EA Footbal 2001 Report Card
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This joint review is being written on the night following the first week of the NFL season: a week that has provided plenty of surprises (Minnesota losing to a Chris Weinke-led Carolina Panthers), and the obvious (the Redskins getting their Butt kicked by the Chargers of all teams!) There were also personal highlights, such as my Jags winning and Urben's Jets losing big, and lowlights as Fox Sports centering their Ravens game solely on Rayenthal "I got away with aiding a murderer" Lewis. These surprises also seem to carry to the PS2 gridiron as well.
Last year, when Madden 2001 was released, I passed on it initially, and directed my attention to NFL 2K1. I even defended the game religiously against other reviewers such as Rob Smolka from PC Gamer when it was under fire. However, with Sega's backstabbing of Dreamcast owners, I decided to give Madden a try, and over time, it became my football title of choice. Granted, the commentary sucked, and the players just didn't look right, it was addictive, and no one can deny the game was much deeper than NFL 2K1.
Earlier this spring when at E3, I spent some time looking at Madden 2002 for all the systems (but most notably the PS2), but also witnessed the initial release of NCAA Football as a PS2 exclusive. This to me was a huge surprise and a delight, because I wanted a great college football title that I was missing since NCAA 99 on the PC. The last few hours of E3 were spent with me on NCAA, trying to get my Florida State Seminoles to beat any moron who thought the only great team available was the crybaby Miami Hurricanes (Hey, you didn't make the National Title game, Canes, so DEAL WITH IT!) NCAA gave me the same feeling towards a game that Ultimate Fighting Championship for the Dreamcast provided last year, and I longed hard to play it. Likewise, I felt the same way about the new Madden, curious to see how they would both turn out.
To start off, NCAA is based on an enhanced Madden 2001 engine. At first glance, it is a good start, as the original Madden was a visual feast in itself. However, it was plagued by several anomalies. While some of these errors are nonexistent in NCAA (the players don't have that weird shoulder twitch anymore, and they are not all short and chubby), they still look like zombies, staring blindly into space with almost no emotion whatsoever.
The new Madden, however, does have the same look as before from a distance, but you'll definitely notice a significant difference close-up. All the player's faces are redone, they show real emotion, and are all at actual body scale. Coaches are also reproduced in impressive detail, but I must ask, what is up with Marty Schottenheimer and that bug up his nose?
The fields are also rendered in higher detail, the crowds now are sharper and easier to make out, and the sidelines are filled with life from benched players, cheerleaders, and linesmen who can actually get knocked down by incoming players.
As I said before, Madden's commentary was not the best, and was always overshadowed by NFL 2K1. This year it's about the same, but with the addition of a few new lines to the old mix, it is slightly less repetitive. The commentary also sounds less robotic but still has a long way to go. And while we're at it, what is up with the theme/menu music? It doesn't sound like music that should be in a football title, but rather a slow puzzle game.
Surprisingly, NCAA 2002 has amazing commentary from the three-man team of Brad Nessler, Lee "Not so fast my friend" Corso, and Kirk Herbstreet. After the disappointing comments made by Summerall and Madden, this three-man team was quite a shock with their fluid, NFL 2K1-like commentary. Granted Corso does have a tendency to repeat lines on occasion, it is still impressive, giving detail of every play, and even announcing the names of players that are edited. (NCAA regulations prevent player names from being used, but they can be added using the Edit Player feature). The scariest thing about the commentary is that it even beats out the commentary in Sega's college football title, and that's saying quite a lot.
Field noise is as good as always, and every true college fight chant and song are intact. Well, I should say almost, because when my 'Noles score a first down, they don't play the Massacre, but rather their Chop theme (which of course, the Braves stole from them back in 1992).
This is a no-brainer, because this is Madden we are talking about. It plays the same as always. There was talk about some sluggish control from last year, but that seems to be improved as well. The same can go for NCAA, which was already based on the Madden engine as well.
I will definitely give Madden credit for something though. The AI has been significantly improved, and it is quite a challenge even at the default level. I only wish the NHL development staff can get a cue from Tiburon about AI.
Of anything that converted me from 2K1 to Madden, depth has to be the most guilty. We already know about the usual suspects: Exhibition, Season, Playoffs, and my beloved Franchise mode. The nice little Madden Cards subgame is back as well, but how can you add more to the game? How about the 2-Minute Drill? No, I'm not talking about that stupid ESPN quiz show where the athletes can't say the player names right (NEVER let Nancy "Ms. Ed" Kerrigan talk about hockey again!), but a fun little mini-game to score as many points as possible in a 2-minute period.
Also, how about a Situation Mode, which was previously used in the Quarterback Club series, but can be altered to any possible scenario? But is that enough? No? How about the only known Franchise Mode that includes the expansion Houston Texans and the new 8-division league? What is that? You don't want the Texans? Why not create your own team?
Finally I can be able to create a team of the players I wanted. In addition, I can finally get to finish a project I started with NFL2K1: THE REBIRTH OF THE ILL-FATED XFL! That's right, the Las Vegas Outlaws, along with their star player, He Hate Me, can now be an official Madden team, and not just for exhibition only.
Not to be overshadowed by Madden, NCAA has its fair share of depth as well. It might not have the modes that Madden has, but it has perhaps the most in-depth Dynasty (Franchise) Mode ever in a college game.
Players get recruited, play their four years, are rated based on their 40-yard-dash, GPA, bench, squats, and every other stat possible. These players, like real NCAA players, will either graduate or leave school early to go to the NFL, and that is NCAA's exclusive power play: the ability to draft a class into Madden 2002! Although I hate the idea in general, I can see the potential of a Madden/NCAA bundle, because these two games belong with each other.
ADVANTAGE: MADDEN, BUT ONLY BY A HAIR!
This is a big year for EA Sports as far as football is concerned. The addition of college football is a great start, but all the extras that were put into Madden makes 2002 a viable purchase, even for those who own 2001. Both games easily deserve 5 Gems, and EA's stock is starting to go back up in my opinion. Now if they can release NHL 2002 and make it play as realistically as their football titles, I will forgive them for all their wrongdoings in the past!
Todd Hargosh is GiN's Product Testing Manager. He enjoys any game that gets his adrenaline pumping. Todd can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org.