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Madden 2001 (PC) Review

Publisher: EA Sports
Release Date: August 23, 2000

Background Info


EA is back at it again with their newest installment of the Madden series on the PC. Last year, Microsoft really impressed the PC football fans with its graphics as well as some parts of its game engine. This year, Microsoft decided not to release a new version of NFL Fever for the PC but opted for only a rosters update. Read on to find out my thoughts on Madden 2001.

Presentation/Graphics : 95
The graphics in the game are absolutely amazing. I tested the game on my AMD Athlon 600 both with my Voodoo5 5500 64MB and Geforce 256 32MB. The game ran great with both cards but the graphics were a bit more crisp and clear with the Voodoo5 card. The player animations on both sides of the ball are a lot better than last year's. There is still room for improvement in this area, more specifically the defensive animations.

The weather effects in the game are done with great detail. For example, if you are playing in the rain, lightning in the sky will strike every now and then. This just makes the game feel more realistic in terms of atmosphere. The fog effect is also well done, but takes a load on your system. I would suggest turning the fog effect off unless you have a top of the line system including a good video card. Also during the rain, the players' jerseys get a bit muddy. The only thing here is that they all get muddy in the same place on the jerseys but it's still a nice touch by the developers.

The game also includes a bunch of throwback jerseys. I was a bit disappointed in not seeing the old Chargers' powder blue uniforms. I guess the guys who made the game weren't Chargers fans.

No longer will you see a receiver catch the ball without turning his shoulder a bit to look for the ball. This is really evident on deep corner post routes. Most of the tackling animations are well done especially the wrap-up tackles. However, there were some times where my blitzing LB would dive from four yards away and sack the QB. Then after taking a closer look in the replay, it showed the LB diving a yard or so to the left of the QB. He somehow was able to take out the QB by not even touching him, from the replays.

The game now allows users on D to zoom out a bit to view the whole field and how many receivers are on which sides. I like using the Madden Classic cam as it lets you view more of the field than the default camera angle. A really cool little feature EA included are the baseball fields in the stadiums where the teams share for baseball and football.

Presentation/Audio : 70
The commentary and the rest of the audio in Madden 2001 are two different stories. The on-the-field sound effects are well done. Yells of pain and the sound of guys running into each other are realistic. The only thing here is the crowd. They don't seem to realize who the home team is sometimes and start cheering when the away team scores a touchdown.

The Madden and Summerall commentary really needs to be improved next year. Of course, that's what most said last year. Madden's comments just doesn't seem to fit in sometimes. They also get really repetitive. He has no emotion at all in the game. The guy couldn't keep his mouth shut for more than a few seconds. There is no difference in any of his comments. His comments will sound the same in the 4th quarter during the 2 minute drill as in the 1st quarter. Leslie Visser now does the halftime report. Her brief comments get really repetitive, as well.

Rookie last names that you draft in the franchise mode are announced in the game, which is something most Madden gamers will appreciate.

Overall here, the sound effects are well done, but the commentary just plain sucks. I got to a point where I heard enough and just turned off the commentary.

Interface/Options : 90
The actual interface is much improved. There is still room for improvement but it now doesn't take forever to attempt to do something in the game. The number of player stats kept seems to have decreased from Madden 2001, at least in the league leaders screen. For instance, there is no QB Rating category in the league leaders screen. Why? I have no idea. There is a place where you could go to display the QB ratings and compare it against the rest of the league's QBs. The setback here is that it also displays the QBs who have thrown 5 passes. I forget which of EA Sports' game had this, but a qualify button would easily have this fixed. The thing about going to the individual statistics screen versus league leaders is that you have no idea who is on what team if you decide to list all the players unlike the league leaders screen where it tells you the team the player is on.

Past Super Bowl games, both real and in-game games are kept in a menu. It is nice to see what teams end up with the most rings, although you would have to count yourself scrolling through the games.

