Madden gets sacked!
If you have Madden '97 for the Playstation, and are even thinking about the new Gameday -- get all your playing in NOW. Then, take it back to the store. Or use it for a Christmas tree ornament...
. . . because, basically, THE football game is here. Sony, as far as I'm concerned, has basically snatched the torch from EA Sports, at least as far as football is concerned (and arguably hockey). This game has been revamped and greatly improved (yes, improved) over the original NFL Gameday, with features that other sports game have been missing for a looong time. You can trade, draft, and create players. The rosters are updated to October (the only necessary trade currently on the game is Andre Rison going to the Packers). The gameplay is 50% faster than the original, and it shows. The engine is derived from NCAA Gamebreaker, but taken a step further.
There is even an Easter Egg feature that allows you improve the game as you go along. You get improved features as "rewards" when you win, and different Easter Egg passwords per difficulty level. This boosts the replay value to astronomical heights because of the way this incorporates with other features on the game as well. You can track stats (although they could use player stats as well as league leaders). There are three types of passing interfaces.
Gameday '97 also features the best A.I. ever crafted in a video game. You really feel what the players feel, and the way you play can vary depending on your mood. There is a scale of computer I.Q. you can increase or decrease that allows the computer to become more and more keen on your playing tendencies. Going undefeated is a thing of the past; good teams like the Cowboys, Niners, and Broncos will be intimidating question marks, not just ego-boosters that show how badly you can beat a good team. For example, I beat the Carolina Panthers 44-14 with the 49ers one week for my third straight win, and was feeling preeety good about myself. In my arrogance, I fell behind early to the Falcons (yes, I'll admit, the Falcons) and was destroyed 59-21. This was on the Rookie level. After "mastering" the rookie level, I then moved up to Veteran. I am now coasting with the Packers at 4-1, but when I first tried Veteran, I went 1-3 with the Niners, before my memory card messed up. I can't see beating the game on Hall of Fame mode, at least not before the '98 version comes out, but I can just imagine the endings.
The graphics are vivid and crisp like the first Gameday, and there are a few noticeable changes, most improvements. For one, the players are much smaller than the original, (they reflect the player's sizes in Gamebreaker). The size was most likely compromised in exchange for speed, and you also get a much larger view of the playing field. This game really shows off with it's beautiful animations for the players. There are one-handed catches and interceptions, fierce stiff-arms, dizzying double-spins, times where you can lower your shoulder on a defensive player to knock him off his feet, and even a special juke move that's off the hook! (whew. . .).
The stadiums are all modeled precisely after their real life counterparts, down to the signs that support the home team.(i.e. 49er's-"Best in the West", Panthers-"Pouncing all over the competition"). Maybe next year we can even see Green Bay Packers jump into the stand after a touchdown, or the Big Dawg (from the maniacal Cleveland fan club-"tha dawg pound") mooning the other team! (sorry...just had to get that one in there).
Another aspect of this game I really enjoyed was the sound. The majestic theme track sounds just like one of those Sunday morning pre-game shows that get you juiced for some football. As good as this is though, I'd have to say it's the sound effects that hit home harder than anything. There are blindside hits that'll make you flinch, and grunts and groans that really do sound exactly like one of those "Sports Illustrated NFL Hits" videos. Get this- the announcer even announces the names of created players, though only the first name in most cases, and not at all if your name is more obscure. But still, this is a groundbreaking accomplishment to say the least, though. It gets mighty annoying on other games hearing yourself (and especially in my case, where, admittedly, I am the league All-Everything) as just number so and so instead of YOUR NAME!
I really admire the control improvements that Sony has made, in speeding up the game by 50%, and making the gameplay still completely workable. Unlike Gamebreaker, the option for Fast gameplay is more than a way to just fly through games in 5 minutes because you don't have a memory card. Learning the gameplay is where the real challenge and fun come in. You, like a coach, have to master the entire playbook, especially because of the advanced AI. I only found one bread-and-butter play and that was on the rookie level. The computer will 'read' when you try to do a play more than 4 or 5 times, and although there are 200 or so offensive plays, it really doesn't feel like enough (the play creator/editor of Sega's NFL '97 would've have done wonders here).
