Game Over Online ~ Madden NFL 2001

GameOver Game Reviews - Madden NFL 2001 (c) EA Sports, Reviewed by - Jimmy Clydesdale

Game & Publisher Madden NFL 2001 (c) EA Sports
System Requirements Windows 9x, Pentium 166, 16MB Ram, 30MB HDD, 4x CD-ROM
Overall Rating 76%
Date Published Thursday, September 7th, 2000 at 09:13 PM

Divider Left By: Jimmy Clydesdale Divider Right

Wazzzzzup! Just havin' a Bud, watchin' the game. That's right, football season is upon us as the NFL has already wrapped up Week One. We witnessed the Eagles trounce the Cowboys, we saw as Daunte 'Salt and' Culpepper rushed for 3 TDs in the Vikings' come-from-behind victory over the Bears, and we watched as the St. Louis Rams began the defence of their Super Bowl title with a victory over the Broncos, proving that they remain the most exciting team in pro football. So let's all raise a glass, it's time for some football!

As has become custom, the start of the NFL season also means that it's time for publishers to release their PC football counterparts. Unfortunately, as I look down at the starting roster, I see that only EA Sports has shown up for training camp. Microsoft has decided to give their rookie-of-the-year, NFL Fever, the year off with only a Roster Update (and a costly one at $20) to speak of. With 989 Studios bowing out of the PC market altogether and Sierra Sports still hiding after their disastrous 1999 season, it looks like Madden is all we have left. What does that mean for PC football fans? Well, like Arizona Cardinals quarterback Jake Plummer thinking to himself as he scrambles to avoid yet another rush, this could be a long season.

The Madden NFL series is much like any other EA Sports' franchise, it seems content making cosmetic changes during the off-season, rather than hitting the video room to learn the playbook. This year seems no different, as Madden 2001 looks as impressive as ever. The graphics have been improved two-fold over last year's edition. For starters, each of the stadiums has been vastly improved. Signs parade down from the stands as cheerleaders prance around on the sidelines (albeit in a horribly pixelated manner). Weather effects come across much more realistically and you can actually see footprints on the field when it's covered in snow or mud. Player animations have also been drastically improved, as players now appear much closer to their real-life counterparts. Whether it's a 300-pound lineman or a 200-pound receiver, they all look and act their part. More detail has obviously been paid in terms of facial animations, as you'll be able to instantly recognize some of the more well-known faces in the game. In terms of the on-field action, it certainly isn't on the same level as NFL Fever 2000, but there are definitely noticeable improvements. Of course these cosmetic changes don't come without a price. You'll need a heck of a system if you want everything at full detail, otherwise the slowdown will absolutely kill the gameplay.

Did EA Sports rename this game? Is it still not Madden NFL 2001? Then why does Mr. Madden speak so few words these days? Year in and year out, it seems that John can't come up with any new commentary, let alone any commentary at all. Pat Summerall dominates the speech department as the play-by-play hits an all-time low in Madden NFL 2001. Usually EA Sports is known for their play-by-play excellence, so perhaps it's time they search for a pair of football commentators who'll actually spend more than a few minutes in the audio room. Outside of the speech, most of the effects are recycled from previous years although the sound of a good hard tackle has certainly been improved upon. Crowd effects are much more prominent this time around, but still nowhere near what a real-life crowd sounds like. I'm still waiting for the Arrowhead Stadium experience to be brought alive on the PC, and Madden NFL 2001 is not it.

As Janet Jackson sings, "Doesn't really matter 'bout the icing, cause I'm in love with the inner being". Ok, maybe it doesn't go exactly like that, or maybe it does, either way, let's see what Madden NFL 2001 has going on inside the game, because if it's in the game, it's in the GAME! Yeah, that's an over-statement if I've heard one. Do players dive from five yards away to tackle a player that they don't even have in their sights? When running backs use a spin move to avoid a tackle, do they do so loosely, leaving themselves open for a 4-5 yard loss? Do running backs get stuck on their own lineman's jersey at the line of scrimmage? Yep, if it's in the game, it's in the GAME!

