Big John could use a change of scenery.
If guns had been developed the way Madden games have, right now our military would be armed with the most impressive, neon-painted, super-featured (can-opener, a watch, a nose hair trimmer, and even a demon excorcisor) front loading, flint-action muskets in the world. We wouldn't be able to actually kill anything, but as our country got pummeled by Canada, we'd at least be able to sign our own death warrants with the nifty pen that you would be able to pull out of the butt of the gun.
Despite the fact that Madden games have ruled the gaming gridiron for years, EA Sports has done little to add anything new. Essentially, Madden 2001 is just another upgrade, and it's becoming clear that EA has bigger plans than the PSX...namely, the PS2.
The graphics aren't anything special, although the animation is better than most other Playstation games. While not nearly as fluid as games of the same ilk on other systems, the choppy Playstation rendering is softened by a plethora of motion-captured details, such as Funky Chicken walks and players touching their hands to the ground to stabilize themselves after a glancing near-tackle. Not the best in town, but hardly the worst.
Hit detection is remarkably good, but also extremely frustrating. While players rarely pass through each other, they never react or try to battle for position as real NFL players would. The effect is five or six football players standing around a circle on the ground while impotently glitching in unison. It's also funny to see a football hit a receiver in his back numbers, go all the way through him, and wind up in his hands, since there really aren't any catching animations.
The gameplay is mostly untouched from earlier versions. You're given the usual abilities to spin, jump, dive, straight-arm, juke, and speed burst, but none of them (other than speed burst) have any real concrete uses, only arbitrary outcomes. So, while your running back's spins and jukes look cool, all they do is decide what kind of tackle animation you get.
However, Madden 2001 excels in terms of balance. You'll be hard pressed to find those "super" plays (you know, the 'automatic' first down ones) that have marred past Maddens. This makes for a better overall challenge, one that will keep you coming back before.
Playcalling and quarterbacking are essentially the same as before. I personally think it's about time to throw in a "coverage" indicator, something to help you determine if a receiver is wide open. This would do a lot of good, because the game stays locked in a semi-removed, third person point of view. It would be really nice if the camera angle changed on its own, especially if it changed to suit the perspective of whatever player you happened to be controlling.
Of course, these are suggestions more than gripes. The bulk of the gameplay is identical to past efforts, so fans of the series will be genuinely pleased.
Tackles, though, are a letdown. You lay on a really good hit, yet the only thing that's really good about it is the sound it makes. The hits are slow and the visual impact is unconvincing. If the sounds didn't have to carry all the effect, but supplemented a really violent looking hit, defense in this game would be a blast, literally.
Once again, the big man and his partner in crime Pat Summerall are here for the play by play. You'll hear plenty of Maddenisms, but ugh, they just don't seem very smart. John always sounds like he's calling the game while taking bites from a hot dog, and frankly, he should stick to lunch. I advise turning the sound off.
As always, there are literally a thousand ways you can play this game. New to the series is "Two Minute Drill", which allows you to work on your quick offense. It's not bad, a fun sort of side game. Also new are "Madden Cards." As you complete various gameplay objectives, you get these dorky cards that unlock secrets and extras. It's like Pokemon football. And it's also sort of a waste of time. They should have spent less time on this and more time putting in better announcing.
Shoot, you can even play this game and NOT play it by choosing Franchise mode, which allows you to control the administrative aspects of football such as trading and paying bail (if you choose to manage the Cowboys). Not my cup of tea, but I guess if you like to make decisions in your spare time, Madden 2001 is the game for you.
When all is said and done, Madden 2001 is just an upgrade to a series that is dying for the move to the PS2. As it stands, it's only for football pedants and hardcore fans of the series. The rest of you should just wait for what will likely be the REAL upgrade coming October 26th.