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Madden 2001 (PS2) Review

Publisher: EA Sports

Background Info

PSX 2 Screens(8)

PSX 2 Screens(14)

It's here! It's finally here! After months of waiting for the launch of the PlayStation 2 and then another week actually trying to round one up, I can play John Madden 2001 for the PS2. As one of the launch titles, Madden 2001 sits atop most everyone's list of PS2 titles as a must buy. But is it? If you have already played Madden 2001 on the PlayStation, you know what to expect. If not, the lowdown is that Madden 2001 obviously packs in better graphics but is essentially a repackaged PSX version.

Presentation/Graphics : 92
Having seen what EA could do with a PS2 early on, I was expecting a lot from Madden. I certainly wasn't disappointed. While the fields are rather boring, the players look great. The uniforms have an incredible amount of detail from head to toe. The one exception to the wonderful player models is the skin. After plays the camera zooms to a television style view which shows players close up. The lack of decent skin textures results in players who look like Ken dolls with helmets. The large, black eyes remind you of men possessed and stand out against the plastic looking skins.

However, the scary eyes are not visible during the actual play. What is, though, are the player animations. Animations are numerous. Players stumble when hit, jukes take place at realistic paces, and players wrap their arms around the ball carrier during tackles. The pace of the game is slower than most are accustomed to, and the realistically paced animations give the game an authentic feel. Despite fresh animations, the game can suffer from collision detection problems. On more than one occasion I have seen a face mask penalty called because a player tackles another player from behind. The tackler's arm reaches through the torso of the ball carrier and brushes his face mask. Flag. Likewise, on one play my lineman was being dragged by a running back. The back, with the lineman attached to his waist, ran right through another lineman and broke through the line.

Despite the collision detection problems, which are few and far between, the game has an acute attention to detail. On grass fields, players may get up with a chunk of the field stuck in their face mask. The officials holding the down markers scatter when players approach the sidelines. Grass fields show the wear and tear of football by game's end.

Presentation/Audio : 75
You could just about pull the audio portion of the review of Madden 2001 for the PlayStation and slide it right in here. The sound package is identical, which to me is a disappointment. I handled John Madden's game calling early in his career at CBS. But year after year of the same cliche comments wore thin. Every time I hear Madden in the game, I want to turn the sound off. It doesn't help that his comments are repeated often during the course of the game. To make matters worse, the two man booth of Madden and Pat Summerall miss way too many calls. Prior to the game, James Brown sets up the game and does a good job.

Once I flipped the commentary to off, I was left with a dull, lifeless sound package. Sure you hear the crowd and players getting tackled, but there is simply no atmosphere. The game sounds are flat and boring. The game needs to borrow a page from NFL2K1 for the Dreamcast, where you hear players trash talking and checking off during plays and a nice stadium announcer. Where NFL2K1 and even EA's NCAA series create a realistic setting with the sound, Madden fails miserably.

Interface/Options : 95
While I mentioned that Madden 2001 for the PS2 is essentially a clone of the PSX version, there are some features missing. Madden 2001 provides play in Exhibition, Season, Franchise, and Practice modes, foregoing the Custom League, Tournament, Situation, and Two Minute Drill modes of the PlayStation version. The extra modes added little to the game, so their disappearance is not particularly noteworthy.

In Franchise mode, you control a team for multiple seasons from the top down, which includes managing player personnel as well as your coach. You can renegotiate contracts during the season, and an agent acts on behalf of the player. While signing players, you have to manage your finances wisely as the league does impose a salary cap. At the end of a season, you can sign or release any unsigned players and then begin the free agent signing period. Besides signing players, trades can be conducted between teams. Next, the draft takes place, and after signing your draft picks, you hit the pre-season. The Franchise mode in Madden 2001 continues to be the best experience of any console football game.

The statistical engine seems to have had a quick tune up. I find that the stats from week to week using 5 minute quarters are realistic. Passing yardage and rushing averages league-wide have a firm foundation in reality. What's more, the injuries from team to team vary wildly as they do in real life.

Madden cards make their way to the PS2 version of Madden 2001. During a game, if you reach certain milestones you receive coins that can be used towards the purchase of packs of Madden cards. Each pack of 100 cards 100 coins, and you earn more tokens as you increase the difficulty level of the game. Cards come in bronze, silver, or gold and are similar in structure to modern day trading cards. The cards are divided amongst current players, retired players, cheats, teams, and stadiums. Cards of current players can be used once to improve the performance of a player. The cards of former players (such as Elway, Marino, and the like) can be played to bring the players into the free agent pool. Cheats range from ultra-fast players to changing the scoring system.

Saving your Madden Cards or your progress in the Franchise mode requires you to save your status to the memory card. When I looked on the back of the Madden case and noticed it required only 143 kilobytes of the 8 megabyte PS2 memory card I was ecstatic. But then I went to save. To save your settings, profile, and progress, you need well over a megabyte. Fortunately Madden doesn't fill your memory card as it does with the PlayStation version.

