If things had gone as planned, Accolade would have shipped Legends Football '98 a year ago - with the name Legends Football '97, of course - and the current release would be the upgrade to an already successful football game. When it became clear there was no way the product could ship on time and still have all the features envisioned for the game, Accolade wisely decided to postpone the release for a year. Now, Legends Football is finally here, and even though another year of work has gone into the game, and it's sitting on store shelves, the game is still not ready.
The big selling point for Legends '98 is that it includes teams and players from four different eras of football: 1932, 1950, 1968, and 1997. There's obviously a lot of potential for fantasy match-ups here, and Legends '98 lets you structure those match-ups however you like. Regardless of how you mix and match teams from different eras, it's up to you to decide which rules will be in force. You'd think the 1997 Packers would probably be a shoo-in against the 1932 Bears, for instance, but not if that Packers team had to slash its roster, and each starter played both sides of the ball. As de facto commissioner you have the power to create custom teams, leagues, and schedules regardless of which era you're working with.
It's an intriguing concept, but the problem is that the fantasy aspect of Legends '98 extends beyond teams and scheduling and into actual gameplay. Before I get into specifics, however, I've got to point out that I tested the game using 15-minute quarters because, well, because that's the way football is played, damn it. Some might argue that many of my complaints about unrealistic results would be eliminated by changing the quarter length to five or ten minutes, but to me that would be the same as playing a baseball simulation using three or six innings for each game. No, for a football sim to be realistic and fun it has to produce realistic results when played according to the real rules. And whatever else you have to say about Legends '98, it sure as heck doesn't produce realistic results.
Taking control of my long-suffering Minnesota Vikings, I began the 1997 season using 15-minute quarters (all other realism options, including penalties, injuries, and fatigue, were activated). After simulating the first week of play, I decided to check out the stats - and almost fell over at what I saw, as several teams racked up over 600 yards in passing and no one in the league fell below 250-plus passing yards. Yes, it was ludicrous - but what made it even more dumbfounding was that rushing yardage was abysmally low. Only four teams managed to break the century mark on the ground, around a dozen managed to pile up between 50 and 90 rushing yards, another dozen fell between zero and 50, and two somehow managed to lose rushing yardage for the entire game.
If passing yardage had skyrocketed because of 15-minute quarters - which I don't think is a valid excuse, but I'm mentioning it anyway - then rushing yardage should be inflated, too. What these numbers told me was that computer-controlled teams in Legends '98 don't even begin to play like their real-life counterparts; instead, their play selection is more like what you'd expect from two kids passing on every down in a video game.
Continuing to simulate the season, I reached week three and decided I'd control the Vikes at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers - and it was here that I saw firsthand how those numbers were getting put up. After one quarter of play, the score was tied 42-42; I returned four kickoffs and one punt for touchdowns, and Trent Dilfer threw five scoring strikes (three from the Bucs' side of the 50-yard line). Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn, the bread-and-butter guys of Tampa's offense, barely touched the ball - but of course there's no reason they should when Dilfer's on track for a 20-touchdown game. That same week, offensive powerhouses like the New York Giants and Baltimore Ravens scored 11 touchdowns each.
So it's pretty clear that Legends '98 isn't the game for players in search of a realistic football simulation. That in and of itself wouldn't invalidate it from being a fun little arcade exercise, but sadly Legends '98 is a big letdown in nearly every department you care to look at. Player graphics are chunky and blocky - you can't even make out the numbers on the players' jerseys - and there's almost no visual distinction between players: A lineman and a wide receiver look almost identical. Players and coaches on the sideline are a two-dimensional wall, and, what's worse, even those subpar graphics break up as the "camera" pans from the sideline back to the field.
Incredibly, Legends '98 doesn't have mouse support, forcing you to navigate myriad menus using a gamepad, joystick, or keyboard, making an already cumbersome process even clunkier and more confusing. Because play selection and pass receivers are color-coded based on the Gravis Gamepad, you get anomalies such as a receiver running downfield with the word "green" under him - which might make you think it's a player whose last name is Green, since names are displayed for other selected players. Another interface problem is that if you decide you want the QB to run on a passing play, you can't jump, dive, or spin - those buttons will simply make him throw to one of the receivers.
And the list of problems goes on. There are no instructions in either the manual or README file for defensive moves, no way to change turf type in preseason games (which are often not played at either team's home stadium), almost no penalties (the only one I saw was when I purposefully jumped offsides), no box scores so you can easily see the score of a simulated game, incorrect displays in the stat screens, no decimal points are used in averages for running and passing, and if you switch between team and individual stats you'll get incorrect displays. And the play-by-play commentary is nothing but "third and eight!" or "Complete!" - a big letdown after something like NHL '97 or even Madden '97.
Legends '98 promised to combine the intensity of a Madden '97 with the statistical realism of FPS: Football Pro - and delivers neither. It's hard to believe that this is the best Accolade could come up with after an extra year of work.