Madden NFL '99 Review

For PlayStation

Rating: Awesome
   I never thought I would say this, but this year's Madden is so much 
better than this year's GameDay that it's downright scary.  Sony has 
actually made GameDay significantly worse than last year, while EA has 
worked very hard to make Madden leaps and bounds better than previous 
Madden games.  It shows when you've played both games as much as I have.
   First of all, Madden wins in the categories EA never seems to lose- 
statistics, presentation, and features.  There are no stats in the playoffs, 
but every other stat you could ever dream of is here, plus more.  There is 
a Player of the Week award given to the best offensive and defensive 
players every week, and an MVP award at the end of the season. Presentation is an area EA has always excelled in.  The TV-style 
is vastly superior to GameDay's so-called "revolutionary" TV-style 
presentation.  There is even an option that starts up an automatic Instant 
Replay after big plays, complete with a close-up camera angle which focuses
on the player who makes the big play.  And fortunately, this feature isn't 
over-used, so it almost never becomes annoying.
   Madden's state-of-the-art list of features can be summed up in two 
glorious words: Franchise Mode.  The concept of the Franchise mode is 
simply brilliant, to the point that I played it for five non-stop hours the
first time I picked it up (no exaggeration).  The Franchise Mode is just 
like a normal season (games can be played manually or simulated); it's what
happens between seasons that makes it so revolutionary.  Old players retire,
and they may be more motivated to retire if their performance is slipping 
or they are suffering lots of injuries.  Players have to be re-signed if 
their contracts are expiring, and everybody from your star quarterback to 
your third-string bench warmer seems to want a raise.  Contracts can be 
signed for anywhere between one and seven years, with different players 
having different preferences regarding how long they wish to sign for.  
Other teams will propose trades to you, and you can propose trades to other
teams.  A free agent signing period takes place with an innovative system 
that has bidding wars erupting and players signing in real-time.  There is 
even a four-round NFL Draft so you can sign new rookies.  And all of this 
has to be done within the confines of a strict salary cap (which grows with
each successive season due to inflation).  Indeed, the Franchise Mode is 
the most revolutionary outside-the-game feature seen in a sports game in 
recent history.  It's fun to simulate season after season while making 
roster moves between seasons, and it's also nice to play full seasons out 
game-by-game and make changes during the off-season.  My only complaint 
about the Franchise Mode is that when you want to simulate games (or 
seasons), the AI between the simulation isn't always very accurate.  For 
example, I could have a decent team and go 9-7 one year, and then make tons
of improvements during the off-season, only to have the team go 4-12 the 
next year.  These kinds of things don't happen that often when simulating 
seasons in the Franchise Mode, but they happen often enough to warrant 
their mention.
   Of course, as good as the Franchise Mode is, it wouldn't mean a thing if
there were no gameplay to back it up.  Fortunately, Madden '99's gameplay 
is greatly improved over previous Madden games.  The playbooks are huge 
compared to GameDay, which causes games to have a lot more variety.  The 
control set-up is virtually identical to GameDay, so those used to playing 
GameDay will find no painful adjustment period to sit through.  The running
game is very well executed, forcing the player to find holes to run through
and also juke defenders if possible.  The defense is also very good.  
Picking off a pass with a well-timed press of the catch button feels very 
satisfying, and breaking through the line with a dangerous-looking sack is 
equally rewarding.  The hits in Madden are magnificant, and with hits that
hard, injuries do occur.  The injuries are amazingly realistic, with 
players being taken off the field in an ambulance with their status 
uncertain, and then a little while later you can check the Injury Report on
the pause screen and see what their specific injury is and how long they 
will be out for.  
   The gameplay in Madden is incredible, but it is by no means perfect. It
can be very frustrating to miss a seemingly easy tackle when you're on 
defense.  The computer offense seems to break a lot more tackles than it 
should, but it can also be fairly easy to break a few tackles when you're 
on offense, so it all balances out in the end.  Also, passing the ball for 
a completion is way too hard, although that might just be because my 
quarterback is Gus Frerotte...
   The "V-Polys" (marketing-speak for "grainy 2D sprites") of Madden '98 are
long gone, replaced by solid realistic polygonal players.  It is very 
arguable that Madden's graphics are just as good as GameDay, maybe even 
slightly better.  In the sound department, the music gets very annoying 
after extended listening, but it's a lot better than GameDay's re-mixed 
crap.  The commentary by Pat Summerall and John Madden can also get pretty 
repetitive, but it's still a lot better than the GameDay announcers' robot 
imitations.  Finally, hardcore gamers may scoff at the idea, but the new 
One-Button control mode is great for younger players who wouldn't otherwise
be able to play the game.
   Madden NFL '99 is worlds above NFL GameDay '99 both in terms of features
and gameplay.  PlayStation owners looking for a new football game shouldn't
even think twice: Buy Madden.

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