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Madden 2001 (PSX) Review

Publisher: EA Sports
Release Date: August 14, 2000

Background Info


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Perhaps no other sports game around gets as much play and scrutiny as the Madden series from EA Sports. Considered the king of the mountain by many, the series has progressed from the 16-bit era and is waiting patiently at the door of the 128-bit era. But before it can head through the door and lay claim on the PS2, it needs to take a detour through the 32-bit PlayStation.

What football lovers should expect is typical Madden. Unlike the 2000 version which seemed to have some major overhauls in areas, Madden 2001 attempts to improve the series in subtle ways. For the most part, the game plays similarly to last year's version. But is that such a bad thing?

Presentation/Graphics : 95
Wow! At times I am thoroughly impressed by what programmers can now do with the PlayStation. When I saw my first game on the Dreamcast, I always wondered if the sloppier graphics on the PlayStation would bias me from playing games on the venerable console. Fortunately, my attitude is that if the game has great play, graphics are not an issue. Good graphics are simply icing on the cake. And what a tasty cake Madden 2001 is!

On the field, players have unique shapes and sizes, so safeties are small compared to offensive linemen. Even linemen have various builds. Madden 2001 keeps track of the heights and weights of the players in the game and sizes them on the field accordingly. Besides the sizes of the players, each player can have a particular set of uniform extras. Players sport arm bands, elbow pads, and long sleeves. In fact, when you create a player, you are given total flexibility on how the player looks, down to the type of face mask. And believe or not, you can see these changes on the field of play.

The uniforms are clearly readable. Team logos are fairly crisp, and there will be no mistaking one team for another. Player numbers are easily seen, but names on the backs of jerseys are hard to read. After plays, the camera switches to a close up view of the players walking back to the huddle and at this point the detail in each player takes a step up.

Likewise, there will be no mistaking where you are playing. If you are familiar with a particular stadium, you will find it is modeled with meticulous detail. At the Pro Bowl, Aloha Stadium had all of the skywalks which reach across the stands. Field goal nets are pulled up for field goals and extra points and quickly drop to the ground after the kick. About the only complaint one could ever find with the stadiums is that they are all based on the modern era. It is a little odd to play as the 1970 Vikings in the Metrodome instead of the old Metropolitan in nearby Bloomington. On the positive side, for night games, the sky turns from a deep blue or purple to black. Also, if it snows during a game, the field has a cloudy look to it, and as players run across the turf, the impressions from their shoes are left behind. The shape quickly dissolves as more snow falls.

Perhaps the best area of Madden 2001 is the animation department. Player animations are stunning. Tackles have an incredible number of frames of animation; you can feel the struggle involved in getting a player to the ground. Running backs twist as they attempt to escape the clutches of defenders, and players can even break out of wrap tackles. The animations involved with receivers making cuts actually aids in the timing of passes.

Presentation/Audio : 75
About a decade ago I loved to flip on CBS and catch a game with Madden in the booth. His approach to color commentary was fresh. A decade later now on Fox, he is doing the same routine, and frankly it is old. Unfortunately, the same approach bleeds over to Madden 2001. The number of samples is limited, and sometimes the comments have no basis. He commented several times how the first wave of my kicking team missed the kick returner despite the fact the first man down the field made the tackle. Pat Summerall does a much better job in the booth. Sticking mostly with play-by-play, Pat really only misses a beat on punts. On nearly every punt, he says "He skied that punt." The same phrase can be heard on a 60-yard boom or a 30-yard shank. The best part of the commentary is when John must be in the john and Pat is talking solo. Some brief pre-game commentary is provided by James Brown, and Leslie Visser chimes in with some repetitive half-time notes. Aside from the referees (who make clear calls), the only other voice work to mention is that of NFL coach. Sometimes after penalties, a picture of the coach will pop up on the screen and you hear a Homer Simpson-esque quote, like "Doh" or "Argh" or some other nonsense. The one or two word repetitive phrases do nothing but cheapen the experience.

