In 1996, EA positioned itself to take over the 32-bit sports video game market in the same way they dominated the 16-bit arena. However, Sony's premier football title, NFL GameDay, was so impressive that EA was faced with either shipping an inferior product or going back to the drawing board and waiting a year. They chose the latter, and the result is Madden NFL 97.
Casting away the "windows" of previous Maddens, Madden NFL 97 makes use of passing options, like GameDay, that have each button correspond to a receiver (although Madden provides two more options by incorporating the top buttons). However, Madden's passing game is flawed in that it doesn't give you enough time to find an open man; and the upshot is that the playbook doesn't make it clear whether or not you're supposed to pass or run on a play. And forget play action - the receivers reach their target in seconds (which you might expect if everyone in the league had the speed of Deion Sanders). All but the most die-hard Madden fans will quickly realize that GameDay has better plays and control. To be fair, Madden 97's control is very responsive, but you'll have to dig deep into the instructions and have a decent knowledge of football to pick up play calling...and even then you'll probably be frustrated.
The motion-captured graphics are very strong, but 3-D freaks may be disappointed by the use of rendered players. The intro graphics and gimmicks try their best to make up for the functional but plain gameplay graphics. On the sound side, Pat Summerall's commentary is sparse, and Madden's is downright repetitive, but their presence lends an air of authenticity to the game. James Brown completes the Fox TV team by introducing each game from the studio. In fact, the pre-game commentary is so specific that it's hard to believe that so much full-motion video could be crammed on the CD.
For a first effort, EA's Madden NFL 97 is a fine offering. But despite its excellent features, graphics, and teams, players may wander back to NFL GameDay for a simple game of football.