A New Gridiron Titan.
Okay, so I know what you're thinking. Yet another football game, on yet another game platform, from yet another company. But let's face it, this is Madden 2001 football on the PS2 by none other than EA Sports. I went into it with high hopes and was not disappointed. If you're one of the privileged few who own a PS2 at the time this is penned, then I'm here to tell you why this game better be sitting in your collection (if not still in the machine after a long night of play).
At first glance, Madden 2001 doesn't seem to bring any new courses to the table- just the solid package of standard features that long-time fans of the series have come to expect. Play modes like Exhibition, Season, and Franchise (which allows you to coach a single team across multiple seasons) are typical Madden. Tons of options, a wide range of offensive and defensive plays and strategies laid out by the former NFL coach himself, and varying degrees of difficulty allow a neophyte to pick up a controller and play, while providing significant challenges for the seasoned vet.
Despite these status quo features, as you begin to play this game, many of the improvements come quickly to light.
No detail has been spared in the recreation of the environment of an NFL game. Jerseys, helmets, numbers, names, and even body size are all right on the money with their real life counterparts. The crowd noises are extremely realistic, responding accurately to big plays by the home team and generally matching the tone of the game (you'll even hear the stadium announcer calling out cars in the parking lots with their lights on!). Stadium lighting, including artificial lighting, natural lighting, and even night games are effectively simulated.
And of course you have the game announcers: John Madden and Pat Summerall, with Lesley Visser adding side notes from the field and the locker room. Nothing spectacular with the commentary, but then again, when was the last time you saw "spectacular" announcing in an NFL game? (unless you're among the select few who can appreciate Dennis Millerisms like, "Perhaps the referees were not really penalizing Denver for delay of game, but in fact were trying to let Paris know that CondíƒÂ©-sur-l'Escaut had been captured from the Austrians.") Yikes!
Nevertheless, the commentary is very realistic, seamlessly including player and coach names and specific commentary on most of the "elite" NFL players. There's obviously quite a bit of repetition, but that's nothing new. I'll admit it, I'm a John Madden fan - whenever he abuses the players or your coaching calls, I have to chuckle.
Of course none of this realism would be worth much without top-notch gameplay, and though Madden 2001 may not be the equivalent of a 55 yd, one-handed catch by Randy Moss, it certainly ranks amongst the best on the market. Here's why.
The Madden 2001 engine is the most effective simulation of the real physics of the game I have seen to date. It uses a momentum-based system in which players have to slow or stop their motion with each move and cut. The smaller, quicker running backs do this faster than a big lineman. Big running backs can break tackles and plow through small safeties. Fast receivers blow doors on mediocre cornerbacks. Expect the players to react on the field the same way you've seen them react in the real games, and that's a pleasant surprise.
The result is breathtakingly real. The animation is smooth, with no hitches or delays, and the movements of the players themselves, whether jumping, running, or tackling, is superb. There's some minimal pixelation around the edges, but certainly the detail is nicer than its PSX counterpart.
However, some may find the tackling to be a bit flat. Players don't really jump outward so much as upward, and trying to catch up to a breakaway runner can be a frustrating experience. I've seen Ricky Dudley, the monstrous TE for the Raiders, handily outrun the entire Bronco backfield. That shouldn't happen...ever.
As always, there are tons of ways to customize the game to your liking. The easy play option gives significant computer assistance in play calling, running, passing, and catching. Great for newbies, though gridiron experts will jump straight into Pro, All-pro, and All Madden levels of play, which I have yet to master. Dozens of settings allow you to control penalties, the play clock, camera views, replays - nearly every aspect of the game.
Completing various tasks through playing rewards you with tokens good for Madden Challenge Cards. These electronic digital trading cards can be collected, traded, and even earn you special assists and cheats while playing the game.
Many wonder if this game can compete with the stellar NFL 2K1 for the Dreamcast. Honestly, the comparison isn't really fair. NFL 2K1 is the sequel to a launch title, meaning they had a full year to work out the kinks and improve the game. On the other hand, Madden 2001 represents the infancy of PS2 programming and we're likely to see bigger and better stuff in the future. NFL 2K1 gets the nod due to its online play, but Madden offers more in terms of depth and realism. Apples and oranges, really.
Simply put, Madden 2001 will provide you (and up to three of your friends via a Multitap) with many hours of great fun. While is may not break the mold of the genre, it does sit at the top of its class. After you've played a game you'll feel like you just participated in a real NFL game and that's addictive to any football fan. I've got the controller blisters to prove it.