NFL Football Frenzy 2003: Baseball may be America's pastime, but football is America's passion.
It's that time of year again ? while baseball is in full swing, and most people are spending their summers away from the television, minds are beginning to wander towards the fall, for the biggest television event of the year ? football season. Training camps are soon to open, exhibition NFL games are right around the corner, and college football kicks off soon after, before the big boys begin the real deal. It's not just a pastime, football is ? no, it's a passion. A passion that spreads to sports gamers every year; and 2003 is no different. Every year, sports gamers are treated to a seemingly endless lineup of football games ? some claim to be realistic to the letter, while others take a more ?entertaining? approach. Either way, sports gamers on the PlayStation family of consoles have a lot to choose from, and the goal of the article you're reading is to help weed out what's there so you can make an educated choice about your football video gaming.
Madden NFL 2004
The Publisher: EA Sports
The Date: August 12, 2003
John Madden Football has been around for years ? 14 of them, to be exact. Last year's version was the best edition yet, mixing in improved gameplay with solid online compatibility. This year, Madden NFL 2004 is going all out to hopefully deliver the ultimate offline and online football experience. While the main core of the game won't be redesigned (why? It's okay as it is), only tweaked, but the playmodes will definitely extend the life of the game, whether you're a wannabe football owner or an online dominator.
Madden's offline play is built around its new Owner mode. As an extension of Franchise mode, Madden's Owner mode is the blending of management sims such as Front Office Football, letting you take ownership of a team and make them a winner ? and not just on the field, either. Instead, you must make money your own way, by negotiating ticket prices, concessions, and the like. Make enough cash and field a winning football team, and you can create your own dream stadium, letting you choose from over a billion different combinations of stadium pieces to craft your own unique playing place. It might sound fluffy, but this is the sort of number crunching that Front Office Football and Season Ticket Baseball fans have been doing for years.
Of course, EA Sports is taking Madden 2004 online this year, through their newly designed EA Sports Online. EA Sports Online is EA's single username gaming service that lets EA fans play games online, and also keep contact with their friends and opponents. If you're lucky enough to have broadband and the SOCOM headset, you can even engage in voice chat with opponents, taking trash or discussing something totally irrelevant to the game at hand (as 90% of my online games end up becoming). Dial-up users are not excluded, however, as 56k play is supported, only without headset support. But the keyboard is still there, so they aren't left out in the cold. EA Sports Online is a freebie right now, and basic exhibition matches will always be free, according to EA.
Finally, Madden will be the 2nd EA Sports game to support EA Sports BIO ? the new tracking service for EA games that unlocks new stuff across all the sports titles they release this year, from FIFA to MVP Baseball. It's EA's reward to their legions of fans who play their games enthusiastically and maintain consumer loyalty. It's a big gimmicky, and not totally necessary, but it is a great bonus for sports gamers who play lots of EA games.
ESPN NFL Football 2K4
The Publisher: Sega
The Date: September 2, 2003
Following lagging sales of last year's impressive NFL 2K3, Sega has gone all out (some may say, sold out) this year to help boost consumer awareness of their excellent football series. Last year, Sega and Visual Concepts introduced ESPN integration into their entire line of sports games, creating a television feel, only without the horrendous gameplay that past ESPN games were known for. This year, Sega has gone all out, eliminating the ?2K? line of games, and creating ESPN Videogames. The first entry into this new series of games is ESPN NFL Football 2K4, and while the name has changed, the same great game seems to be included, along with some new features that are quite interesting, if not anything earth-shattering. Sega has come to play with their sports games this season (as if they don't every year), and ESPN NFL Football is the debut of a new era for Sega Sports.
The biggest additions to ESPN NFL are the ?Cribs? feature, and the first person view mode. ESPN Cribs is sort of like a house version of Madden Cards (anyone find the ?let's play house? thing rather disturbing, though?), letting you display trophies and prizes in your house for viewing. If you've ever fiddled around with the Garage in Auto Modellista, you will get the jist of what ESPN cribs is. It unlocks all sorts of new things for ESPN NFL, which is never a bad thing.
The first person view mode is a whole different can of worms, however. While it's not brand new (Madden 64 tried it years ago on the Nintendo 64, and it sucked thanks to inferior hardware), it's now being implemented in an era where it's feasible to try again. First person view is exactly what it says ? you can control any player, at any time, in the 1st person viewmode to get a birds-eye view of the action from the eyes of that player. It's a bit strange to see in action, and seems to much like a cash in given that bloody FPS games are all the rage nowadays, but it's an interesting idea that might work if Visual Concepts can get it down proper.