The game also allows you to decide how often your team runs versus passing by a slider bar. On the same screen, you can set your offensive and defensive tendencies to conservative, normal or aggressive. Users can also customize their playbooks or choose one of the real NFL coaches' playbooks. The Bengals do run a 3-4 for the most part in the game. The Bills use the shotgun set a lot as well. Tony Dungy's Bucs playbook and run vs pass percentage is the most accurate to me. The Bucs are constantly among the leaders in rushing attempts in the game. Good job here by EA.

Everyone is probably wondering about the franchise mode and what improvements have been made. Well, there are now seven rounds. There is also a time limit on each draft pick. Too bad there is no option to turn off the timer. Maybe it is a realistic approach thing? Yes, you are able to trade draft picks but it is pretty restrictive compared to the real NFL. You can't trade any future draft picks. I also haven't found a way to trade draft picks during the actual draft. Maybe next year. Also, I couldn't find any place that had a history of your team's draft choices. This would be a really nice feature to include. Well, at least there was a screen you could go to that displayed team-by-team draft choices and what pick they had.

The amount the rookies ask for in the draft seem a little better to me. However, there are no signing bonuses in the game. I happen to be able to trade for a first round pick early in the season, which happened to be the overall number #1 pick. I ended up taking a QB with overall rating of 78. If I remember correctly, he wanted around 2.8 or 3.0 million a year. I ended up signing him to a four year deal at 2 million dollars a year. I remember the Chargers taking Ryan Leaf a few years ago and he got a little more than that. However, this is probably a good thing or else the rookie salaries would get out of hand in a few seasons. A mid-first rounder usually asks for 1.5-1.8 million a year, while you can sign most second rounders for 1.0 million or under.

I'm not exactly sure what factors in how players' ratings improve, but one would think that the previous year's performance would be factored in. From what I've experienced, that isn't so. I had a guy be in the top 5 in the league in almost every passing category yet his ratings didn't even change at all. The game does include career stats although it is cumulative not displayed season by season.

A glitch outside of the actual gameplay is how the CPU teams manage their rosters. It was not rare to see the teams having 5 QBs on their active roster. This brings up the idea of having a practice squad feature maybe for next year. Outside of this, it appears the CPU does a decent job with their rosters. The CPU teams were not really active in trading but at least a few trades occured. As long as we are on this subject, last year's game had the CPU teams offering the user's team trades. This year, there is an Offers button but I have not even been offered one trade. I've played or simmed a total of at least 12 seasons and this still holds true.

Here are some little tidbits I thought I should mention. In Madden 2000, while simulating a whole season, you had to deal with injuries interrupting the simulating process. It would say, invalid roster something. This year, you can simulate without having to keep on readjusting your roster every time there is an injury. Also, the game allows you to put most players at most positions even though they don't normally play that position in real life. For instance, you can stick a HB in to be the starting WR or even a DB. Also, there is no way of seeing game stats for any game you decide to sim. This gets really annoying as sometimes you decide to switch RBs or switch WRs and would like to see how they performed. There is no way of changing or adding a controller once the game starts. I don't know why they would remove this feature it was already in the game last year. The play editor is pretty poorly executed. I even liked last year's play editor better. At least you could practice your plays while in the play editor menu unlike this year.

The game does allow create a player and team options. I was never really into creating players but the create a team is not bad, although I wish it were a bit more customizable. Players can also use their custom team in franchise modes. I don't really like how you can't setup your own league and put teams where in the divisions you want. The franchise mode allows users to play with 6, 12, 18, 24 or 31 teams.

This gets me to the team ratings. I've played the PSX version a few times and remember there was a pretty big gap between the overall rating of the Rams and the hapless Browns. In the game, the NFL team ratings range from 81 to 86. What gives here? I'm sure this could be fixed with a roster patch, but what about those people without online access? The game also includes NFL Europe teams. This is a nice extra for NFL Europe fans.

