Review: Madden NFL 2000
Company: Aspyr Media
Requirements: 180 MHz 603e or better, System 7.5.3 or higher
List Price: $49.95
I admit it. Last summer, I sprung for a PlayStation so I could play video games. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I knew that a whole slew of games were coming out for the Mac and, yeah, my machine was powerful enough to handle those games. I’m sure that Lara Croft, Klingon Honor Guard, and Starcraft are great games, but the truth is, they’re not really my cup of tea. Ever since I played John Elway Football on my trusty IIe, I have been hooked on sports games. Baseball, soccer, hockey, whatever. That’s why I bought a PlayStation. Well, for the past two weeks, my PlayStation has been sitting unused next to the TV while I’ve been pounding away at the Gravis GamePad attached to my computer. The reason: football is back.
The Madden series, arguably the best-known football series of all-time, is finally available for the Mac in its latest edition, Madden NFL 2000. Unlike some PC conversions that leave users asking for expansion packs and updates, the Macintosh version of Madden NFL 2000 includes everything available on the PC version—the standard exhibition game, a faster paced arcade style, tournament play, season play, franchise mode, the scenario creator, great games, net play, custom player creation, updateable rosters, the Madden Challenge, and a whole slew of hidden teams. Also, no Madden game would be complete without the commentary of John Madden and Pat Summerall.
Madden NFL 2000 has something to suit just about every football fan that’s out there. For those who like to get right into the game and air out the pigskin, there’s the Arcade mode. To the football purist, the thought of an arcade mode may seem like a perversion. Let me set the record straight—Arcade mode is not like NFL Blitz for the PlayStation or Nintendo 64. Both teams have eleven players on the field, there are no body slams, there are penalties, and the players look like players, not genetic mutants. All Arcade mode does is turn down the realism a small amount. Players don’t get tired, there’s no coin toss, the offenses are a little more free-wheeling (what’s a running game?), and the taunts are a little louder.
If you’re tired of watching your favorite team get pummeled in real-life because they don’t have a running game, give Arcade mode a shot. You can air the ball out 60 times and not find your defense getting run over at the line of scrimmage, because, hey, the other team is airing it out, too.
For the aforementioned purists who believe in things like using a running game to set up the pass, there is the Exhibition game. For the longest time, this was the backbone of the whole Madden series—a game based in reality, where players get tired and hurt, and a running back who can do more than block is a plus. Aside from the realistic game play, an exhibition game is just that—a single game between any two teams. The teams can be any two teams in any stadium in the game. Aside from the 31 current NFL teams, there are a bunch of hidden teams, ranging from the AFC and NFC All-Pros to classic teams, like the ’85 Bears, all-time teams containing the best players in the history of each team, and completely random teams like the Marshalls and the Clowns.
The reality-based style of the exhibition game is the basis for the Season and Franchise mode. Both types of game put you in the position of coach for the NFL team of your choice. You guide your team through the 16-game regular season, then hopefully journey to the Super Bowl. Along the way, you have to handle things like injuries, and inconsistent or ineffective players. To remedy those deficiencies, you can cut players, sign players, or make trades, all while trying to keep your team under the salary cap.
Season mode is complete after the Super Bowl. Where it leaves off, Franchise mode picks up. Not only can you guide your team through one season, you can guide it through up to 30 seasons. Along the way, you deal with players retiring, drafting new players, keeping your free agents, and raiding the other teams’ free agents. And like the NFL, if your team doesn’t succeed, you could soon find yourself among the unemployed. Not to worry, though. At the end of the season, there will probably be plenty of teams interested in your services after they have axed their coach—there’s always the Cincinnati Bengals.
The last two types of games are related. They are Great Games and Situations. Both Great Games and Situations put you in control of one team trying to accomplish a goal (usually to come from behind) before the end of the game. The main difference between the two is that Great Games are actual games straight from NFL history while Situations are of your own creation. In Great Games, you play out the scenarios using the rosters for those historical teams, like the aforementioned ’85 Bears. At first, you can only play a single game, but as you successfully complete each scenario, more games become available. Also, completing each scenario makes both the competing teams available to the Arcade and Exhibition modes. In some cases, the scenarios have you try to repeat a historical comeback in the waning moments of the game. In other cases, you are charged with rewriting history, like successfully bringing the Packers back against the Broncos in the ’98 Superbowl.
In Situations, you control most every variable—the teams, the score, the time remaining, the field position, the time-outs remaining, the down, and the line of scrimmage. Want to lead your team to that amazing fourth-quarter, two-minute drill comeback? This is your chance. You don’t get true realism, as you can’t control every variable.
