Review by: Blake Nelson
Published: September 28, 2000
The audience for sports simulations is one of the most demanding, because everyone knows exactly how it should look, sound and feel. There is no other genre where the players are so intimately familiar with what is realistic and what isn’t. It’s because of this that titles that try to represent what we watch on TV are subject to such strict scrutiny and have such difficulty in passing off poor artificial intelligence, gameplay and graphics. On the other hand, a successful sports franchise is practically a license to print money and can even sell hardware as both John Madden Football and NFL2k have shown on the Genesis and the Dreamcast. What fan of the sport doesn’t want to step into the shoes of Randy Moss, Peyton Manning or Marshall Faulk? Who doesn’t want to run the two-minute drill like John Elway? The answer is that there isn’t a fan of football out there who doesn’t want to be, as EA Sports chants, in the game. John Madden Football, from its humble beginnings on the Apple ][ back in 1989, has been the longest lived sports franchise in video gaming history. During that time, it has had its ups and downs, but, like the 49ers of the 1980s, Madden may have lost a couple NFC Championships, but it still has a lot of Super Bowl rings to show off. It’s never a question of whether Madden 2001 will be a contender, the only question is whether it will win it all again.
To answer that question, you must first understand where the series came from and where the competition has gone. Madden has cut a zig-zag route between arcade game and simulation during its long title run. Early in its personal computer iterations, the series focused as much on thinking and planning as on hand-eye coordination. In making the transition to the 16-bit consoles, the memory and processing limitations of those systems forced the series toward action, and Madden became the preeminent arcade sports franchise. Other franchises, such as NFL Blitz and Quarterback Club, pushed the envelope into more over-the-top action sequences. Madden cut back to the inside toward strategy, as consoles became more robust and able to handle the data for teams, players and playbooks over an entire football season. Not all attempts to balance action and planning, such as the experimental Madden University, have been successful, but Madden 2001 now offers the fullest range of options to appease the pigskin strategist it ever has, including the addition of coaches and their unique playbooks.
Madden has made tremendous strides in customizability and personalization, providing the most options ever seen in the series. You can tweak nearly every aspect of the game to your heart’s content, including players, plays, teams and leagues. The most tantalizing of these options is to create your own profile, which allows you to customize your playbook, audibles and keep track of your accomplishments. In addition, if you think you can compete with Mike Martz’s offense or Bill Bellichek’s defense, the play editor allows you to show your tactical genius by modifying existing plays or creating your own from scratch. The interface for creating plays is straightforward; after selecting a basic alignment, you can tweak the movement of each of the players. On the offensive side of the line, you will be able to choose whether the play is designed for a run or a pass, map out routes, and choose the order in which the quarterback will cycle through his options. On the defensive side of the line, you can do almost anything you see in the real game, including line stunts, defensive back blitzes, prevent defenses and everything in between.
Adding to this control over your playbook is that which you have over your personnel, including everything from drafting, trading, and signing players to creating your own. The NFL Player’s license also guarantees that most of the real names and faces of the players appear, including hundreds of historic greats. All athletes have authentic ratings in a wide variety of statistics, from the simple-to-measure like speed, height and weight to the more complex, like durability, designed to make them behave and react like their real-life counterparts. Moreover, individuals have had their specific touchdown celebration dances and taunts added to the game–although Terrell Owens’ mid-field spike will have to wait until the 2002 edition. The player models generally reflect size differences and positions: wide receivers are lank and wiry, linebackers are suitably stout, and offensive linemen are portrayed as the 300-pound behemoths they have become. These are based on actual data rather than positions–as shown by Daunte Culpepper, who appropriately looks like a defensive end lined up under center, rather than a typical quarterback.