The NFL GameDay (GD) series has long been the redheaded stepchild of football gaming over the past couple of years. With the Madden and NFL 2k series stealing most of the glory, GD has been lurking in the shadows. There are for reasons for this, as this once promising series years ago on the PSX, never was able to keep up in quality with the competition. With a fresh sheet of new features and online play, could this be the year that GameDay steps up to the forefront?
PS2 Screens (5)
I'll admit that I wasn't expecting to be surprised in this area by GD after playing Madden and NFL 2k3, but I was. I don't quite think GD's graphics are on par with Madden, but they look just as nice as NFL 2k3's.
The player models don't have much variety, but they boast a lot of detail. They have a nice shape to them, but there is definitely a "cookie cut" appearance to them. I want to see big guts hanging out of uniforms and the frailness of kickers and punters as well as the bulging muscles of all the rest of the players.
Uniforms get dirty over the progress of a game and the helmets have accurate reflections. Precipitation looks real when you are playing the game, but I was disappointed that it wasn't factored into the game play. If it's heavily snowing outside, I would like my players to run slower and if it is raining I would like to see my guys occasionally slip.
But overall, the game looks very good. In the "making of" DVD segment of the game, the producers say there are over 300 catching and tackling animations. After playing the game for a while, I can honestly say there are that many of them. The animations top those seen in Madden and NFL 2k3. Every game I play I see a new one. 989 Sports did a great job in this area.
After I heard the 989 Sports trailer boast that the three-man booth of Ian Eagle, Dick Enberg, and Dan Fouts as the first one ever in a sports game (which it's not, at least in recent memory NCAA Football last year had Herbstreit-Corso-Nessler), I should have known then that the entire commentary would be inaccurate.
I know there are some hard asses that would give the generic "if you don't like it, turn it off" response, but I don't know why I should have to do that. The play-by-play commentary is the guts of the audio experience, both in a video game and in real-life, and you can't do that.
So what's my impression of the play-by-play in GD? It sucks. The first couple of games I thought the commentary was decent, as the trio made some nice comments about not only the game, but individual players. I love it when a game does that. But as I listened closer and more often, the inaccuracy of and the abundance of comments that make you wanna say, "duh!" made me place the trio below Madden and Summerall.
One example of the trio's (Fouts says the bulk of the brainless comments) comments was when I went for it on fourth down with two yards remaining. I had the ball on my opponents' 37-yard line and it was late in the game. I was down by four points and I had to go for it. I make the first down on a nice sweep play and my decision is torn apart by Fouts.
Fouts said something like I should have seen all the blitzers on the line of scrimmage and I should have audibled to a passing play. I don't mind the announcers dropping the ball here and there, but the inaccurate comments would happen five or six times in a game.
I never noticed any crowd activity, but the player speech was pretty good. There was a lot of smack being talked on the field and I only wish there was more implemented into the game.
Interface/Options : 50
GD is pretty generic in this area and I actually think the number of game modes and options is down from the PSX versions. There is an exhibition, season, multiple season, tournament, and online modes, but it seems like a demo version when compared to Madden. When it comes down to it, I would rather have a great playing game over one with a bunch of bells and whistles (cough...NBA Live...cough), but GD seems severely deficient in this area.
There are some AI sliders to tweak, but I didn't notice a huge difference when I set them to the minimum and maximum. The interface isn't as easy on the eyes as Madden's or as slick as NFL 2k3, but it gets the job done. I wish I had online capability, but I don't, so I don't know how much the game is enhanced by online play.
Gameplay : 50
The 989 Sports games have been notorious for leaving out animations in many of their game play sequences. As a result, many of their games have a choppy feeling to it. GD 2003 for the most part doesn't miss out on many animations, but it comes at a price.
As I stated above, the new tackling and catching animations are vast in number. And although you see them on almost every play, the amount of time it takes to get up to them cheapens the experience. The reason I believe, is the number of animations for catching the football or tackling a running back, far exceeds the graphics engine and the frame rate.
At first I thought that I was too used to the fast-paced style of EA's Madden and NCAA, but I just got done playing a much slower-paced NFL 2k3. After logging some hours with the game I came to the conclusion that it was the game - and not me - that was slow. Everything from dropping back for a pass or sprinting down the sideline feels bogged down. This alone severely kills the fun factor of this game.
You can improve the game speed of the game, but it really doesn't help anything out. It really only makes all the players runs faster and doesn't affect the animation speeds or slowdowns any.
Another problem I had with the game was the unchallenging AI. I had no problems scoring points on offense on the hardest difficulty level, Hall of Fame, in my second game. Running the ball is pretty difficult to the slowness of the game, but passing is soooo easy due to dumb cornerback and safety AI. The only time I would throw an incompletion was if a defender would hit my receiver as he was trying to catch the ball.
Stopping teams on defense was another thing. For some reason, the CPU defenders are ineffective in tackling ball carriers. They will normally be in good position to make the tackle, but the halfback or wide receiver will often times break the tackle. But as soon as I take control of one of the defenders and dive at the ball carrier, I can take him down with relative ease. The same faulty AI that plagues the CPU secondary also plagues your team as well. As a result, I ended up playing in many shootouts.
There are some redeeming things about the game as well.
989 Sports finally decided to add Hot Routes to the game and they thankfully added the slant route. Although it takes a year and a half to get to them, the many catching and tackling animations are of the "did you just see that!" quality. There is even a knee injury tackling animation.
The kicking game is very unique. I know it has been around forever, but for those unaware of GD's style, kicking the ball isn't aimed by a generic arrow, but rather a football. There is a little cross arrow that you must place on the location of the football that you would like to kick. I feel like I have so much more control of where I am kicking as opposed to Madden or NFL 2k3.
The change in the game play pace took me off guard because all of the GD games on the PSX were almost NFL Blitz-like. I welcome the methodical change, but for next year the pace does need to pick up some. I don't know what the game's fps is, but changes do need to be made for GD 2004.
Replay Value : 40
This score very well could go up with online play, but since the game modes and options are below average and the game isn't much better, I can't see playing this game very long. The multiple-season mode, General Manger, pales in comparison to Madden and NFL 2k3.
Overall : 67
989 Sports and GameDay still have a while to go until it can join the genre's elite. But I will tell you this; the game has widened the gap from a year ago. I think the game is making strides in the right direction again and maybe next year the game can really put a solid game together. After playing GD 2003, I won't think of the series as a laughingstock anymore. The game has earned my respect, but it still has a while to go.