A good day for a game.
So let's face it. It's more or less a given that Gameday '99 is going to be a solid game. Gameday '98 was, after all, one of the most complete and entertaining football games ever to hit a console system. The question is, then: is Gameday '99 good enough to justify shelling out 40 of your hard earned bucks? And more importantly, is Gameday '99 good enough to keep you from getting your hot little hands on Madden '99? It is a difficult question, grasshopper.
Everyone wants to know what makes Gameday '99 different from last year's runaway success. Well, here are the new features, in no specific order: a totally customizable tournament option, salary cap during the regular season, "TV style presentation" featuring Dick Enberg and Phil Simms, "Authentic Football Intelligence" AI, brand new motion-captured graphics modeled after 9 NFL players, and newly rendered stadiums. Phew.
What is the most important thing in a football game? Gameplay, gameplay, gameplay. For those of you obsessed with the Gameday franchise, you will certainly not be disappointed. Total Control Passing is back, as are the ten-or-so moves each player can execute (double spins, shoulder charges, high steps, stiff arms, etc.). This year, you can even dive over the pile (an option that, in my opinion, should have been in every football game since Tecmo Bowl). The problem I have with all this is that these guys defy the laws of physics. Every running back in the game, for example, can cut on a dime without losing any speed. Momentum? Hello?
The big thing that Gameday had over Madden last year is 3D polygonal graphics. Now that Madden's gone polygonal, we're looking to Gameday to raise the stakes. Although the engine isn't a huge improvement over last year's, it does run pretty smoothly at 30 fps; you're not going to see the action interrupted while the game finds an animation to fit the current situation - very often, that is. And, of course, all the fun stuff that polygons bring with them are here too: quarterbacks throw off their back feet, ball carriers stretch for the first down, and receivers tight-rope the sidelines.
As for this "Authentic Football Intelligence" thing, I do have to say that the AI is darn good. You'll see everything from DB's floating in their zones to cover the deep threat to linebackers faking the blitz at the line of scrimmage. The All-Pro and Hall of Fame levels are especially challenging; it'll take you a good 5-10 games to even have a shot at the Hall of Fame mode. Of course, there are still a few inconsistencies that let you run certain plays over and over, but on the whole, this is one of the smartest games around.
And how about the Dick Enberg/Phil Simms license. Yes, it is pretty cool that 989 sports got these guys to come out and do the game. And yes, the commentary is often very realistic. Dick will says things like "Young back to pass" when Steve Young drops back to pass. You'd think, however, that after spending buckets of money on the ABC golden boys, 989 would have spent a bit more time making their speech sound cohesive. The fact is, the play-by-play and color commentary are some of the choppiest I've heard in a while. Say John Elway just completed a pass to Ed McCaffrey for example. Phil jumps in with "John Elway (weird pause) put that right where he could catch it." Not only are there huge gaps when names are inserted, vocal intonations are often way off the mark. This is not a gigantic flaw, it's just something that distracts you from the game.
NFL Gameday '99 is a solid football game with enough goodies to keep you busy for a good while. It isn't, however, the new horizon in console football games that its predecessor was. If you're an NFL fanatic and a Gameday loyalist, pick this puppy up next time you're at Target. If you're looking for the football game that goes beyond all football games, keep your pants on, and see if Madden '99 can take it to the next level (. . .but keep your pants on anyway - Ed.).