The running game in Madden NFL 2001 is as good as they get, but there's still a lot of work to be done. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, backs still get caught on their own lineman when holes open or close up. The same spin move from Madden NFL 2000 is present in the 2001 edition and it's as unrealistic as ever. For some reason the backs in Madden NFL 2001 seem to think that a spin move involves actually spinning around in a circle that encompasses about a 5 yard radius… ummm, yeah. Beyond those faults though, the running game in Madden NFL 2001 is the best around because the control is so efficient. Holes open up where they're supposed too and linemen rarely ever miss their assignments. The only problem with the running game, much like Madden NFL 2000, is that it can become too valuable a weapon. A good running back can muster up almost 200 yards a game if you give him enough carries.

The passing game is somewhat improved in Madden NFL 2001, but there's still work to be done here too. The computer-controlled teams use the pass much more frequently now and it's much easier to select and execute passes too. However, receivers continue to drop balls when completely open, even little 5-yard jobbers that, while they might occur once or twice a game, happen far too frequently during the course of a single game. Passing trajectories are way off. I've seen instances where a ball travelling in a straight line will all of a sudden make a left, and get to the intended receiver. I've also seen receivers make grabs in double and triple coverage that seem extremely difficult to do. I'm not saying it shouldn't happen, but let's just say the old Hail Mary play works far too often in Madden NFL 2001 if you have a star receiver on your team. If you throw the ball downfield 3 straight times, you'll have just as much success if you make 3 short passes in a row, so why then would you bother to call short plays? I will give kudos to EA Sports for allowing quarterbacks to get out of the pass mode and into a scrambling mode if need be. I always hated having my QB scrambling like an idiot with his arm in the air.

Madden NFL 2001 features all the usual game modes: Exhibition, Season, Franchise and Great Games. As usual, the exhibition mode allows you jump right into the action without worrying about of the intricacies of a complete season. The Season mode allows you to play a single season through to the Super Bowl. The Franchise mode continues to shine with tons of options including free agents, an extended college draft, coaches that you can hire and fire at will, and salary-cap restriction. The Franchise mode is solid enough on its own that you might find yourself simulating through the regular season just to reach the off-season again. The intelligence of the computer-controlled teams remains a bit of a disappointment, as they don't seem to know the depth of their own rosters. They'll fill up with good quarterbacks and not realize that they need more depth at other positions. All in all though, the Franchise mode is as good as it gets in a major football release. Last but not least, the Great Games mode allows you to play as some of the greatest teams in NFL history.

One of the highlights of Madden NFL 2001 is the improved multiplayer options. You can compete in complete franchise mode online leagues that include drafts, trading and scheduled games. If you can gather a group of friends, or just meet up with people over the Internet, the opportunity for a compelling online experience is certainly there.

Before I wrap up the review, I'll quickly touch on a few other elements found in the game. The play editor remains undesirable. Making plays is somewhat easier but you can only create so many plays, far less than an entire playbook, which makes the play editor useless. As has become custom in EA Sports titles, sliders are once again provided so you can adjust certain factors within the game. If you've played with these before, you'll know that changing one slider can have a drastic effect on the game and this year's sliders are no different. If you don't want to mess up the simulated games, I'd suggest not tweaking these at all. If you simulate a regular season game, you won't have game stats provided for you, something I don't quite understand.

Madden NFL 2001 is far from perfect, but it still provides a decent football experience. The visual enhancements are top notch as usual, but the audio department is a bit of a letdown. The overall gameplay is inconsistent although you won't find a better running game in a football title on the PC. The artificial intelligence is suspect at times and there's no doubt, like any of EA Sports' games, you'll probably master this game in a season or two, rendering it even less spectacular. Thankfully, EA Sports has included some great multiplayer features that will finally let you compete against human opponents that have mastered the game as well. When all is said and done, Madden NFL 2001 is a lot like Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Shawn King; not a spectacular starter, but more than capable of handling the ball when called upon.


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