If NFL Gameday were a professional basketball team, a fair comparison would be the Los Angeles Clippers. Why? Both have suffered through long droughts of mediocrity after some years of success in the mid-1990s. Although Gameday never quite reverted to the quality of Stanley Roberts or Pooh Richardson, the street cred of 989 Sports' is bad, like Enron bad.
However, there was a glimmer of light not only in Gameday, but many of the 989 Sports games. Over the last year, I have noticed an increase in quality and it seems Sony is dedicated to bring the sports franchise back to its glory days when Madden was the inferior product. Making such a leap in one year is impossible, but can Gameday steal some of the thunder from Madden like its coverboy, San Diego Charger running back LaDainian Tomlinson?
The 989 Sports games are developing a theme in the player models - clean and efficient, yet unsophisticated. The graphics in Gameday are like a Geo Metro. There's not as many bells and whistles, but the days of pixilated Picasso-esque characters. That area is improving.
The stadiums, although not as detailed as its other video game brethren, are accurate. I can only attest for the two stadiums I have actually been in, the newly renovated Soldier Field (Bears) and the Edward Jones Dome (Rams). Gameday also has a number of old, non-renovated stadiums available, along with some obscure unlockable fields like in the downtown of a city and the Alien Crib. While those additions are not by any means revolutionary, I thought the addition of every field or stadium of each of the Super Bowls - for example, you can play in Los Angeles where the first Super Bowl took place in 1967 - but that is only partially nostalgic because aside from a few cosmetics, almost everything else is modernized. The logos of the 1960s aren't on the field and contemporary music is played during the game. Oh well, it's a great idea though.
I hate to tag things as "good enough" but that is the case here.
The music selection for the menu screens isn't bad. It's mainly rock music like Disturbed. I would usually leave the game on in between my season games with the Carolina Panthers. You can't organize the song list like in ESPN and there's not as much variety as in Madden, but overall it's pleasing. The menu screen music selection seems like a small detail, but when you're spending three hours in the off-season tweaking your team, you don't want to listen to Boy George or something.
Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts and Dick Enburg serve as the three-man game crew and do an above average job. While at some instances they can be very insightful - at one point late in a drive, Fouts referenced back to a long third down conversion as the reason for the team's success - they can be horribly inaccurate. Late in the first half the Arizona Cardinals were intent on cutting into my 13-3 lead, but unlike what Eagle said, the Cardinals didn't need to be conservative on third down to stay in field goal range because of their status on the 27-yard line because it was their own! Last time I checked, a 90-yard field goal isn't possible, even for Bill "I once celebrated a lame field goal and tore my ACL" Grammatica.
To my knowledge, the players don't speak which is sort of a bummer. I liked the banter in ESPN and even Madden. I want to hear, "Eddie George...your mama wear's soldier's boots." The crowd isn't as loud and emotional as the other games. I don't hear many team-specific chants either.
Interface/Options : 79
I like what Gameday is trying to do in some areas, but they miss on some fundamental things that make the GM mode frustrating.
There are a fair number of game options, but you can't tweak them, as the options are broad extremes of on and off or high medium or low. But in the presentation, Gameday makes it look like there are sliders, but when you try to adjust them there's only two or three possible options. In NCAA, there is a scale of 0-20; in Gameday, there's usually a scale of three.
The interface itself is pretty clean. The bold colors of red and blue are easy on the eyes, when compared to the color attacks of ESPN and the white screen of Madden. The load times amongst the screens, be it in the game modes or general manager mode, are pretty efficient and quick. Not quite up to the seamless standards of Winning Eleven 6 (there's no load times, and it's almost NES-fast). I do have one gripe about the team roster menu screen, specifically in the depth chart. While R1 and L1 are reserved to cycling through all of the NFL teams, only L2 is designated for flipping through your own team's positions. For example, if you want to switch your second-string linebacker to first string, but accidentally tap over to the cornerbacks, you can't press R2 and go back to the linebackers, you have to cycle all the way through again. It didn't come up too often, but it's a pain the ass especially in the offseason.
