It’s kickoff for this year’s football wars

NFL Gameday 99
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This month was the start of the 79th year of the National Football League, and as any other red-blooded sports lover, I am ready for it. But these days, not only do I watch the televised games, but I also simulate them on my PC or my Sony PlayStation.

And just in time for the start of the real NFL season, it’s also time for the start of the PlayStation NFL war, with two main competitors going at it. On one side we have the 1999 update of the long-running Madden Series by EA Sports, and on the other end of the field is the 1999 version of the current gridiron champion, NFL Gameday by 989 Studios (formerly known as Sony Computer Entertainment).

Madden has been around since 1990, when it was originally released for the Genesis and the PC. I still remember how Madden increased my interest in pro football, and I was very impressed with how it, along with NHL Hockey, made the Genesis a powerful sports system. Over the course of Madden’s development, we see continuous updates such as full seasons, a true NFL license, actual NFL rosters and play-by-play by Pat Summerall and John Madden himself. Each version of the Genesis game got better than the last.

On the PlayStation however, that pretty much changed. For starters, the 1996 version was canceled while in development. And while the ’97 version was a pretty good game, its successor (98) was nothing more than a carbon copy of ’97 with the same engine, but EA tried to cover the duplication with gimmicky names such as "Liquid AI" and "V-Polys," which basically is a euphemism for "sprites." And while there were those die hard Madden addicts who play the game no matter how many rehashes are available, other PlayStation football players moved on to EA’s biggest competitor.

And what exactly is that competitor? NFL Gameday from 989 Studios. The first two versions of Gameday looked almost exactly like Madden, but 989 had the advantage by capitalizing on Madden 96’s disappearance and being the first successful NFL PlayStation game on the market. The next year included a stadium play-by-play announcer and a faster speed. However, the ’98 version made the biggest jump yet, by adding real polygon players as opposed to Madden’s V-Polys, and still running at a realistic pace.

Now the ’99 versions of both games are out, and the big question to ask is: which one is better? Well, let’s take a look at each one separately.

Madden ’99 has gone under a serious facelift since the last session. First and foremost, the players are now polygons, and EA has done a decent job with the animation. There is some slowdown at times but it’s still passable. Numbers be seen on jerseys and also the player’s names.

Also, the difficulty has been increased, but in my opinion, I feel as if the difficulty has been increased way too high. For instance, every pass that I executed seemed to result in an interception. This I find to be very unrealistic.

Let me give an example. Last year the most interceptions I have seen in one game was six, and that was a game between San Francisco and New Orleans. But in Madden ’99 there was more than 10 interceptions on my team alone. I don’t get why the difficulty was raised so high. After all, NCAA ’99 was designed by the same development house, and the interception count was far more reasonable.

As for presentation, Madden still maintains that high-quality, Fox Sports-like presentation, from the opening intros by James Brown, to the announcing and commentary by Pat Summerall and John Madden. The whole game feels like a live broadcast, and if the extremely high difficulty didn’t distract me, I would have liked this game a lot more.

On the other end, Gameday ’99 is back with a vengeance. We have polygon graphics again, but this time they are much cleaner and realistic. Names can be seen on the player’s jerseys here too, but they are very clean and legible. Also, the actual uniform designs (such as the Broncos, Steelers, Ravens, Patriots, etc.) are used, and the realism impressed me a lot. Gameplay is also easier to set, as it can be tailored towards a player’s skill level more so than with Madden. The only thing that I don’t like is that there was a serious lack of fumbles. Maybe my team was just too good to fumble, but it puzzled me as to why I went through a whole season without one single fumble.

In addition, Gameday capitalizes on Madden’s presentation level by introducing play-by-play by Dick Enberg with color commentary by Phil Simms. For a first year attempt, it’s not bad, but I noticed some bugs, such as announcing the wrong players name on rare occasions (San Francisco #44 is Troy Aikman? Whatever!) or misreading the score (announcing it’s 0-0 when the score is actually 3-0). But as usual, first attempts are meant to be worked on, and I’m sure that Gameday 2000 will alleviate this problem.

Lastly, Gameday has less teams than Madden does. While Gameday has the thirty 1998 NFL teams, Madden has 100+ teams including teams from the past (a big plus for Browns fans, until next season).

In the end, it’s basically a matter of personal taste to decide which game is better. Madden diehards and those who like classic teams will go for Madden, while Gameday provides a well-adjusted gameplay engine with a superior graphical flare.

My vote, goes to Gameday. It gets 4.5 GiN Gems out of 5. Madden ’99 gets a respectable 3 GiN Gems, with some problems that will hopefully be trimmed out of next year’s version.

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