Making the Grades
Last year I reviewed Madden NFL 2000 on Sony's PlayStation console and felt that it was arguably the best in its field. But that was before the new PlayStation 2 came along. This year's edition of John Madden approved NFL football has raised the standard of excellence, leaving all other pretenders to the throne somewhere back on the ten-yard line (and legions of coach wannabes rubbing their hands with glee).
Although the maximum number of potential participants has dropped from eight to two, the basic fundamentals of Madden NFL 2001 remain unchanged: You choose to play an Exhibition match, an entire Season, control a Franchise, or Practice specific plays; Players are still drafted, traded, benched, released, edited, or created; and Madden Challenge returns for a second year--although this time there's an added twist that allows you to collect digital trading cards.
It's down on the field that you'll notice the big difference. Last year's players looked basic and blocky, whereas this year they have defined skin textures, visible emotion, eye black, and band-aids (no blood). And although their movements are at times robotic, as soon as the whistle blows they move like the real McCoy--almost to a fault. You see; changing directions to elude an opponent isn't quite the same as in other videogames. Apparently the designers at EA Sports have taken into consideration this thing called momentum. As a result, not only does your virtual version of Eddie George move like a real ball carrier--you have to start thinking like one.
The same applies when you take over at quarterback. After picking a play designed specifically for your Go To guy (the person you want to receive the ball), you can, if necessary, audible at the line of scrimmage in reaction to the opposing defense. When the ball is finally snapped, you've got the freedom to read the D, run an option play, check for open receivers, or scramble for your life. Just hope that you don't get sacked, because these guys take you down real hard, and when those hits are accompanied by that unmistakable sound of escaping breath and crunching helmets--you can almost feel it. But unlike some other video football games, this one doesn't turn a tackle into some kind of wrestling spectacle; and although a player may get injured (if that option is toggled on), it's not the result of some cheap shot taken after the whistle has blown.
Game action is so realistic you'll be tempted to spend as much time watching replays as you do playing football. Madden 2K1 gives you the freedom to isolate players from almost any camera angle, making it possible to dissect a play in slow motion, reverse, high speed, or freeze frame. (I got so carried away analyzing a one-handed catch in double coverage that I almost forgot it happened in "virtual" reality). Adding to the realism are things like sideline officials who drop their yard markers and jump out of harm's way whenever the action gets too close for comfort; recognizable coaches pacing the field and barking out instructions; accurate rendition of various lighting and weather conditions; detailed replication of all 31 NFL stadiums; and Jumbotrons in the end-zone. The attention to detail also extends to the playing surfaces, which, thanks to some very big linebackers, I became very acquainted with. Constantly having my face that close to the ground I couldn't help but notice that grass actually looked like grass.
Perhaps the only fault in the entire game can be found on the players themselves--whether you're playing in the first quarter or the fourth, on a perfect summer's day or during a monsoon--those uniforms and shiny helmets are always clean and scuff-free! I know I'm probably nitpicking, but does that sound like the kind of player John Madden would appreciate?
Even if you don't know the difference between Joe Montana and some ordinary guy from Big Sky Country, the game's Easy Play option will have you enjoying the wonderful world of NFL football quicker than you can say, "Ready, Set, Hut!" But be careful. Once you've acquired a feel for the game you might find yourself tempted to forgo homework, meals, or worse yet--Monday Night Football. If that happens, rest assured it's only a matter of time before you're inducted into the Couches Hall Of Fame.