On passing, you really notice the difference between a good quarterback and a bad one, and the difference between Jerry Rice and the rest of the wide receivers in the league. You have to learn to pass so that your receivers can catch without being blindsided and dropping the ball. I applaud Sony for including 3 passing interfaces- Normal, TCP (Total Control Passing), APM (Advanced Passing Meter). The TCP is the most impressive as it actually allows you to ad-lib a player's route like in real life if you need to. You can underthrow and overthrow receivers to left, right, or any direction you need to. It gives you nearly complete control of the passing game.
Exciting as the passing may sound, the adventure really starts when you run with the ball. Using the pad becomes more like typewriting than playing, but it's realistic and fun. On Gamebreaker and the previous Gameday, one of the shining achievements was the realism of running the ball. You had to use all the tools at hand to make a play work. It was challenging, and in the end, very satisfying. On Gameday '97, the programmers, have actually found a way to improve on that. Using the L2 button in conjunction with any of the regular moves gives you a set of advanced moves as well. So now, after the snap, you have a wealth of options, and complete control of your destiny. You can maneuver your way out of the backfield with a double spin and/or juke move, and by correctly following your lead blocks, you maybe can get to the openfield, where you might have to stiffarm or hurdle you way past the last blocker. You can even lower the boom on somebody with a William Floyd-like "shoulder charge" that can knock down the defensive player! This even makes for realistic kick returns, which are usually 20-30 yards each, which is accurate, but there is always the opportunity for a 100 yard gamebreaking return, and the same with punt returns.
The control remains the pillar of Gameday's sucess. But on the other side of the ball, the "front office" side as you might call it, Gameday 97 is stocked to the brim with features that knock you out like an Andrew Golota knee to the groin.
On the first Gameday, the features were nothing to get excited about, but decent... good enough to get by. It seems they heard our cries for more, and have given us the best features I've seen in a game since Hardball 5.
The statistics are more elaborate than last time, as now Sony has actually included team stats with the league leader boards. I remain a little po'ed because I want player stats, a minor omission I'm sure will be corrected next year-RIGHT, SONY?!
There is a create-a-player feature that is good, but very different, because, for the first time ever, they give you no 'points' with which to make your created player. All the ratings are just a 75, and you have to rearrange what you get, from a 60 to a 90. It's not so bad because I know there is an Easter Egg to correct this, which I will explain in a second.
Amidst all this, what really puts Gameday '97 over the hump is the finally included drafting feature that I'd been complaining about for ages now. Although it is far from perfect, and is only useful with the weakest of teams, it is hopefully a major precedent that needs to be followed (I was apalled that NBA Live '97 didn't squeeze it in). It lets you get the exact team you want, without "cheating" (trading) to get them, but by using your business prowess instead. Now if Madden had introduced this along with with the salary caps...
Now, about this Easter Egg feature I know has caused you to just skim over my powerful mini-editorial just above. This is a special rewards system that gives you something for every game you win, and incentive to win more, which is especially challenging in itself . You get special passwords after each win that can be entered in the Easter Egg section. This practically doubles the replay value in the game and gives you all types of added features like gigantic players, added stats, and even faster gameplay.
The rosters are accurate up until midway through the '96 season, so that Terrell Davis is the AFC's best rusher, and the Broncos best team. All the rookies are present and accurately rated except Terry Glenn's paltry 78. Even Bill Romanoski is an accurate 90, which makes me even madder being that he wasn't nothing but a 5th string long-snapper with the 49ers, since what, 1949? (ahem...)
While Gameday 97 is the best achievement in sports gaming we've seen for some time, it isn't perfect. Which, because this game is so good, isn't such a bad thing because there are still foreseeable improvements for next year. For one thing, while playing, the Passing Meter is virtually useless unless you're bored, and the stiff-arm can be cheaply abused. You still drop way to many balls by being hit after the catch, and it will probably be about 75% of your pass defense. It seems that only Jerry Rice and a select few wide receivers can catch and avoid "fumble-itis". The create-a-player feature could've been better, as could the draft feature. The game needs more stats, and multi-player leagues. At times, a hot defensive lineman can take you down for 8 or 9 sacks, though once you get good, that becomes rare.
With only a few exceptions, this is a great game. Although not for everyone, it definitely sticks out above Madden '97, which, although making the Superbowl, like the AFC does every year, it comes up short, like the AFC does every year. The commercials don't lie -- this is a must-buy.