Sometimes you get players running up to congratulate their teammates on a big play, while other times you see several players on the sidelines celebrating a play. You'll even see players arguing with referees after a penalty. It's apparent that EA has a lot of fun with these animations. My favorite one is after a big play, when you see the opposite sideline react with disappointment, including some players making the gesture for holding, to suggest that you're cheating on offense.

The player models in Madden 2000 are also improved. Players are scaled proportionally to their height, weight, and position. Player uniforms are accurate and detailed, and show the effects of the weather, depending on how much action they face - in a rain game, the HB's jersey gets noticeably darker as the game wears on, while a neglected receiver's uniform may stay clean. A great touch in Madden 2000 is that when you play as a classic team, they wear their classic uniforms. If, for example you play as one of the '80s Bronco teams, they'll take the field in those hideous orange jerseys.

The stadiums and fields look great. The detail of the fields has been improved so that you can better distinguish turf from real grass, and wet fields from dry ones. In snow and rain games, you can see footprints on the field. The stadiums look about the same as last year, but do a better job with shadows that reflect the time of day. A useful new visual effect (optional) is a first down marker on the field, like ESPN uses in its broadcasts. I found very helpful, as you see a clear yellow line on the field indicating the distance you need for a first down. Another new, though less useful graphical touch is that nets go up behind goalposts in some stadiums during field goal attempts. Finally, perhaps the most noticeable addition to the field and stadium graphics this year is the appearance of players and coaches on the sidelines.

Hit and tackles have also been improved in Madden 2000. Gang tackles, wrap-ups, and crushing hits are all smoothly animated and dramatic without being cartoonish. The range and variety of tackles has increased as well. After more than a dozen games, I'm still seeing new animations - players crumple beneath big defenders, get flipped, fall on their sides, twist and turn as they get crushed, or sometimes just get knocked off their feet. Some hits even knock players' helmets off.

One of my pet peeves with Madden 99 was the lifeless quality of instant replays. When the game took you to a replay last year, the game went dead silent, and often, on longer plays, the first half of the play was missing. EA addressed this area in Madden 2000. The instant replays are integrated much better into the game, with Madden and Summerall talking about the replay as it is shown, with the noise of the crowd in the background. And while long plays still may have some clipping, most of the time, replays are shown complete.

Finally, Madden 2000 is the first edition in years where the default camera angle is playable. The default "Madden" camera angle looks the best, and gives you enough perspective on the field to intelligently run an offense. The other camera angles are workable, but seem less than optimal, as the player models seem to get fuzzier and less impressive from other angles. Perhaps on the N64 or PC version, the other camera angles won't suffer graphically, but the PSX doesn't seem capable of rendering many of the angles as well as it does the default camera angle. If you really can't stand any of the standard camera angles in Madden 2000, you're still in luck, because this year, you can define your own custom camera angle and play the game from it.

One minor gripe about the graphics in Madden 2000 is that the coin-toss scene is poorly done. The players watching the coin toss are moving slightly, as if swaying or breathing, but it looks like they are shivering. It would be a great effect in a snow game, but barring that, it just looks bad. I'm surprised EA didn't fix it, since the rest of the game is much smoother.

All in all, the graphics and animation of Madden 2000 are exceptional. EA Sports has done a fine job getting the most out of the PSX console. Still, the graphics are not quite perfect. On the nitpicky side, the players at the coin toss look like they're shivering, which I doubt was the intent, and some of the player models still some fuzziness and blockiness at times. Overall, though, it's hard to knock the visual presentation of Madden 2000. It's fast, smooth, realistic, and detailed.

Presentation/Audio : 90
Anyone who played Madden '99, even the most devoted fan of the series, may have wondered why the famous broadcast duo of John Madden and Pat Summerall seemed so lifeless and quiet in last year's version. At times, Madden would be silent so long that it seemed like maybe he'd left the booth to go fix a snack. Not this year. Pat and John seem recharged in the booth in Madden 2000. Pat especially sounds like he had his coffee and is following the game closely. He notes formations at the line of scrimmage, describes the play as it unfolds, and notes the outcome. This year, a typical Summerall line might be: "The defense comes out in the nickel package... The quarterback takes the snap... throws to the right... it's caught... stopped at the 44-yard line by Eugene Robinson!" Pat's observations can sometimes help you on the field. On a couple occasions while I was playtesting, Pat noted that the defense had come out in the dime package, something I hadn't noticed as my offense broke the huddle. I used that clue to audible from a streak passing play to a halfback draw. In short, say goodbye to lackluster announcing. One of the most immediate and noticeable improvements in Madden 2000 is a rejuvenated announcing team.