Gameplay : 88
The game engine in Madden 2001 is much improved. The juke moves are toned down a bit to make things more realistic. It just feels more real and authentic. However, the miracle dive is still in the game. This is a nice arcade feature, but sim nuts might get annoyed. You usually won't see a player in the NFL diving 4 yards and be able to tackle another player with that much force. Leaping has been toned down a bit as well but it still exists. Also, I've heard many complaints about receivers dropping the ball when no one is around. If you take control of your receiver before the ball gets there, you have to press the jump/catch button or else he'll drop it everytime. Or you can just not control the receiver and you won't have to press the jump/catch button.

The ball physics are a bit weird though. This isn't noticeable unless you zoom in on replays. For instance, as the Chargers, I sent Conway across the middle and Leaf threw the ball a bit behind him and high. Taking control of Conway, I made a one handed leaping grab in traffic. I decided to take another look at how he made the catch. On closer look during the replay, I became puzzled at how Conway made the reception. It appeared the ball was to Conway's right around chest level and the next frame, the ball appeared above Conway's head right into his right hand which is stretched out above his head.

One of the biggest improvements in the gameplay category has to be the overall defensive AI. The DBs make it a lot harder to go deep on every single play. Their reaction time is much more realistic. They will actually try to stretch and tip the ball if they are behind the receiver coming across the middle. The LBs have also been worked on to make the game more realistic. Although you are still able to throw passes in the flat to the backs, the LBs get over there a lot quicker. During certain defensive play calls, the LB will actually line-up over the RB. So if the RB goes in motion, the LB will follow him. Isn't that a great concept? Although sometimes they don't line-up over the RB even if man coverage is called.

The inside running game is a lot more realistic and improved. The OL are spread farther apart now. The FB actually blocks, except sometimes he doesn't block where he is supposed to when running to the outside. Running inside just feels a lot more real. The intelligence of the AI went through some much needed improvement. It is a great deal harder to do the cheap move of the DE between the DE and DT tactic now. Reason is that if the CPU sees a side is stacked, one or more of the OL will actually pull and block the incoming rusher.

You are also able to select just about any of the players on offense and put him in motion. This really helps especially on the outside runs as you can get an extra player to maybe get in the way of the defensive players.

The game also has a Read and React feature for defense. If you decide to press down when bringing up the Read and React option, it tells your LBs to blitz in on the play. On the other hand, if you press the up directional arrow, it tells your LBs to drop back into coverage, regardless if a blitz was called in the play selection screen. I actually like this a lot. Choosing to focus on the run with your LB rushing in would burn you though as it leaves all the receivers in man-to-man.

The AI play-calling needs to be worked on though, specifically the two-minute drill AI play calling. The play-calling just leaves me puzzled. The computer would run the ball two times in a row and call time-out each time. I mean if they wanted to move the ball, wouldn't they at least try to pass the ball instead of running for 1 yd gains and wasting their timeouts. The AI still go for 6 yard pass plays on 3rd and 10 or more. As Madden lets us know in the game, why would you run a play shorter than what you need for a first down? Also, once the AI gets behind, expect pass after pass. Another thing that annoys me with the play-calling is when the score is like 42-7 with the CPU behind with maybe 1 minute left on the clock. Most of the time, teams would just run out the clock but every time this happens in Madden 2001, the computer would continue to call time-outs prolonging the certain loss.

Blitzers get to the QB a lot quicker than last year's game. So if you are one of those guys dropping 15-25 yards to throw the ball, don't even think about trying that, at least on the All Pro and Madden difficulty level. Also, this year's game allows users to have the QB tuck in the ball and try to scramble for some yards. The only problem is that they made the speed burst button the same as the button to bring up the pass windows.

Special teams is also improved although it still needs to be worked on. I can actually return punt returns every now and then as well as kick-off returns. I also blocked a PAT a few times, although I used the same tactic each time. My main gripe is with the punt return blocking. I usually choose punt return on 4th downs. As my players run toward the punt returner, they just let the players on the punting team run right past them and knock the daylights out of the returner. I really love the new kicking system. There is a button used for longer FG kicks, which is easier to block, or there is a button used on the shorter kicks, which is kicked a lot higher in terms of trajectory.

