It's Not Quite in the Game
Every year it's pretty much the same. EA releases what they claim to be the most advanced football game yet, complete with tons of new effects and enhancements, the majority of which I have never heard of before (V-polygons? Liquid AI?). Around the same time, 989 Studios (bastard child of Sony) comes through with what they claim as God's gift to football games, boasting about all of their new features, along with plenty of smack-talking towards the rival product. However, this year another "twist" has been thrown in the mix: Midway's conversion of the arcade smash NFL Blitz. The question is, just how do these products rate against each other? Well, that depends of what exactly you are looking for in a football game...
Let me start off by giving props to Madden '99's most impressive feature: the graphics. Madden '99 clearly surpasses the competition (namely, Blitz and Gameday) in terms of detail. All characters are polygonal and have 1000+ polygons (EA boasts 1200 per character). The realistic texture maps and real-time shadowing all lead to a crisp, smooth and realistic-looking experience. In addition, Madden '99 offers a number of motion captures for each player, most of which add to the visual realism of the game. The only fault I noticed in the graphics are that all side-line people, extra players and coaches are obvious 2D sprites, seen by the constant scaling in between some plays. Other than this little flaw, of course, the graphics and motion capture are superb and the best on the market.
In addition to sweet graphics, EA has been known for providing "unrivaled depth", and Madden '99 is no exception. While Gameday and Blitz both have their share of real NFL teams, licensed names, and accurate stats (Gameday more so than Blitz), Madden '99 goes the furthest. The game offers a number of game modes, including Exhibition, Season, Franchise (where you can manage all aspects of your team through a number of seasons), Tournament, and Fantasy Draft, where you play in a fantasy league in which all players are drafted. All the licensed teams, players and all-star teams as well as the usual variety of offensive and defensive formations and plays are there as well.
This year, EA even went a little further. The game includes a Madden 101 disc with 1998 stats, scouting reports and game footage. As far as depth goes, Madden is still the king of the hill.
But how much does this depth improve the gameplay? Well, that's the problem. If you're the kind of person that likes a slow-paced season and really enjoys the whole team management thing, then Madden '99 could definitely be the product for you. If you want action, hard hits and fast gameplay, then you're in trouble: the gameplay stinks!
First of all, there is an uncomfortable amount of buttons. Those who enjoyed the simplistic 4-button controls featured in many of EA's previous titles will be let down by the not-so-simplistic 10-button controls. On the other hand, the increased number of buttons means that there are a lot more moves that each offensive and defensive player can execute: from the common hiking, diving and tackling to more advanced moves like pump-faking, spinning and doing the swim move. While offering a higher degree of freedom than its predecessors, the controls for Madden '99 can get quite messy for those who don't own a 10-button joypad.
More importantly, the actual controlling of characters just doesn't feel good. Players seem to run at slow speeds; controls seem very "chunky" and not fluid. While it's hard to put into technical jargon, the fact is that it feels more like running 3D objects towards each other rather than controlling a team of football players. The speed, action and hard hits just aren't there. Anyone looking for these qualities and are willing to give up Madden's commendable depth should take a look elsewhere.
Most of the aspects that make a typical EA sports game are there and, for the most part, are brilliant - the depth, the witty comments, and the top-notch graphics. More time spent perfecting the gameplay would have producd a clear winner here. If you are willing to give up depth, Blitz's PC conversion offers non-stop no rules football. On the other hand, those who are more interested in the whole management perspective, maintaining a team, and playing a team throughout a season should give Madden '99 more than a passing glance.