The game modes are preseason, season, general manager (the multiple season mode), tournament, practice, and franchise management (create your own team). When you selected the GM mode, you get a brief history of each team along with the star player. That's sort of nice, especially if you don't have a strong knowledge of the NFL. The overall ratings did give Tomlinson's Chargers a little coverboy advantage as the Superbowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers are rated a pedestrian 88 while the Chargers are 89. I might be eating crow, however, as the Bucs are 3-3, but the Chargers are 1-5 as of Week 8.
In the GM mode you can re-align the league from the get go. Simulating a week or season goes by really fast, but for as many cool features as there are (the ability to practice with your current team, even if it's 2020, on offense or defense inside of the GM mode), some major things are left out. For example, I simmed a few season, but I realized there were no run/pass sliders for offense or defense. I had a team that was really good at passing, but I couldn't adjust that ratio. You also can't negotiate contracts with free agents during the year, meaning you can't adjust the years or salary amount. This can be a bind if you are near the salary cap mark and you have an injury mid-season.
Although the simulation engine wasn't too off (Koy Detmer wasn't leading the league in rushing touchdowns), the off-season engine needs some serious work. There is not a separate screen for player progression, you merely see how much your player has progressed, and the rookie draft and free agent negotiation is a joke. I was able to trade Chris Weinke and Todd Sauerbraun to the Houston Texans and Chicago Bears and in effect, have the first three picks of the NFL Draft. With those picks I was able to pick up three players with 90 overall ratings. The rookie profiles also are undetailed and you can't sort them by speed or size. The entire offseason process leaves much to be desired, especially when compared to the micromanagement required for Madden and ESPN.
Gameplay : 70
The addition of heat set commands would have been sweet ... if I had the head set. From talking to some friends on message boards who have tried this feature out, they say it's fun thing, but some words are not picked up and cause a separate fail screen to pop up. I like the idea though. I have always been a fan of the kicking interface, which gives you a model of a football and a cross hair to pinpoint where you'd like the kicker to make contact. This helps out with onside kicks.
Gameday also added a plethora of pressure-sensitive controls with running, throwing and defending. This helps out in passing where you can place a little more loft or bullet to a throw. The tackling and contact animations are pretty good. I want to say in last year's game it advertised 150 new animations and I was impressed: well, I am again this year as well.
While there are some good things here, overall the gameplay annoys me. Of the three major football games, Gameday by far plays the least smooth. I think there's a lack of animations or framerate at some stages of a play that result in a jerky feeling. I never quite got the feel of control I was able to attain in Madden and ESPN.
Also, the secondary or defensive back AI has long been a universal complaint of fans for Madden and ESPN, but Gameday is by far the worse. Even on the Hall of Fame level, the DB reaction is too slow - like former Packers defensive tackle Gilbert Brown slow. It doesn't help that 90 percent of throws are lollipop arcs that comet out of the quarterbacks hands. So, it's almost like every pass is like a mini punt and it's frustrating to see three of my guys huddle around and politely wait as the wide receiver comes down with the football. Also, part of the jerkiness I mentioned above is due to the slowness of not only the pass, but the game speed itself as a throw is attempted.
The running game, like last year, is way too easy. You can't QB sneak down the field anymore, but the holes, even on Hall of Fame, are big enough for Anna Nicole Smith to stroll through. QB scrambling is also fairly easy; as the defenders seem to all have the smarts of Maurice Clarett. And, since the passing is like catching batting practice, the difference in effectiveness and smoothness is uneven. It was weird, though, to run the ball 50 times in a game when I usually am a predominantly passing gamer.
Like many facets of Gameday, there are good spots and innovation, but some major aspects are lacking.
Replay Value : 83
I'm not a big fan of the gameplay, but the online setup is sweet. You can e-mail buddies and set up 64-person tournaments. There's not many people online, but the system is in place. I only played three games, but the lag was a lot better than any of the EA or ESPN games I tried. If you do enjoy the gameplay, unfortunately the General Manager mode leaves much to be desired. It's sparse and unrealistic.
Overall : 71
Last year, I gave Gameday a 67. I feel this year's game is better on many fronts, but there are still glaring issues with the gameplay and GM mode. Once those flaws get ironed out, the potential to become a third fiddle in the football gaming symphony is good. I don't know if Gameday will overtake Madden or ESPN, but it could make the genre similar to baseball where three games (World Series, All-Star Baseball, High Heat) are all viable.