The crowd sometimes does not know how to act at a football game. A case in point is during the AFC Championship during my second Franchise Mode season as the Broncos. Playing at Indy, I intercepted a pass and ran it back for a touchdown. During my extra point, the crowd started chanting "Defense." This happened on more than one occasion, and after a play like this, I would expect the crowd to throw a few boos to the field or at least shut up. The player sounds are the saving grace. The QB barks out the play, and tackles sound painful. But honestly, after a few games the sound was so insignificant that I put my headphones on and listened to some music. You would think the Madden team would take a page out of the NCAA book and invest some time in the audio department. Please EA, make the game's atmosphere more realistic - at least throw in some stadium music.

Interface/Options : 92
You want options? Madden 2001 has plenty of them. The rundown on the modes of play is as follows: Exhibition, Season, Franchise, Custom League, Tournament, Situation, and Two Minute Drill. In the Two Minute Drill mode, you must score as many points as possible in two minutes. You are awarded points for first downs, touchdowns, extra points, and field goals. Finally, at the end of the game, you are given bonus points for the teams you used. If you played as the Browns against the Rams, the bonus will be huge. If you switch it around, the bonus drops like a rock. The mode is actually pretty fun, and you can check your progress as the game saves scores off to the memory card. In Situation mode, you can establish a scenario and complete the game or you can work up through 15 pre-established great games. Of course, the meat of Madden 2001 is the Franchise mode.

In Franchise mode, you control a team for up to 30 seasons. You control the team from the top down, which includes managing player personnel as well as your coach. The Franchise mode is virtually identical to last year's version. You can renegotiate contracts during the season, and an agent acts on behalf of the player. And those players are certainly greedy. They always seemed to ask for at least double their current salary. Of course, you have to manage your finances wisely as the league does impose a salary cap. At the end of a season, you are given a status on what players have decided to retire. Next, you can sign or release any unsigned players and then begin the free agent signing period, a process that lasts over 40 virtual days. You compete for players who may receive offers from other teams. Once the free agent period is over, trades can be suggested with other teams which involve your current roster or some of your upcoming draft picks. Next, the seven-round draft takes place, and you must sign or release your draft picks. During the entire player personnel process, the CPU lets you know where you need to add players. If you sign too few players for a position, you will have to pick up a free agent from the few remaining players.

The statistical engine does not reflect the actual play on the field. If you check a team's stats before playing them, you may find they have a stud running back. Once on the field, however, the back does nothing more than block or receive passes in the flats. AI offense is so pass-oriented that they all but abandon the running game. Playing with 5-minute quarters, my offensive team stats were anemic compared to the rest of the league. I was near the bottom in passing and rushing, despite the fact I rushed over 100 yards each game and my opponents rushed under 50. Injuries are another problem. Despite the tons of options in Madden, injuries are either on or off. Playing with injuries, I had two players injured in two seasons. If I looked around the league, many teams dealt with multiple injuries during the season.

The newest option in Madden 2001 is the Madden Card. During a game, if you reach certain milestones you receive Madden tokens that can be used towards the purchase of packs of Madden cards. Each pack costs 40 tokens, and you earn more tokens as you increase the difficulty level of the game. The tests are similar to the Madden Challenges of Madden 2000. When you buy a pack of cards, the cards are similar in structure to modern day trading card issues. Some cards are three-tiered, with a bronze, silver, and gold card. The cards are divided amongst current players, retired players, cheats, teams, and stadiums. In total, there are over 500 different cards, and your completion status is based on how many of the 296 gold cards you have. Cards of current players can be used once to improve the performance of a player. Improvements range from 3 percent for the bronze to 15 percent for the gold card. The cards of former players (such as Elway, Steve Tasker, and the like) can be played to bring the players into the free agent pool. Cheats range from ultra-fast players to changing the scoring system. Besides playing the cards, you can sell them for more Madden tokens (to buy more packs) or trade them to another person. If you are a collector, you will really like this feature in the game. While I do not use the cheats in the game, I certainly am driven to play the game repeatedly on my quest to complete the set.

Of course, saving your Madden Cards requires you to save your status to the memory card. Saving your franchise or game settings is simple. But your Madden Cards are kept in a profile. You would think that saving your profile would be under the Memory Card option. Nope. It took me a couple of days of fishing through menus before I actually discovered how to save my profile. You have to head to the Custom Options selection off of the main screen, select your profile, and then save it. So if you are playing in the franchise or season mode, you have to completely back out of the mode to save your tokens. Nowhere is this documented in the manual.