Saving the game is made easier with menus which are laid out well. The menus are easily navigable, and you'll find an option for just about anything you can think of. Aside from setting parameters for the audio and video environment, there are plenty of options to tune the gameplay. Most of the options are discussed in the manual, but a view key ones are undefined. For example, I have a pretty good idea of what "awareness" does for the AI, but it would be nice to know for sure.

Gameplay : 80
This is always the hardest section to put to word. Gameplay is such a subjective term, as the bias of the reviewer comes into question when assessing the gameplay of a particular title. Personally, I like my sports titles to be realistic. Games like Rock the Rink or Blitz are fine and all, but if a game portrays itself as a serious sports game, I expect realism. As such, I view Madden as a serious football simulation, as do most of our readers. With this in mind, Madden 2001 for the PS2 is a mixed bag.

Knowing that Madden 2001 for the PlayStation lacked a decent balance between the running and passing game, the first thing I did was set the run bias for the AI up and the pass bias down. I was pleasantly surprised at the start of the season. The CPU was actually running the ball! In fact, by tweaking the settings just a bit, Madden 2001 plays remarkably balanced. However, although the CPU does run the ball, it seems to cherish the middle of the line. Sweeps by the AI controlled backs almost never occur.

My mastery of the running game is taking some time. In Madden 2001 for the PS2, you have to hit the holes created by your blockers. If there isn't enough of a gap, you'll bounce off a few linemen and quickly get tackled. Depending on the back and offensive line, the running game can be a piece of cake or pure torture. I've had backs with healthy 5 yard averages as well as those with poor 3 yard rush averages. Overall the running game is shaping up to be the best aspect of the game. It is highly realistic and truly wonderful.

The passing game is where the game breaks down. On defense, if you tend to control the linemen you'll frustrate quickly. At the line, it seems like the offense holds to no end. If you bull rush the line, your player gets locked up and can't even move side-to-side (this is really bad when defending the run). Swim moves are not too effective in escaping the grasp of the lineman. This buys the QB plenty of time to find an open man. In fact, my sack totals are pathetic.

On offense, you can really pick the AI secondary apart. Playing on All-Pro (the second highest difficulty level out of four), I had a game where I racked up 474 yards passing with 31 completions. I did nothing but pass the entire game. To further prove a point, I chose the hapless Browns and played against the Rams at the All-Pro level. I quit at the end of the half, after throwing for 222 yards and 3 touchdowns. The real kicker, however, is that I repeated the same exact play. I threw to the same receiver running the same route play after play without the AI adjusting. I flipped the difficulty to All-Madden and had similar success.

I then realized that by modifying some of the game's parameters I could force the passing game to be more realistic. Bumping the defensive AI awareness up improves the situation, but finding the sweet spot is simply a pain in the butt. In its default configuration, Madden 2001 plays way too easily. If you like a simulation of football, you literally have to spend hours tuning the game. Even after tuning the features, I felt I never had to check off at the line of scrimmage. Nor did I feel I could. Defenses rarely feature motion before the snap. Compare this with NFL2K1 on the Dreamcast, where the secondary adjusts to the receivers' locations at the line of scrimmage. On blitzes, safeties and linebackers rarely approach the line before the snap like they do in NFL2K1 (or disguise a blitz by cheating up to the line and backing off at the snap as in NFL2K1). And I could still exploit the secondary at the All-Madden level on short passes.

There are plenty of holes in Madden 2001. Money plays abound in the passing game. While they aren't the big gainers, the short passing game is too effective to make this game a classic. Sure Madden 2001 plays well, but it falls short of being a true simulation. It needs a few tweaks here and there to be the best. It's already there with the player control, which has been substantially enhanced. You can no longer spin or juke on a dime. Moves have to be planned in advance to be effective. Perhaps the friendly competition of NFL2K1 will force the Madden team to go the final step into making the Madden franchise a truly great series. It's almost there.

Replay Value : 82
If you are a serious football fan, you may get frustrated by the ease of the game. With time and patience, you can set up the game to nearly suit your needs. If you are disciplined enough to avoid exploiting the CPU secondary, the game offers plenty of replay value. The exceptional franchise mode alone sets this title apart from the other contenders. As in the PlayStation version, the Madden cards can serve as the impetus to keep coming back to the game; the card collecting nature of the game becomes addicting.

Overall : 83
If you are a Madden fanatic, you'll no doubt look past the AI issues. Every football game has its fair share of gameplay issues. If you tend to like your brand of football with a slight arcade flavor to it, Madden 2001 will satisfy. For football diehards like myself who want the whole package, you'll find yourself still looking for the ultimate game. Madden 2001 delivers graphically and excels in the running game, but its passing game comes up short.

By: James Smith 11/15/00

Related Link: Madden Mania

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