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February 8, 2002
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 Overall Score: *80*ESRB Rating: Everyone (E)

Madden '99 

by EA Sports  Reviewed by: Robert Svilpa  


ScreenshotOverview

Do you enjoy a good bone-crunching game of football? Among the many sims in the business, Madden '99 does have some flaws in gameplay that can’t be ignored, but it is still one of the better football games available. Improvements from last year’s version have made this game much more palatable an offering, including vastly improved graphics and better AI.

Gameplay, Controls, Interface

Improvements in AI and general graphics still don’t supersede the brutal control configuration that this game has. In EA Sports' NHL '99, you can configure the buttons on your controller to what feels comfortable and the interface mirrors this very well. But in Madden '99, when you do reassign buttons the game's user interface changes, which can make the gameplay very confusing. For instance, with the SideWinder controller, button ‘x’ is considered button #1, ‘a’ is #2, b is #3… no logical assignment. When you reassign #1 to button 'a’, the receiver number that was assigned to #1 now becomes #2, and so on for each reassigned button. This makes for a (relatively) long learning curve and, for those who want to have total control over the gameplay, can prove extremely frustrating. Having encountered many cases where I mixed up the buttons/receivers on pass plays and gotten sacked, this has upset me greatly.

I can't tell if this is a plus or minus, but it is realistic: when a team has momentum on its side, no matter what you do as a player, you really can’t get the momentum back without something traumatic happening to the other team. Similarly, when you have momentum on your side, nothing you do really goes wrong. Now I’ve watched games where the dominant teams in the league do tear apart their opponents like papier-mâché, but not to this extent. I played two teams through an entire season: Denver Broncos and Buffalo Bills. Playing the Broncos, I was able to play quite foolishly (throwing deep on 4th Down, etc…) and even when I coughed up the ball on my 5-yard line, was still able to make the defensive stand (incidentally against the Raiders). I was not only able to hold them back, but recovered a fumble on my 2-yard line, took over possession, and drove down the field using just the rushing package to score yet another touchdown.

ScreenshotOn the other hand, playing the Bills, it seemed like only the hand of God could come down and help me win games. It got to the point that playing the game became the most unpleasant thing I could think to do for an evening -- although after losing four in a row I got some mercy wins against the Colts and Patriots, the team did turn around and at least make some of the games competitive. I ended the season with the Bills at 8-8 and with the Broncos at 14-2.

What helped the cause, no matter which team I played, was to change personnel manually through the game. Exchanging quarterbacks during the game whenever they threw interceptions would tend to boost the performance of the entire team, but this is not realistic. Also, the best sets of plays tended to be the bread-and-butter running and screen plays. Even though I could use the run each play and the same four plays in sequence, the defense never did catch on, and the result was an easy score.

If you have never played one of the previous incarnations of the Madden series, there is a one-button mode that promises to make learning the game easy. For veterans, though, this is one mode which will never get used.

The playbooks for each team are extensive and really learning all the plays would be just short of miraculous. A word of advice -- just find those plays that work well, make sure you switch off the alignments a bit, and use those plays. “Keep It Simple Stupid” is a very good motto; it brings you the most success.

Graphics

Without a doubt, the biggest improvement has been in the graphics and animation department. Realistic running motion and the addition of ‘juke’ moves are stunning, assuming you have the hardware. I have a Canopus 6 MB 3Dfx Voodoo1 card on my P2-233 with 64 MB RAM and enough hard drive to hold all the country’s tax information, and still the graphics were a bit stilted. Additionally, the audio suffered when the information on the screen was cluttered, prone to dropouts and garbage information in both the audio track and video. The game did respond at times with a message, informing me that my hardware was not capable of running at this detail rate (medium), leading me to seriously question the requirements as listed by EA.

After some time with the game, the initial luster wore thin and I found the graphics to be adequate for the game -- which is a shame, given the game's potential. I don’t think I should have to upgrade my system to play a game and Madden '99 makes me think that is what might be needed.

Audio

Audio is stunning, as with most EA Sports games. Custom music tracks and play-by-play by John Madden and Pat Summerall make the experience very realistic. But the pre-game shows are also irritating and I tended to bypass them after the first few times. During gameplay, the audio tracks were unobtrusive and subtle, with the hitting and other game noises taking precedence over the game calling. The replays and accompanying analysis by the big guy are good, even though the comments tend to be repetitive. Where the audio does suffer is in the game selection user interface: whenever another submenu is brought up, a noticeable audio performance decrease with accompanying distortion is very evident. This tended to make the game look like an elaborate beta rather than a released product ,and is a real shame.

System Requirements

Windows 95/98, P166MMX with 3Dfx card (200MMX if no 3Dfx), 20 MB hard drive space, 16 MB RAM, 8X CD-ROM drive
Recommended: P2-300, 100 MB hard drive space, 64 MB RAM, 16X CD-ROM drive. Technical requirements seem to have been mis-stated, as I found my P2-233 with 3D accelerator to be found wanting in the performance department.

ScreenshotDocumentation

The documentation was very vanilla, with no substantial changes between Madden '98 and '99. The worst part of the manual, and the most confusing, was the controller configuration section. Getting the answers you needed required some reading, then playing with the user interface to actually get the configuration you wanted. Then give yourself about ten plays with the configuration to begin to understand the changes that you made and how they affect the game. The game instruction defaults to the Gravis configuration, listing the buttons in numerical order. If you own the SideWinder, do yourself a big favor and draw a diagram of your controller. This will help to decipher the instructions, and keep the confusion to a minimum.

Bottom Line

A decent game, but not quite there. The graphics are improved, but system resources are severely taxed by the sheer number of polygons required to render each frame. Gameplay has improved, as has the AI, but again the game seems a bit behind the competition when you consider the controller configuration and audio distortion/dropouts. For the most part, this is a very playable game, but take serious note of the hardware recommendations above. To really get the most out of this game, you need a serious machine with a Voodoo2 accelerator. I just wish I could have one to see what the game could really look like…

Review Posted On 22 April 1999.

 
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