Speaking of the manual, while it does a poor job at describing some of the features in the game, it does a great job at outlining the control scheme. If you are a Madden maniac, the basic control scheme has not changed a bit. If you take advantage of some of the advanced controls, you will appreciate the ability to flip the called play at the line of scrimmage with the square and R2 button. Or, if you set up in a run defense and anticipate a pass play, hit the triangle button followed by an up-press on the D-pad to invoke the Read N React pass prevent. Conversely, you can anticipate the run with the triangle and pressing down on the D-pad.

Gameplay : 83
The first thing I did when I received Madden 2001 was create a team. The Oilers left this part of Texas a couple of years back, and the new Houston team will not arrive until the start of the 2002 season. I got as far as the player roster, at which point I realized Madden 2001 would simply use an existing team's roster for my created team. I was hoping for a full-fledged expansion mode, but I guess I will have to wait for Madden 2003 for that. So I instead decided to take control of the Broncos.

I began my quest at the Pro level of difficulty (Rookie, Pro, All-Pro, and All-Madden are the options), and the first thing I noticed was that this is still a passing game. I have yet to find a single player football game that actually resembles real football. Madden 2001 lets you adjust the AI of the CPU, and I eventually moved the bias nearly completely to run. I even increased the running back abilities and line blocking abilities. But even weighting those parameters heavily towards the CPU, I could not get it to run the ball realistically. The usual pattern would be the AI team would open up the game with a few passes, run the ball a couple of times, and then toss a run in every now and then. If you get a small lead, you might as well play a nickle or dime package the rest of the game. During too many games I defended pass plays exclusively in the second half. I did have a few games that played realistically. In my second season, I had an overtime game against the Raiders where the Raiders had 15 rushes for 71 yards and were 14 of 22 passing for 215 yards. I won the game 17-14 in overtime at the All-Pro level in what could be my only realistic game in over 30 games of Madden 2001.

Thinking that the running problem was due to the running backs or offensive line, I played against the Saints. With Ricky Williams in the back field, I figured he would rattle off a few yards. When all was said and done, the Saints ended the game with 5 rushes for 1 yard. I was pissed. I was even more pissed when I switched teams and successfully ran the Saints up and down the field. And where Madden 2001 falters in the CPU running game, fans of the running game will love Madden 2001, especially at the All-Pro and lower levels. Playing with the default camera view, the blocking animations and clear graphics show holes open up in the line. If you call the same play multiple times, the defense learns to stop it on the second or third try. However, I was able to rush for over 100 yards each game (and sometimes 200) with just 3 or 4 run plays. Long gains over 20 yards were rare, but gains of 5 to 10 yards were too commonplace. On sweeps, receivers block so well it seems like they are holding the cornerbacks (an aggravation for me on both sides of the ball).

The cure to the effective running game on offense is the All-Madden level. Running at this difficulty level is next to impossible, and reminds me of running at the pro level in Sega's NFL2K. My rushing average dropped from a healthy 5 yards plus to around 2. The only way to succeed at the highest difficulty level is to utilize a run and shoot scheme and pass on every down. While the running game is impossible (or nearly) at the All-Madden difficulty, the passing game was remarkably easy. I was able to pick apart the AI secondary with a mixture of short and medium passes. Throwing deep was saved for single coverage situations. Despite my success at the passing game at the highest difficulty level, I yearned for realism, so I spent the rest of my time playing Madden 2001 at the All-Pro level, which seems like the sweet spot for offensive play (note, there is no sweet spot on the defensive side).

Besides the lack of running by the AI, the AI has some plain kooky actions. In almost every game where the CPU had the ball with under two minutes to go in the first half, the CPU would run the ball to run the clock out. Then, inexplicably, they would call a time out on third down deep in their own territory. Often these will be the first rushes of the game for them.

While ahead late in the game, there were times I thought the CPU was cheating. If playing a decent team, I could be assured the CPU would come back strong with multiple scores. When coming from behind, the CPU tends to throw deep rather than short or over the middle. In my first season, I was playing the Colts for the AFC Championship and was up 14-7 with under a minute to go. I played a dime prevent and 3-4 safe scheme, and the Colts rattled off four consecutive passes for 93 yards by throwing into double and triple coverage. Another sign of cheating comes with audibles. I was in an I-formation for a run up the middle. I recognized a blitz coming and audibled a new play. Mind you, this play used the exact same I-formation and no players went in motion. With nothing letting on that I was moving to a pass play, the secondary shifted back into pass coverage.