Madden is more involved this year as well. He makes more comments during the game. While some of his "Maddenisms" are recycled from past versions of the game, many are new. After one horrific play where I let Robert Smith turn a basic off-tackle run into a 86-yard dash to the endzone, Madden coldly observed: "I think that's one of the poorest examples of tackling I've ever seen." Some of Madden's comments do get repetitive, however. For example, he seems to make the exact same comment almost every time you miss a field goal.

The crunch and crack of big tackles and hits also sound better this year, and the crowd reacts more naturally to the action on the field. I still wish the crowd would react more dynamically to the action on the field, but the overall noise and sound effects are a step up from Madden 99. Several stadiums have arena-specific sound effects, like that annoying horn in Minnesota.

Interface/Options : 98
Madden 2000's menu system is more readable and simply organized this year. The sheer depth of the game means that initially, it can be confusing to find all the different options and features, but after a short while, it's easy to navigate through the various menus and submenus.

If you enjoyed Madden's franchise mode last year, this year's version is not only more detailed and involved, but also more entertaining. Once again, you can manage your team's roster under the salary cap, sign free agents, cut players, make trades, and draft young talent, but the options are more detailed in Madden 2000. You can have up to eight players in the same franchise season. If you have the time, you can play up to 32 consecutive franchise seasons (that should hold you until Madden 2001 comes out). You can make or receive multiple player trades, including trading draft picks for players. Madden 2000 has a much-improved interface for managing your rosters, substitutions, and depth charts. At any time, you can let the CPU manage some of your management tasks for you...but what's the fun in that?

Also, this year, when you negotiate or re-negotiate contracts, you get feedback from the player's agent. The agent's responses are often a riot. Some examples: "Hmmm...that's not a bad offer, if you add another zero to that figure!"; "Stop wasting my client's time! He needs more money or more years!"; or (my favorite so far) "That would be a good offer if it didn't completely suck!" Finally, the franchise mode gives you a chance to redeem yourself if things don't work out like you hope. If you perform poorly and you are fired as the coach of your team, you can get a second chance with another team that has a coaching vacancy. Yep, that's right, now you can be a cyber-Rich Kotite, bouncing from team to team. I could go on for three more pages just on the franchise mode alone, but suffice it to say that it is deeper and more challenging than ever before.

Another great idea EA Sports has borrowed from a competitor, Acclaim's Quarterback Club series, the new Situation Mode lets you play out several historic game scenarios, or create one yourself. With this mode, you can, for example, make it 4th quarter, 1:41 to go, down by six, on your own 19-yard line, with only one time out left to burn...then try to pull out the win. Think you can calmly execute that 2-minute drill to win a game in crunch time like Elway or Montana? Here's the test. The situation mode is a great addition to the practice mode, letting you not only work on your gameplay, but execute drives within a certain amount of time. Situations can be saved on a memory card, so you can share them with others or post them online via a Dex Drive.

Madden 2000 also has an arcade mode for simpler, more over-the-top, rock-em, sock-em football, a practice mode for working on the timing of favorite plays, a play editor for drawing up your own offensive and defensive schemes, a tournament mode for setting up and playing fantasy leagues, and, naturally, an exhibition mode for getting in that quick gridiron battle.

Another great new addition to Madden this year is a feature called "Custom Gameplay." Taking a cue from NFL Gameday, the "Custom Gameplay" option allows you to fine-tune the gameplay and AI, determining how aggressive or conservative the computer should play against you, changing the running/passing ratios of computer-controlled teams, and adjusting the speed of the game clock, the weather, and various other aspects of the game. This is a welcome and overdue addition to Madden football. Finally, you can adjust the game settings beyond the basic difficulty level to provide what feels like the right challenge in a computer opponent.

Also new this year is the "Madden Challenge" feature, which gives you points for accomplishing various goals in the game. At first, this seemed like a dumb idea to me, but once I used it in a game, it became fun to see how well you met certain goals. The goals range from easy (getting an INT in a game, finishing a game without your QB being sacked) to nearly impossible (getting 300 yards rushing at the All-Madden level, going undefeated two years in a row). As with most features in the game, the Madden Challenge is optional.

A couple other new features of note:
* The game has a new kicking interface, which looks like the one from EA's golf game. It's not easier or harder than the old kicking meter, but takes a while to get used to. I missed some easy field goals trying to figure it out.
* The game has an optional "coach cam" that, like NCAA 2000, lets you see the routes and blocking assignments of your team on the field before hiking the ball.

Needless to say, Madden 2000 is one of the deepest, most feature-rich football games ever produced. There's something for almost any type of football gamer.