I tried to recreate a game from last season, when the New England Patriots were facing the Miami Dolphins in the closing weeks of the season. I didn’t remember the specifics, but I believe this was the situation: night game at New England, under 2 minutes remaining, New England down by somewhere between 4 and 6 points, one time-out remaining. New England’s quarterback was playing with a broken finger. I was able to set the time, estimate the field position, and set the time-outs. I wasn’t expecting to be able to specify a quarterback with a broken finger, but it would have been nice to set it to be a night game. The option is available in other portions of the game; I don’t see why it’s not available in Situation mode.
Not a game by itself, the Madden Challenge adds a twist to the traditional football game. There are five levels of tasks, and each level has a point value associated with its tasks. Complete a task, get the points. Correctly answer a trivia question, get the points. These points don’t get added to your game score. Instead, they go towards unlocking codes. The codes can be used to unlock hidden teams or stadiums, or somehow alter the game play. There are several types of Madden Challenge tasks. The first type is the single-play variety. These are things like “Complete a pass for 40 yards or longer.” Then there are the whole game tasks, like “Have a player run for 100 yards.” The third type focuses on game play. This features things like “Play and win one game in a tournament.” To get all the Madden Challenge points, you really need to try all the different game play options that Madden offers. Like Arcade mode, the Madden Challenge may be scoffed at by football purists. For people who want something different, though, it is an added bonus.
Earlier, I mentioned Net Play as one of the options. In the time that I have been testing Madden NFL 2000, my connection to the Internet has not been the best, so I have not had the chance to reach out and sack someone. That fact not withstanding, I can give you the Net Play options. At this point, you can choose between finding a game on your local network or specifying one at a given IP address. If you have people you like to play against that are fortunate enough to have static IP addresses, you can add them to your address book. The catch is that only Mac-to-Mac network games are supported. On the bright side, this does not appear to be a DirectPlay-related issue, like some other games. According the Aspyr Media web site, Electronic Arts, the publisher responsible for the other versions of Madden NFL 2000, is still trying to get the PC version up to date with the MaddenNet service. Also, Aspyr Media claims that, with the current version of Madden for the Mac, PC-to-Mac games would run very unreliably. Both Aspyr Media and Westlake Interactive hope to release a future update to the game that will enable both PC-to-Mac Net Play and Mac access to MaddenNet.
To make finding a net game easier, the Mac version of Madden NFL 2000 includes a copy of GameRanger and the appropriate plug-in. Using GameRanger, you can find other Mac users who may be looking for a game. Once the host decides to start the game, the Net Play configuration is handled automatically. Although this is not a substitute for PC-to-Mac Net Play, it certainly makes it easier to find Mac users to play against.
There are many games that are full of promising features but absolutely stink when you actually get to play the game. Sometimes, it’s the game play. Other times, it’s the graphics or the sounds. For the most part, Madden NFL 2000 does not disappoint.
Depending on your setup, Madden can either look and sound very nice or very bad. The computer I use is a G3/233 with the Rage Pro video card. Basically, my system is a match for the original iMac. When I first set up Madden, I decided to see how far I could push my system and still get a game that was playable. For me, this meant using the OpenGL version of the game in 32-bit mode. Forget about being playable—I couldn’t even move the mouse without the game pausing. For the record, the Read Me states that owners of revision A iMacs should not select the 32-bit option. Guess I should have taken that advice.
So I switched to software rendering. The results were decent. The game was fairly smooth, but there were a few hiccups in performance here and there. Some of the colors came out a little weird, too. For instance, in software rendering, the Buffalo Bills wear uniforms that change from their normal shade of blue to a rather ugly shade of powder blue. Performance issues aside, I noticed that the game hung a lot in software rendering mode. These weren’t your typical “the application has quit” types of crashes. These were the halt the computer, three-finger salute types of crashes. I got into the habit of saving my game at the end of each quarter just in case. On the plus side, the crashed did bail me out of a pair of games that were not pretty.
Eventually, I got tired of the crashing and the technicolor uniforms, so I decided to give OpenGL another shot, this time without 32-mode active. Graphically, the results were much nicer. There was still too much lag in the game for it to be really playable, though.
Always looking for an excuse to get a new toy, I decided I needed to test out the Glide3 version of Madden. After a quick trip to the store, I popped in a Voodoo3 card, switched the settings, changed the appropriate setting, and started the game. I didn’t see much of the OpenGL version of the game, but when you compare the software rendering version to the Glide3 version, there is no contest. The game is absolutely beautiful. 99% of the lags are gone. The few lags that I do get seem to come when the CD-ROM spins up and down. I could copy all the files to my hard drive to avoid this, but I’m a little short on space, so I decided to deal with it.