Another area where I thought the AI was cheating was on pass interference. However, I think this is actually a case of poor interference detection. My receivers were held or blocked on too many occasions as they went over the middle. Even though I turned the pass interference sensitivity to the maximum, I never had the CPU called for interference. On a 10-yard slant, Brian Griese would throw the ball. While the ball is in the air, my receiver was physically restrained from completing his pass route. No defenders were going for the ball, so that should be a clear cut call. Nope. And if you use the default settings for penalties, the only call the CPU ever gets is for a false start. With the penalties set to the maximum, they added 5-yard face masking penalties. Not once in over 30 games was the CPU called for holding, roughing the passer, interference, or many other calls. I, on the other hand, had several instances where I had a big gain called back for holding.

You can use the problematic AI to your advantage. On 3rd and 4th downs with a yard or less to go, you would expect the defense to line up in a tight package. Many times the CPU lines up in anything but a goal-line defense. Heck, I had the ball 1st and goal on the 1-yard line and the CPU lined up in a 4-3 defense. On a 3rd and 1 play, the CPU lined up in a goal-line defense. He stopped me for no gain. I decide to go for it and use the exact same play. The CPU decides this time to line up in a 4-3 scheme. First down. Even in a playoff game it was 3rd and inches for me with under a minute to go and my Broncos up 14-10. If there was ever a time for a tight defense, this was it. Coaching 101 says QB sneak. The defense lined up in a 4-3 with two of the linebackers parked out by the tight ends. First down.

On the positive side, Madden 2001 implements a tackling system based on the abilities of the players. A player won't instantly drop to the ground on contact. On several plays my backs and receivers wrestled away from the tacklers. This bit of realism was appreciated, although the CPU tended to abuse it on the All-Madden difficulty.

I may seem overly critical of the flaws in the game, but face it, Madden represents the pinnacle in console football. Unfair or not, Madden is held to a higher standard and should strive to be the best. In some areas, it clearly is great. The offensive running game on most levels of difficulty is a step in the right direction; the ease of the running game (and I tried with several different teams with inferior backs and lines) needs to be scaled back. The passing game is pretty good with the exception of receivers being held. The secondary has reasonable closing speed when zone defenses are implemented. The most work needs to be devoted to the offensive CPU AI. If I want a game with nothing but passes, I'll seek out NFL Blitz.

Replay Value : 85
Despite what I consider to be AI problems, Madden 2001 is fun and keeps me coming back. If you are a fan of the passing game and don't mind defending pass plays 80 percent or more of the time, you will be happy. Also, the game excels in multi-player. Playing a human opponent adds so much to the game, especially with the ability to run effectively.

The Franchise mode is certainly the best feature of the game. The ability to build a team from the basement or sustain a dynasty adds a tremendous amount of replay to a game. Even the Two-Minute Drill mode offers a decent amount of replay value.

Along the way, I became addicted to the Madden Cards feature in the game. I am not a gamer who utilizes cheats, but I strive to finish off the card set, cheats and all. The first thing I would do after each game would be to check the number of tokens I possessed and hit the card shop.

Overall : 85
It will be interesting to see how much play and how much attention Madden 2001 gets this Fall. With Sega's NFL2K1 with online play coming out in mere weeks and Madden 2001 on the PS2 set to release in late October, you may have to consider where your football dollars will be spent.

In the meantime, however, Madden 2001 on the PlayStation will keep you satisfied. Even though there are some AI issues associated with CPU play selection, I had fun playing the game. The Franchise mode is the best you will find in any sports franchise, and it adds to the realism of the game. The ability to run against the CPU, while a little too easy at times, was definitely appreciated. Graphically, Madden 2001 shows the PlayStation at its absolute best. The animation sequences are nothing short of perfection, with pull-down tackles and wrap-around sacks utilizing many frames of action. In the end, EA has released a solid, though not perfect, football game.

By: James Smith 8/15/00

Related Link: Madden Mania

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