If there is one football franchise that has remained competitive with the Madden series over the last several years, it is 989 Sports' NFL GameDay. And though EA Sports was quick to reveal its latest edition of Madden - Madden NFL 2000 on the PS2 - the PS2 version of NFL GameDay was nowhere to be found. Sony recently whet gamers' appetites by showing a quick two-second clip of its flagship NFL product buried amidst a lengthy PS2 trailer, and it is currently being shown in theaters across the US. But it was only recently, in an exclusive press-only event in Los Angeles, that Sony finally unveiled the PS2 version of NFL GameDay.
Simply titled NFL GameDay 2001, the PS2 version of the game is extremely similar to the PlayStation version of the same name. Both games share the various play modes, including the preseason, season, tournament, and general manager mode. The general manager mode is particularly interesting, as it lets you manage your team from a purely business standpoint. The game points out details, like weaknesses in your offense and defense, and helps you use this information to trade and draft players. The game lets you draft graduating seniors from Sony's college football game, NCAA GameBreaker 2001. The manager mode enforces the standard rules of drafting and even forces you to adhere to a salary cap when signing or trading players.
The stadiums in NFL GameDay 2001 were all created using actual blueprints and photos - and they are extremely accurate. The field texture complements the stadiums perfectly, and little details such as paint and field damage really look sharp. The player models are all scaled to their actual height, weight, and body style, but the characters themselves are not very detailed, and the textures on all the characters seem washed out and drab. This horrible mismatch of mediocre-looking characters on amazing-looking fields often makes the action look very out of place.
NFL GameDay 2001 sports some excellent atmosphere effects. As the game progresses, you'll see snow slowly building on the field, rain making puddles, and puffs of a player's breath in cold atmospheres. The weather affects the game visually and also affects the player's ability to make certain plays. Cutting back and doing juke moves are much more difficult since the field is slippery. Mud and grass stains build up on the players' uniforms, and the turf gets torn up as the game moves along.
While player animations aren't as detailed as most of the sequences found in Madden NFL 2001, the game does run at a smooth 60 frames per second and has silky transitions from one animation to another. If there is one thing that NFL GameDay 2001 has going for it, it's the collision detection. One of the biggest problems with football games on the next-generation platforms is that when a tackle is made, you never really sense the pop. But when you run at full speed and nail the ball carrier in NFL GameDay 2001, you not only experience it visually, but also physically with the Dual Shock 2 rumbling at different levels, depending on how hard you hit the player.
The audio in NFL GameDay 2001 is impressive. While it's too early to judge the commentary with the limited playing time we have had, we had a fairly good impression of the other audio elements. The game uses a new feature called ProTalk, which lets you actually see, as well as hear, what players and coaches have to say. When players and coaches speak, their facial expressions change and their lips move in synch with what they are saying.
989 Sports says it has worked very hard on improving GameDay 2001's AI for the PS2 version, and it's evident. While progressing through the four different levels of difficulty, it is clearly noticeable that the AI becomes more difficult. The hall of fame difficulty level provides a great challenge for masters of the NFL GameDay series.
Development for NFL GameDay 2001 is complete, and the game will be in stores on November 14. From what we have seen of the game so far, it excels in some areas and suffers in others. Fans of the series won't be disappointed, though, as the game maintains the same feel and mentality of the GameDays in the past.