This is mainly for Madden gamers like me who play most of their games online versus other Madden gamers across the world. Last year, there are those who love to audible like crazy to confuse their opponent. Five or six audibles a play was the norm for that type of player. EA listened to the feedback of the online Madden community and went on to at least try to prevent gamers from calling that many audibles at the line at once. It seems like calling more than 2 or 3 audibles a play will usually get a false start. This doesn't happen all the time though, which is a good thing as it keeps gamers on their toes. As long as we are on the topic of penalties, there are way too many 15 yard face mask flags in the game. Last year there were next to none of those calls. At least the 15 yard face masks are obvious to the human eye as you can see when a defensive player takes a guy down by the face mask. Last year there was a little glitch if a computer defensive player would run into your punter and accept the penalty, the computer would get the ball instead of you at the spot where you were supposed to get it. Too bad EA didn't fix the same bug this year.

Many of you who played Madden 2000 will know that there were only four hot routes available: fly, curl, in, and out patterns. This year, there are over 20 hot routes available. You can only choose four though. The expanded feature will allow gamers to be able to change routes at the line and feel as though they are actually on the field behind the center directing traffic.

The way players fatigue is improved a bit. I noticed that the shorter quarters I play, the players seem to get more tired. So, if I set the game on 8 minute quarters, run 3 straight plays and then set the game on 4 minute quarters, run 3 straight plays, I will notice the players are a lot more fatigued during the latter setup. Also, if you decide to repeatedly throw streaks to the same receiver, he will actually get tired.

Last year, there were a number of complaints at how 170lb DBs shouldn't be able to tackle a big back like Alstott or Bettis with ease. Well, this hasn't changed too much, although I do notice some minor improvements.

Replay Value : 85
The replay value of the game is basically its franchise mode, online franchise mode and unlocking the classic teams. I play the game for its online capabilities, so I am very excited about trying out the online franchise mode. The online franchise mode is basically the same as the offline franchise mode but it allows 31 people to participate in a league without having to worry about managing stats and player movements. The franchise is a bit improved over last year, as mentioned before. I haven't really gone into the online franchise mode aspect of the game yet so I have not had sufficent time to try it. We will be bringing you a review of the online aspect of Madden 2001 in the upcoming weeks.

The game does allow players to create online franchises which has been long sought after especially by Front Page Sports fans. No longer do players need to write down stats and submit them. This brings me to the export stats feature. EA has the right idea here but they did a really poor job with it. You can't even export game stats, only player stats, and if you want to export passing and rushing stats, it exports it into different files. Although one can argue that passing and rushing stats aren't exactly the same, it would have been nice to have a button to export all of one team's stats into one file.

The multiplayer matchup is intergreated into the game. Players can join chat rooms, find an opponent and then create their own room in the scrimmage or rankings room. The online player interface is a lot better than last year's horrid interface, which kept crashing on me.

The game does include a bunch of classic teams. Most people feel that they shouldn't have to unlock the classic teams. Unfortunately, EA felt otherwise. Each team is unlocked as you win a "Great Game" scenario. Click here for the codes to unlock some of the classic teams.

Overall : 86
Well, I tried covering everything and not leave anything left out but of course something is always left out. EA took steps in the right direction in some areas of the game such as the defensive AI and the interface but also took steps backwards as in the questionable play-calling of the computer as well as some of the things left out in the menus and interface. With the absence of NFL Fever from this year's releases, PC football gamers are left only with Madden 2001. Yes, Konami has NFL Prime Time for the PC due out in November, but from the sound of its features, it doesn't look like it'll be a Madden killer. I will admit, I've been a fan of the Madden series for a number of years now, and I know Madden 2001 isn't perfect in any way, but overall, even despite some of its shortcomings, this game is a good enough improvement over last year's game to warrant a purchase.

By: James Chheng 8/28/00

Related Link: Madden Mania

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