Of course, ESPN NFL Football will come with online play like last season, only this year there will be keyboard support, but not voice chat. Given that NFL 2K3 had no communication on PS2 at all, this is an improvement. Expect roster updates and other downloadable content, to max out your offline experience playing through the Franchise modes, or offline multiplayer action. Fans of NFL 2K should not be worried ? it's the same great game, just with a familiar new name.
NFL Gameday 2004
The Publisher: Sony
The Date: August 26, 2003
989's downtrodden NFL Gameday series has been slowly progressing the past couple years. While the 2001 and 2002 editions were poor at best, Gameday 2003 was a much-improved entry into the series, redeeming for past sins with a decent Franchise mode and great online play ? the online play system in Gameday was arguably the best out of any football game last year. This year, Gameday is even more improved, and it just might stun some people if Gameday 2004 ends up competing with Madden and company, just like it did in the glory days of the PlayStation.
Gameday's online play will be similar to EA's ? 989 Sports Online allows for voice communication for broadband users, tournaments, roster downloads, and a great interface for making games. It all will be free as well, so the only investment you need to make is in the $40 game, and the Network Adaptor. Offline play will feature a deep Franchise mode and all the usual trimmings that football games are known for and must have. 989 is serious about rebounding from tough PS2 years, and Gameday 2004 is the first showing of this effort. The only problem is, can the series get back into the good graces of gamers who have already passed them off as has-beens?
NFL Blitz Pro
The Publisher: Midway
The Date: September 29, 2003
About 5 years ago, the brilliant minds at Midway arcade managed pull off a miracle ? make arcade sports cool again. After NBA Jam went cold in the mid 1990's, the idea of an ?extreme? sports arcade game was a dead one, as simulations ruled the land. However, when Midway unveiled NFL Blitz, it all changed. Ever since, Midway's Blitz has gone from a massively popular arcade game making millions in quarters to a big console hit ? though the numbers are dwindling, as you can only play Blitz so many times before it gets old and repetitive.
Midway seems to know this, as the company is completely revamping the series, with NFL Blitz Pro. Mixing in the excitement of Blitz with the 11 on 11 action of Madden, Blitz Pro is a breeding of arcade and simulation, recreating Blitz just as the series has begun to dry up in popularity. While it still won't be as serious as the other football games, the more simmy action will at least draw in curious people, wondering how well Midway managed to hybrid the 2 types of football into one game. Best of all, Blitz Pro will support online multiplayer on PS2, which of course is also a bit disappointing, as Blitz has always been a multiplayer game ? which means that the standard old-school Blitz would rock very hard over the Internet, as the ?Net is nothing if not the rebirth of the arcade for gamers. Either way though, Blitz is just another football game to play online, giving PS2 owners plenty of choice for 2003.
The PlayStation Lives On?
While all the focus is naturally on PS2, those poor souls with just a PSOne are still in luck. While it won't be much more than a slight tweak and roster updates, both EA and 989 Sports are once again releasing their pro football games on the PlayStation, at a budget price. Madden NFL 2004 and NFL Gameday 2004 are the same games as, well, the 2000 versions, but for a PlayStation fan, it probably is good enough, just for the roster changes. At $30, the games are cheaper than their PS2 counterparts, so the budget-minded gamer won't wince too hard at paying for a game that hasn't been improved much since the PS2 was released. It's pretty assured that neither game will get a huge release with a limited print, so if you're looking for the latest editions, make sure to hit the stores as soon as possible after their August 12th releases.
What About College Football?
When it comes to college games, there really is only one competitor this year ? NCAA Football 2004. Mixing in the awesome Dynasty with the same online and BIO features as Madden, NCAA is the king of college games this year. It's been out for a week or so now, and rest assured, that NCAA Football is a spectacular football game, which will have no equal this season. The only other NCAA game out there for PS2 is NCAA Gamebreaker, which will be just as feature-laden and improved as Gameday, but unfortunately, NCAA 2004 is so good that I just don't see anyone touching it. What about Sega? Sega decided to not get into the college game this year, thanks to the poor performance and reviews of NCAA College Football 2K3, especially compared to NCAA Football 2003. Most likely they will be back next season, but for now, they're sitting out the season for some more seasoning.
As you can see, the football game quandary is a tough one, with more than enough games staring you in the face for your dollars. Almost all are improved, and none will really be bad games. However, choosing one all depends on your tastes, and that's only solved through playing them and coming to your own decisions. Rest assured though, with such an array of PS2 football games for the 2003 season, you should have no problem finding one that you can play throughout the fall, and up until next year's games start hitting.es on Live worth the effort?
Oh, and ?Janice? did have one last piece of advice she asked me to pass along to you. ?Check the left pocket of your father's bathrobe.? If this is meaningful for you, please, don't write me about it. Honestly, Janis sort of creeps me out and I just don't want to know, okay? Hopefully her advice will have you hosting mondo Ghost Recon matches on Live soon.