One problem with the Madden they didn't fix, unfortunately, is the clumsy save system. Once again, if you are playing a season and are using a user profile to store audibles, custom plays, and substitutions, you have to go through two completely separate menu systems. This is time-consuming and annoying, since EA's other excellent football title, NCAA 2000, has a much easier file-saving system that lets you save both your season and user profile in two quick steps as you complete a game.

Gameplay : 96
As mentioned above, Madden 2000's animation is faster and smoother than last year, and as a result, the gameplay is tighter, more responsive, and more enjoyable. The improved graphics and speed make it easier to spot holes and lanes for running backs. The addition of a second juke button also allows greater control of your player's moves on the field. With the new tackling system, fewer plays end with a single hit, so there's more uncertainty and unpredictability on any given play.

Months ago, a member of the EA Sports team told me they were working on something called "momentum-based tackling" for Madden 2000, where the impact of hits and tackles took into account the speed, weight, trajectory, and power of players on the field to determine the impact of the hit. No longer would 170-pound defensive backs level 240-pound fullbacks with ease. At the time, I took a wait-and-see attitude, since this is the kind of thing that is often promised by football developers but rarely delivered. I'm happy to report that "momentum-based tackling" isn't just a catchy marketing phrase for the back of the CD case -- the tackling physics and animations in Madden are the best I've ever seen in the video game. Not only do players at different position have different-size bodies, but their varying size and weights factor how easily they go down, or how devastating their hits are to other players. Improving on Madden 99's solid tackling animations, this year's game engine just looks natural and realistic. Players get knocked sideways, spun backwards, driven into the ground, or temporarily staggered by a solid hit. This new tackling model is the kind of improvement that isn't the flashiest innovation, but shows the attention to detail and realism that keeps Madden as the game to beat.

The second best improvement to Madden's gameplay is CPU rushing. Finally, Madden's AI poses a reasonable running threat. In several games against the computer at the Varsity level, CPU halfbacks went over the century mark against me. This almost never happened in previous versions of Madden, where CPU offenses relied too heavily on passing. Certainly, experienced players will learn to shut down many CPU runners, but with the new AI, and the option to further boost the CPU running game with the Custom AI feature, shutting down the computer's offense may prove more challenging this year.

On the other hand, I found it easier to pass the ball in Madden 2000 than last year. Make no mistake, the defensive AI is still excellent, but you don't need to have perfect timing or a top-notch QB this year to establish a solid passing attack. The defensive AI seems a little more forgiving this year, but in exchange, the offensive AI seems more dangerous this year. For me, the trade-off makes for a more balanced game.

The special offensive moves in Madden 2000 (straight arm, juke, spin, hurdle, dive, and speed burst) are effective, but not overly so. EA seems to have implemented them with just the right balance so that, when used, they can be effective, but aren't the key to winning, as in some other football titles.

A great addition to the gameplay that has gone mostly unadvertised is a feature called "hot routes." With "hot routes," you can audible a different route to a particular receiver at the line of scrimmage, without changing the entire play. You just hit the triangle button at the line of scrimmage, then the symbol of the receiver, then push the D-button up to send him on a fly pattern, down for a curl, or left/right for an out pattern. This will be great for on-the-fly adjustments to particular defenses without changing the basic play you wanted.

Overall, Madden 2000's gameplay is as good as it has ever been in the history of the series. The game is fast, responsive, balanced, and challenging. On top of the four basic difficulty levels, the game allows you the ability to fine-tune the AI, to make the gameplay ideal for your skill and experience.

Replay Value : 96
Madden 2000 has outstanding replay value. This is a game that may be hard to dislodge from many players' consoles any time soon. The improved graphics, audio, gameplay, and options provide for a wide range of entertainment. But more than anything else, the game has rediscovered the "fun factor" that has been missing in recent years.

It's hard to nail down a specific thing makes Madden 2000 a classic game, but the sum of its many new features and improvements combine to give the game a great sense of personality and character. Madden 99 was a fine game, but it was somewhat cold and lifeless. This game is not only better than Madden 99, but enhances quality gameplay and AI with humor, a sense of fun, and countless little details that add up to an addictive gaming experience.

Overall : 98
This is probably the zenith for Madden Football on the PSX. Madden 2000 is a deep, immersive, smart, challenging, and, most importantly, fun game. A year from now, there may be a Playstation version of Madden 2001, but all eyes will be on the next generation of platforms, with Madden making its debut on the Playstation II, and quite likely, Sega's Dreamcast. But for now, EA Sports has created one of the best and most complete sports games ever released.

By: Matt P. 8/17/99

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