I have come to the conclusion that, if you want to do this game justice, you need some type of 3D acceleration. I’m sure that the Rage 128 chip in the blue-and-white G3s and the G4s could handle the load. With the Glide3 version, the detail is amazingly sharp. When you zoom in on an instant replay, you can see the players faces. In some cases, you can even see their eye black.
When it is snowing, the players and the referees leave footprints in the snow. The players’ shadows resemble the players, as opposed to the amorphous blobs seen in the software rendering version. The stadiums and field are look completely realistic. You can tell the difference between artificial turf and real grass just by looking at it. In short, it is one of the best looking football games, be it for the PlayStation, the Nintendo 64, or the PC, that I have ever seen.
Another thing I noticed about the Glide3 version is that the audio is much smoother. I suspect it’s because the software is not devoting as much effort into the visual effects. John Madden and Pat Summerall’s commentaries about the game situation and the players are both crisp and accurate. If you play long enough, you will notice that the phrases start to repeat themselves. With Summerall, it’s not as noticeable because there are only so many situations that can happen on the field (“It’s first and ten,” etc.). It gets a little annoying with Madden, though, because he tends to be long-winded in some of his tales. Of course, he tends to be a little long-winded when he’s doing games on Fox, so this may have been intentional.
Visual and audio treats are nice, but they are worthless if the game play is sub par. I have a few complaints about the game play, which I’ll touch on later, but it’s excellent for the most part. Just like in the NFL, certain players are better at certain things when compared to other players. His $1.5 million a year running back will probably hit the holes a little faster than your $250,000 running back. Some receivers are better at catching the ball while some are better at running after the catch. Your third-string quarterback probably doesn’t throw the ball as well as your starter. If your offense throws the ball most of the time, the defense will probably show you more pass defense than run defense. If you use short, out patterns to beat zone coverage, you’ll probably see more man-to-man defense. Just like the NFL, teams adapt to what you do and make the necessary changes.
As far as complaints go, I have two. First, it seems like the game clock runs at inappropriate times, like after a player runs out of bounds with less than 5 minutes remaining in the half. Unless I’m mistaken, the clock stops until the ball is snapped unless the player is initially tackled in bounds. I know Aspyr and Westlake have said that there are some timing problems with Madden. I can only assume they are referring to this type of situation.
My second complaint is more with the game play. The defenses seem way too dominant. Unless I throw a perfect pass to a covered man, it gets picked off. Likewise, when I am playing defense, my defensive backs seem to pick balls off at will. At the end of one season, I had one player with 10 interceptions and two with seven. Those numbers seem a bit high to me. On the topic of defensive over dominance, the computer offense does not seem to adjust to a defense that blitzes. I had a backup cornerback finish the season with 33 sacks. As an offense, a way to counter would be running plays and short dump passes. Not one computer-run opponent used these with regularity and my backup cornerback ended up winning league MVP. Trust me when I say Tebucky Jones is nowhere near that good. It is possible to edit the disposition of the AI so that it favors the run more, but I think the computer-controlled teams should adjust to make the defense pay for its overaggressive tendencies.
One of the nice things about Madden is that you can update your rosters to reflect the changes that happened throughout the league due to injuries, cuts, and plain-old coaches decisions. If you really wanted to, you could update all 31 rosters by hand. Of course, by the time you were done, it would be time to start next week’s changes. Fortunately, EA makes the roster changes available for download. Although EA created the rosters with the intent for them to be used with the PC version, Aspyr Media has said that they can be used with the Mac version. So, if the next Kurt Warner rises from the bench during the middle of the season and you want him on your team, all you need to do is download the updated roster. To look for yourself, go to the EA Sports Download Page. A note about the updates—in net games, both players must be using the same rosters.
It’s been a long time since Mac users had anything resembling a quality sports game. With Madden NFL 2000 available, that all changes.
Madden NFL 2000 is an excellent game that brings all the football anybody could ever want straight to the desktop. Without some sort of hardware acceleration, though, you really lose much of what makes the game so great, not to mention the crashes that I experienced. I question how well it would run on the recommended minimum system, a 200 MHz 603e processor, considering how it hiccupped from time to time on my system. The timing issues and the dominance of the defense detract from the reality of the game play. These two are somewhat minor. Hopefully, a patch will fix the first. Tweaking the AI settings could fix the second. If Aspyr raised the recommended system requirements, I think it would go a long way towards addressing the other issues. I know this may sound like cheating, but it might be the best to address some of the game play issues while maintaining the games quality.