NFL GameDay 2004
Allow me to tell you a story. The year is 1997, Titanic was a box office hit, Simon and Garfunkel had decided to go on their sixty fifth reunion tour and the country was ruled by an adulterer. Yes times were good, so good in fact that 989 Sports was at the forefront of video gaming, especially when it came to pioneering video game technology. For you see, NFL Gameday 98 was the very first pro football game to utilize fully 3D models for its characters. Madden hadn’t done it, Sega hadn’t even thought about making a football game, yet 989 Sports was ahead of the pack, the leader of the class if you will. Then something went wrong, the gaming world made the leap from the PSOne to the PS2 and as it appeared, it was a plunge that 989 was reluctant to make and when it finally was ready, did so in a half-hearted fashion.
That’s right kids, I said that 989 Sports was at the top of the gaming heap. Keyword here? Was.
Now the company is the former shell of itself that you see today. Titles that are dated in both technology and features have become a mainstay of the quintessential 989 Sports title and endless amounts of ridicule tend to result from the kid who decided to pick up GameDay instead of Madden. Oh no, you didn’t want to be that kid, the one who opened up his presents on Christmas Eve and was greeted with a copy of NCAA GameBreaker or MLB.
But you know what? That was the past and as is the case with most things in life the gaming industry is cyclical. What must come up must come down and what went down is bound to come up sooner or later. Now is that time that GameDay has risen again and this latest 2004 iteration of the franchise is that faint glimmer of hope that hardcore 989 Sports mainstays have been looking for. Featuring an entirely revamped set of gameplay physics, newly polished visuals and a more realistic experience, GameDay came to the stadium to play, not ride the pine for the fourth consecutive year.
For starters, this is the most polished entry in the series to date. Sure there are still a few technological glitches here and there but the game finally looks and plays like real football. Less and less can you get away with running “money plays” without the defense picking up on your routines. In most instances the AI will quickly pick up on your schemes and react accordingly to stuff you before your plays can develop. Granted there are still a number of AI hiccups (the Defensive backs definitely did not come to play) but the overall AI is notch up from last year’s game.
Gameday 2004 also features the deepest franchise mode to grace a 989 Sports title to date. It allows you to take the reigns of your favorite team and guide them from relative obscurity to fortune and fame. In my case I took my always disappointing Chargers and transformed them from an 8-8 on the cusp team to a 10-6 Wildcard juggernaut in my first season. Damn straight, them Bengals never knew what hit them. Next season I was in the Super Bowl against the 12-4 Texans, all right, so the game’s not exactly perfect but I’ll take an easy win over Carr and the gang any day. There are some huge problems when it comes to realism in the simulation mechanism as well. I decided to sim four complete seasons and in three of them, the lowly Bengals won their division. Of course in real life the Bungles will most likely finish towards the end of their division like they do every year, Carson Palmer or not.
There are some realism problems when it comes to off the field stuff, but the play on the field has significantly improved. My favorite addition is the categorization of plays that you can call. Let’s say you’re at 3rd and one and you need to call up a short run play. Instead of sifting through the various formations you can press L2 and have the plays categorized by their purpose. Sure enough there’s one called short runs and you can pick one up and rush at your opponents. Same goes for the defensive side of the ball, you can organize plays by pass, run and other various situations. The actual play-calling interface itself is still clunky and requires a bit of work, but this addition is pretty damn sweet.
As I stated earlier there are still too many “big money” plays that you can count on to get you some yardage. In most instances a draw play up the middle will garner you five yards or more depending on your halfback’s tackle breaking statistics. In most instances the wide receivers have a tendency to rid the D’backs a bit too easily, leaving them wide open for the big gain. The air game needs a bit of work too as players who are leaping for catches seem to levitate in midair for an eternity as the play unfolds around them, most of the time while the WR strolls into the endzone for an easy six.
That’s not to say that the realism hasn’t been increased immensely. This is probably the most realism that the series has ever seen. It still doesn’t mimic what we see on our televisions but it seems to be getting closer and closer each year. The presentation is steadily improving, as are the onfield visuals. Last year’s visual debacle has been cleaned up quite a bit and I might even venture to say that I like the quality of animations in Gameday more than the ones in Madden. Don’t get me wrong, Madden still has the better overall visual package, I’m just saying that I like the animations here better.
Perhaps it’s because there’s just much more variety. I loved the various tackling animations which range from unique and varied gang tackles to cool tackles where defenders grab onto the ball carrier’s calf while he tries his best to wiggle loose. Points of contact here have been improved significantly as well and while there are still some huge problems, it’s far better than it has ever been in the past. There are a few subtle touches here, such as the way that a ball carrier will slide on the field as he tries to abruptly change directions. One may mistake this for a juke maneuver but it’s actually just 989’s excellent slow down technology which shows runners slowing down and planting their feet when they want to hastily change directions. It’s about time that 989’s massive motion capture studio paid off.
