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NFL Gameday 2001 (PSX) Review

Publisher: 989 Sports
Release Date: August 15, 2000

Background Info

PSX Screens(6)

Not to be outdone by EA's Madden series, 989 Sports has routinely delivered its own brand of football under the Gameday name. This year Gameday returns with plenty of new features as well as the claim of unrivaled gameplay. But will a few graphical improvements and new commentary justify Gameday as the football game of the year on the PlayStation? To find out how it stacks up against the competition, read on.

Before getting deep in the review, I must make a confession. Outside of some demo versions of Gameday, I have never played the game in-depth. Some may see this as a severe limitation to the content of the review, but believe you me, I put the game through its paces and treated it solely on its own as a simulation of the game of football. I entered the game without prejudices of previous editions. With that said, to the review!

Presentation/Graphics : 80
When I started Gameday up, I was greeted with an incredible full motion video of highlights from real NFL games. The NFL Films quality presentation had my blood pumping. I was primed and ready to go.

Once on the field, the player models looked flat. Supposedly the players have been scaled to their actual height and weight, and indeed players did have different sizes. However, outside of the names, numbers, and skin colors, the appearances were identical. Every player had a pair of wrist bands in exactly the same location, and each player had the same walk. The uniforms themselves lack the detail of those in Madden.

The stadiums have a decent amount of detail, with stadium boxes looking particularly good. However, things like the nets behind the goal posts look amateurish. They are very nearly a giant blob of white. The field of play has the usual team logos, yet the field itself lacks character. Footprints are nowhere to be found, and the grass has a bland appearance.

Gameday 2001 features 4 different camera views. I was never happy with any of the views. One view, which comes at an angle to the field, is totally unplayable. It would be fine for watching a game, but playing with it is difficult. This left views that were either to close to the action or too far away. The problem is that the closer view (which is the best of those available) restricts your field of view before the snap. On offense, you can pull the camera out to view the field. Unfortunately, the camera stops short so that you can't see your outside receivers. On pass plays this means you don't necessarily know which icon to use in advance. Also, the closer view seems to shutter at the start of run plays ruining your concentration and making holes in the offensive line less discernible. By contrast, the more distant view makes reading holes nearly impossible.

But perhaps the most disappointing aspects of the game's graphics are the animations. Each player runs the same, and the run is a strange combination of skating and sissy leg kicks. If the player is running in a straight line it isn't too bad. However, if you move the stick ever so slightly, the player's leg kicks out like a schoolgirl being kissed by her beau. The end effect is that it looks like the player you are controlling is figure skating down the field. In addition, the tackles are nothing special. The only animation worth noting is one where a player turns up lame. The first time it happened to me I was cursing at the screen thinking the game went screwy on me. In reality, the player clutches his hamstring and hobbles around until getting tackled. But that animation happens few and far between.

Presentation/Audio : 75
Stomp stomp clap! Stomp stomp clap! How I hate hearing stomp stomp clap ad infinitum. The crowd, which audibly seems to number about 20, repeatedly uses this archaic form of cheering. I thought turning off the music would also turn the annoying crowd off, but I was out of luck. Of course, the key to getting rid of this noise is to quiet the crowd. This only works when on offense, and the results are ridiculous. The crowd can be stomp stomp clapping away and cheering loudly, but one or two taps of the triangle button to shut the crowd up does the trick - too well. The sound of the crowd turns completely off and you can hear a pin drop in the stadium.

Once the crowd disappears, the only thing remaining is the call from the booth, which is served up by Dick Emberg and Phil Simms. Phil Simms is more palatable than John Madden, but unfortunately his color commentary is too short. The same can be said for Dick's play-by-play calls. Overall, the sound was a big disappointment.

Interface/Options : 50
After playtesting Madden 2001 to death, I was accustomed to a certain visual and logical quality of the menus. Once Gameday 2001 landed on my doorstep, I had a slap in the face. Player controls were no problem. Most football games these days use a similar set of controls. Visually, the menus are rudimentary both in design and look. Working through the offensive and defensive formations was particularly annoying. You have to cycle left or right through the list of formations and plays. Unless you memorize the next play, you have to keep cycling. I was expecting Madden-like playcalling where three plays are shown followed by text above and below the plays to let you know what is above and below. It makes playcalling more efficient (and less annoying). Fortunately, you have an infinite amount of time on defense and ample time on offense to pick your play. But the lack of quality in just this small area shows the lack of quality for the entire presentation.

I started playing the game in the General Manager mode, which lets you take control of a team from player personnel issues to play on the field. The first thing to note is that player characteristics are absent. I started with the college draft, which at a paltry four rounds left me with a bad taste. Talent was based on overall ability rather than being broken down into passing, catching, running, blocking, and other vital categories. Next, salary negotiation was left to a yes or no response with no room for bargaining. Furthermore, the CPU has a huge role in determining who makes the team and who is cut. Wait, I thought I was the GM?

I would have played more in the mediocre GM mode, but my memory file somehow became corrupt. And speaking of memory cards, the save feature in this game reeks. The GM mode requires a full 15 blocks of memory on the card. Before each game, the game prompts you if you want to save. Hmm. I usually save after the game, but what the heck. I play a game, return to the main GM menu (which takes about a minute after the game ends), and then turn my PlayStation off. Since the wait was so long after the game ended, I assumed my game was saved. To my surprise, I ended up having to play the same game again the next time around. So next time I make sure I save the game. I go to the memory card option and attempt to overwrite the file. No dice. The game complains about there not being any space left on the card. Duh! I want to overwrite the file, just like it asked me BEFORE the game. Besides starting a new game (which saves the progress), the only way to save the game is to delete the GM file and then save the current season. Stupid. Plain stupid.

And don't even get me started on the long load times. It takes about a minute to save a game and about half that time to load from the memory card. What really chapped my behind was the wait involved just getting to the kickoff. I made a full nine-course meal as the game was loading. The time from the start of a game (or where you say yes to overwriting the memory card file) to the ball landing in a player's hands is a notch past two minutes. You spend forever watching the referees come out on the field followed by the players, and no combination of button mashing speeds the procession up.

Statistically, Gameday 2001 holds its own. In-game stats as well as those around the league are realistic. However, the good quality stats do not make up for an otherwise inferior system.

The manual briefly explains all the features of the game. The manual provides several pages of instructions on the game controls. However, inexplicably it leaves out a very import aspect of the game. I decided to attempt an onside kick. I went to the manual and I was amazed to find that the manual makes no mention of onside kicks. I then called an audible and noticed that the kicking team was definitely changing formation. However, because of the camera view, I could not tell on which side the majority of my players were lined up (you can't change the camera on kickoffs).

Gameplay : 50
By this point you are probably thinking that I don't particularly like Gameday 2001. Well, I tell you what, after the first game I dreaded playing another game. I said to myself, "Do it for the consumers. You can do it." So I played another game. And you know what? I kept dreading it. What I expect from a football game that claims to have "unrivaled gameplay" and "AI consultation by 17 Pro Bowl players" is a game with, well, unrivaled gameplay and stud AI. What I got instead was a quagmire full of lousy AI and boring play.

To make things short, I will rattle off my minor complaints and then focus on the more critical shortcomings in the game. With penalties set to the maximum, I can count on zero fingers the number of penalties encountered. Penalties by the CPU are non-existent. Yours are limited to offsides, roughing the passer, or pass interference. With injuries set to the maximum, I can count on one finger the number of injuries encountered in a season. The CPU seemed to like fake punts. At one point, the CPU was averaging two successful fake punts a game. I had to line up in a nickel defense and send a safety back just to force a punt. Control is arcade-like and reminded me of games like 10 Yard Fight or Atari 2600 football. The entire defense seems to move in the direction of the runner. That is, the players don't converge in a natural way like in Madden. Further, blocking is akin to holding without the penalty. Forget rushing the passer. Once the offensive linemen engage the defense, they don't let go. I recorded zero sacks. In addition, the offense would push my defensive player back 10 yards. This was while I was pushing the stick hard in the direction of the QB. Finally, the juke move bewilders the defense. My defense was all on top of the AI runners, but a juke would wiggle him away from three tacklers with ease. The same could be said when I was on offense.

Those are the small complaints. Now the biggies which thoroughly ruin the game. If you like the passing game, you won't mind so much. But I want a game that is true to life, and Gameday 2001 simply isn't it. I have never had as much success passing against a computer controlled team as I have with Gameday 2001. I swear Moses must be my QB as the green sea known as the turf is parted and my receivers are usually wide open. The defense is picked apart in all areas. If you look down the middle and the receivers are covered, that usually means you can find a wide open man on the outside. Conversely tight outside coverage frees up the middle of the field. If a man is open, it is a guaranteed completion; I can not recall one instance where an open man dropped the ball. At first I thought this was a problem with the game settings. Even after setting the AI to have maximum IQ (whatever that means for this game) and maximum pass defense, I noticed no difference on any difficulty setting.

When on defense, I gave up on the impossible pass rush and sat and watched the behavior of my secondary. The cornerbacks, linebackers, and safeties often ran to areas of the field where receivers were absent. For instance, the CPU had a receiver run a slant route. The cornerback who was guarding him decides to run around the receiver and cover the grass. In the meantime, the receiver is running wide open on the slant route. Another time I noticed the tendencies of my safeties to play it really safe. My safeties were lined up roughly 16 yards from the line of scrimmage. As the play unfolded, they dropped back, way back. The receivers ran routes about 20 yards downfield, and at the moment the ball was thrown, my safeties were a full 42 yards from the original line of scrimmage!

Personally, the terrible secondary AI ruins the game for me. The lone bright spot in the game was that the AI tended to be fairly balanced on offense. The CPU would run the ball more than in Madden 2001. Furthermore, I deliberately tested the AI by going up by 8 points. They made the correct call after a TD by going for two. Good job. But then they would do something stupid like run three running plays with under two minutes to go in a half and call a timeout after each play. Then I would get the ball again and pick up on all the game's problems. Running to the outside was easy, whereas runs up the gut were too difficult. In addition, the passing game irked me beyond the poor defensive AI. To bring up the icon passing, you have to press the X button while moving the stick. If you don't and waste too much time, the CPU will pass for you and you are left cursing the television.

The game was not without its moments. I found it funny how I intercepted a ball and ran up the sideline. The QB was closing in to make the tackle, and at the last moment he ran away like a scared rat. I then noticed the same behavior with other players. There was also the time when the CPU attempted an onside kick. The CPU automatically lined my team up in a short kick formation with 4 players at the 45 yard line. The CPU team was in a definite onside kick formation, so my players should have stayed put. However, as the kicking team approached the ball, my front line ran backwards 10-15 yards and then turned around just before the kick. The ball landed between two players. Instead of the players converging on the ball from both sides, they all ran in the direction of the ball. The player who ultimately got the ball was actually running away from the ball, but the ball caught up with him.

Replay Value : 50
Personally, I won't be playing Gameday 2001 again. There is a superior product out on the market as you read this. I really hated playing the game because of its flaws, so why would I want to continue the agony? The franchise mode is simplistic to the point of not being a discriminator in any decision to purchase the game. Unfortunately, the AI is similarly simplistic. So if you are looking for a football game with sim elements, look elsewhere. If you are looking for a football game that at its core is really nothing more than NFL Blitz with 22 players on the field, you may want to check out Gameday 2001. If you do, try the rental market.

Overall : 59
For the serious console football fan, Gameday 2001 is a miss. If you want the full experience of the football season, from managing the front office to on-the-field play, this title just isn't it. There are too many holes in the game that make it unrealistic and just no fun to play. I had issues with Madden 2001, but those were pretty much isolated to Madden's offensive plays. Madden 2001 runs the ball too much. However, every other aspect of Madden 2001 completely blows Gameday 2001 out of the water. The secondary in Madden is realistic and consequently superb. The poor secondary in Gameday 2001 just ruins it for single player action. As a two player game, there can be some enjoyment found in the game. If you and your competitor are fans of the passing game, you will be at home passing to wide open receivers. For me, I will stick with Madden. Gameday 2001 is still stuck in training camp.

By: James Smith 8/30/00

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