It's hard to believe that the Madden franchise is ten years old. From its origins on the Apple II to its current form on the PC, PlayStation, and N64, the Madden franchise has been the pinnacle at which competitors, including Sierra, Accolade, Sega, Sony, and Microsoft, have aimed. This year's Madden NFL 2000 once again demonstrates why the series has remained on top for ten years - and also why its competitors think they can topple the mighty champion.
Everything that is great about Madden 2000 revolves around the gameplay itself. The Madden formations of pro, shotgun, near, far, etc. that have been standard for ten years continue to be used, although within these formations there are now multiple sets. Each play is clearly diagrammed, and the players run their routes precisely. You control the players effortlessly, and the running game in particular benefits from your having the ability to hit a hole between two offensive lineman. The players also hold their blocks well, allowing for realistic runs.
Unlike many previous Madden games, the passing game in Madden 2000 takes some getting used to. The challenge, which takes several games to learn, is to look either for a receiver who has separated himself from his covering defender or for a receiver who's wide open, before throwing the ball. Forcing a ball into tight coverage will result in an incompletion at best and an interception at worst.
The practice mode helps you to understand this, as well as the running game and the need to accelerate into the holes as soon as they appear. All offensive and defensive formations are available in the practice mode, and figuring out which offenses work, and more importantly don't work, against certain defenses is important for beating the computer AI at the harder levels of difficulty.
Madden 2000's graphics are generally excellent, and the overall presentation is top quality. But the little touches are just superb. It is natural for you to make the quarterback backpedal prior to a passing attempt. But in reality, a quarterback who throws while backpedaling will throw off his back foot and have less zip on the ball. This is the case in Madden 2000, where the quarterback must stop if he's going to make a good pass. You'll notice other details, like how a running back fights for extra yardage while in the grasp of a would-be tackler, or how his helmet pops off after a strong tackle. If judged solely on its gameplay, Madden 2000 would be an undisputed winner.
However, everything that is good about the gameplay is almost overshadowed by an incredibly frustrating navigational interface. It would be difficult to come up with an interface this bad if you were trying. Its clunky counterintuitive keyboard layout alternately stymies and frustrates any attempts to reasonably move around this game.
That's a shame, because Madden 2000 has some great ideas, like a fantasy draft, full general manager control, a play editor, and customizable playbooks - and yet it's hard to imagine anyone using any of it for more than ten minutes without cursing and going back to season mode. Some years ago, Sierra's Front Page Sports Football set the standard for play editors and general manager functions, and EA should have caught up by now.
Regardless of its interface, the Madden series is known both as a great game and also as an attempt to simulate real football wherever possible. Games such as NFL Blitz opt for arcade-style gameplay instead, and for some reason EA felt the need to compete and add an arcade mode to Madden 2000. But that's not what Madden does best, and an arcade-style game with illegal procedure called for kicking the ball out of bounds isn't much fun. EA would have been better off sticking with what it knows.
In other ways, Madden 2000 feels a little rushed, as if it had to get out for the start of the football season. You'll sense this primarily in the commentary. While Pat Summerall is usually very relevant and informative, some of Madden's comments are just plain silly and inappropriate. Maybe the commentary isn't a big deal, but it seems strange in a game that is otherwise first-rate.
Madden 2000 also features a mode that includes ten scenarios from history's great games, which you must complete in order. This reward-for-success system is fine in this context but is taken to an extreme by introducing the concept of the Madden Challenge, in which you must earn points in order to unlock secret teams and more. This would be understandable in some other genre but doesn't make a whole lot of sense in a sports game.
Madden 2000 is both awesome and frustrating. It's a good football game, but it's only a so-so product. Completely overhauling the interface while leaving the gameplay intact would result in possibly the greatest football game ever.