Where the game still needs work is in the player models themselves. As stated before, I loved the animations but most people may disregard them because of the weak player models that populate the game. They just never look quite right, rather stringy and not what you would expect to see on any given Sunday. The stadiums look pretty weak too and feel too empty. Anyone who has seen a game on television will notice that the sidelines are bustling with life, whether it be players, coaches, security or fans, there’s always something going on. GameDay has tried to mimic this by adding in TV cameras and such but it still feels eerily empty. Some of the textures aren’t up to snuff either, especially in regards to the ones used to represent the turf. It would appear that an entirely new gameplay engine is in order, especially if 989 wants to keep up with the big boys next season.
I have no qualms with Dick Enberg’s commentary. Most of the time it comes out smoothly and the interaction between himself and the color commentators in the booth flows naturally. On most occasions they’ll be right on top of the action and best of all, unlike in Madden, the announcers actually call all of the players by name. None of the stupid “he’s having a great game. I saw him before the game and it seems like he was really prepared to go out there” nonsense. There are a few odd moments of dead-air here and there but it’s expected from a video game commentary track. There are a few problems as well. In the first game of the season Dan Fouts managed to spout out this winner during the pre-game highlights “The Chiefs won’t fool anyone with their run game. Everyone knows their strength is passing.” Ouch, it seems that Mr. Fouts hasn’t been introduced to Mr. Holmes yet.
The rest of the audio comes through rather cleanly thanks to some Dolby Pro Logic II support. Football isn’t exactly the best showcase for a sweet 5.1 setup but the audio techs did a good job of filtering out the audio to the various channels. Audio is frontloaded, that’s for sure, but the rear speakers will get a decent workout from the crowd and stadium ambiance. There is a decent licensed soundtrack as well that plays when you’re navigating around the menus.
Pushing the technological envelope (yes you read that correctly) GameDay allows you to use your own voice to call the shots on the field. Utilizing the SOCOM headset (or whatever USB headset you prefer) you can hike the ball, call an audible, initiate hot routes and position your defensemen. Hell you can even use the voice commands to get you from the front end of the game into the online portion of the game. It’s implementation is definitely gimmicky at best and it has a ton of glitches. Saying wrong commands causes the game to bring up the pause menu for no apparent reason, and some commands just don’t work entirely. Besides, it doesn’t really save you much time, I mean snapping the ball only takes a simple press of the X button, but it’s nice to see that some developers are thinking of new and unique ways of getting players into the game.
Another unique feature is a real life sports ticker that can be implemented into the gameplay. In conjunction with the network adaptor players can receive up-to-date scores on games that are happening in real life. So if you’re worried about missing the Dodgers-Diamondbacks game tomorrow you can have the scores sent to the bottom of your screen in real-time as the game unfurls.
Speaking of online, this is probably where you’ll get the most enjoyment out of the game. 989 Sports is known for having the best online community and that tradition carries over to the ’04 installment of GameDay as well. Players are generally professional and won’t quit on you when they fail on 4th and 32 late in the 2nd quarter. In all of the games that I played online I ran into people who were genuine football fans, not little kids who had nothing better than to squabble their parents’ money on a video game. Thanks to the voice over IP function I was able to chat with likeminded sports fans about the Chargers’ prospects as well as just sports in general.
Even with all of its advancements and improvements the fact of the matter is that GameDay still isn’t a fun game to play. There’s something missing to tie it all together and that missing ingredient is intensity. There’s no sense of urgency, excitement or exhilaration to be had from GameDay. At times it feels like it takes an eternity just to complete one game. I had to struggle to get through an entire season of play and I was hating every moment of it by the end. Towards the waning moments of the season I was just going through the motions, hurriedly picking plays and praying for the game to end as soon as I could. In the other football games I would try to milk every second out of the clock to push out some more scores. With GameDay I’d just let the clock run down in hopes of ending the game as quickly as possible.
It’s not that you should count GameDay out of your list of possibilities when you head down to stores, it’s just that the series is still so far behind the competition that you really have no reason to choose it over Madden or ESPN. Don’t count the series out entirely though, it seems to be headed on the right track and with a few major tweaks, the game could be a serious contender next season.
It's a significant improvement over last year's debacle but it still lags behind the main competition. The series is definitely on the right track but it's still a few tweaks away from being a contender.
Rating: 6.4 Flawed
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.
It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.
It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.
When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."
As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.
When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.
Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile