Fumbling its way from the TV to the CPU.
With technology reaching new heights by the hour, things just aren't as easy anymore (pretty ironic). Case in point: when my editor (a most patient man) handed me a copy of ABC Interactive's Monday Night Football '98 to review, it wasn't until a full month later that I was able to really play it. And with all the hardware and software and joystick configuration problems that I encountered along the way, I'm pretty amazed that I was able to review this game at all. Don't get me wrong, ABC's Monday Night Football '98 may be the most strategically advanced game on the market, but in this case, it seems as if the production staff has lost sight of the main idea of a video game - to play and enjoy.
When I first tried to play this game, I encountered several bizarre glitches. And after contacting technical support, I was informed that this game has an upgrade patch at their website that you need to download and then unzip. To be fair, the patch repairs most of the glitches.. But what if you want to play this game and you don't have the Internet capabilities to download their patch? Unless you don't mind having your offensive tackle run back kicks, watching replays of plays that never occurred, or being unable to control the away team during league play, you need to be online. If you're not online (ie. you're using a friend's computer, a work computer, etc.) you've just got to deal with the glitches, and this game is swimming in them. Simply put, the game was released too early and should have been tested more thoroughly.
I mentioned before that this game is advanced strategically. This is an understatement. ABC Interactive's Monday Night Football '98 offers more advanced options than probably any other football game out there. If you know of any aspiring defensive coordinators, look no further for their holiday gift. The instruction manual exceeds 100 pages. And it's not as if it's 100 pages of useless filler material: you need most of the info to play this game.
One of the best things about the game is that if you want to revise one of the plays, like having your receiver run a post instead of an out pattern, it's just a mouse click away. But at the same time, some NFL coaches would have a tough time following this stuff. For instance, you can change your team's offensive and defensive profiles. How? I don't know - but apparently you can.
The gameplay itself seems to be of secondary importance. It's fun, and at first, pretty competitive. But as soon as you get the hang of it, you're demolishing your opponents by halftime. I once beat the Super Bowl Champion Packers by a score of 63-3. And I was Chicago - a team that hasn't won a game this year. I also noticed that teams don't always follow their realistic tendencies, even though you are supposedly playing with (and against) their actual playbooks. For instance, when playing against the Cincinnati Bengals, whose quarterback throws the long ball, they didn't throw over twenty yards once. Where's the deep pass? In fact, no team has completed a bomb against me. It could be, of course, my stellar defense. But I doubt it. The coverage downfield is just too tight, and defensive backs stick to deep receivers like glue. So there are very few, if any, deep passes.
The graphics are decent in Monday Night Football '98. The details are sharp and the picture only pixelates when you get an extreme close up. The players movements are very good...especially on offense, where the running backs can spin, juke, jump, straight arm, or just barrel over you if you're in their way. Unfortunately, all of the players have about the same body type, and they all look white. This detracts from the reality of the experience.
Some of the game options are nice. You can change the weather for each exhibition game. The league games have random weather settings, which adds a nice touch to the realism. Also, there are 10 camera angles with which you can view the game and instant replays. And the replay setup is the best I've seen. It's like watching game films. Not only can you view the play frame by frame, but you can also fast forward to another play altogether.
In football, few broadcasting crews are as well respected as The Monday Night Football team of Al Michaels, Dan Dierdorf, and Frank Gifford. In ABC Interactive's MNF '98, they try to keep you on top of the action throughout the game. They're okay at first, but after you hear every one of the sound bytes they recorded, you're thankful that you can turn these guys off. And often, the inane comments they blurt out (mostly Gifford and Dierdorf) are at the wrong times and in the wrong situations. I once marched 90 yards down the field, ran over their defensive line to score a touchdown, only to hear Dierdorf bark out, "This defense is playing like a fine tuned machine". Hey Dan, wake up buddy!
ESPN's Chris Berman gives his two cents at halftime of each game. One of the best in the business, Berman is pretty much useless here. Aside from having to click your mouse on him after every sentence to hear analysis, when he does offer his insight, it sounds terrible. When referring to the teams, he doesn't say the team's name, but "the home team", or "the away team". You'd think that with all that went into this game, they could at least have sound bytes of the teams' names. Hmmm...or maybe you need to download those as well.
I was pretty excited when I received Monday Night Football '98 to review. That feeling wore off quickly when, halfway through a game, I'd get an error message saying that "This program has performed an illegal operation and must be shut down. If the problem persists, contact the vendor." All I'd done was check my player roster. What's so illegal about that? And that happened a dozen times - the kind of thing that turns an enjoyable experience into a nightmare. If you buy ABC Interactive's Monday Night Football '98, you may enjoy it once you're able to play it. And after the month that it takes, it'll take you only five or six games before you completely slaughter your opponent. I'd advise a more complete product, perhaps Front Page Sports: Football '97.