NFL Gameday 2002 Review
The NFL GameDay franchise was once at its prime during the 32-bit era, until EA Sports decided to get their acts together and whip out a Madden title that would put other NFL titles on the market to shame. EA succeeded at doing so, as they dethroned NFL GameDay with Madden NFL '99. Fast forward to the next-generation where EA and Sega rule the ball court, and NFL GameDay 2001 (along with NFL Primetime 2002) are the most embarrassing football sims ever. It's no secret that NFL GameDay 2001 for the PS2 was disappointing, no wait, in more appropriate words, it sucked. Terribly atrocious gameplay, lackluster visuals and a glitchy engine kept GameDay 2001 from coming near EA Sports' Madden 2001 title. A while ago, Sony Computer Entertainment announced the acquisition of Red Zone. With this acquisition, Red Zone would be given more tools and support from Sony, in order to make their future GameDay efforts the best possible. It looks like Sony/989 has lived up to its word. While GameDay 2002 does feature a host of improvements, there are still kinks to be worked out, which prevent this game from reaching its full potential.
The visuals are truly better than they ever were. Red Zone has created an all-new game engine for GameDay 2002 to run off of. The differences are quite substantial when compared to last year's debacle. For starters the athletic detail is far more precise than it ever was. The football players are decently built, and do a faithful job of representing their real-life counterparts. At the same time, Red Zone didn't overlook the importance of diverse skin tone colors. Therefore, NFL GameDay 2002 features not only various skin color shades, but has some pretty good facial detail. While unfortunately the manual replay camera doesn't allow you to zoom in on the faces all the way, you can get an up close glimpse sometimes after a big play was made. To be honest, a good majority of the faces don't look as they should, but then there is also a good amount that does. I noticed that the key players tend to have more attention to detail, as opposed to the other athletes. The diversity in the bodies still needs to be broadened, as you'll notice that many linemen look very similar to one another. GameDay's animations are choppy at times, as the transition from a run to a tackle is done instantly. Therefore, key animations are missing, creating a reminiscent feel of the 32-bit GameDay's. In addition to that, the athletes, while substantially better than they once were, still include some blocky areas. The hands are terrible. Think of an action figure with conjoined fingers and an arch - made by the fingertips. The textures aren't as good as they could be, and don't measure up when compared to NFL 2K2. So while GameDay 2002 is visually improved over its predecessor, it still doesn't hold up to Madden or NFL 2K2.
What is unique about NFL GameDay's gameplay is that the AI works cohesively, especially the defense. The defense works together to stop the man with the ball, and by that I'm not just referring to casual tackling. No, no! The opposition will actually double team the ball handler, and make sure he's kissing the grass. For instance, say that one defense men attempts to tackle you, but only makes you stumble, the man he was running along side or near to will finish the job by taking advantage of your vulnerability in order to knock you off your feet. These kinds of things happen -when the chance for it is there- from time to time. Having said that, the AI still needs some work. I found myself progressing on the field using the same formation and play constantly. My qualms with NFL GameDay 2002 aren't as major as they were in 2001. Nevertheless, the game does have a fair share of negatives that need to be mentioned. The tackles, while good looking, are too WWF and NFL Blitz like. Some of the tackle animations include a backdrop and a fireman's carry maneuver. These animations are quite rare in football games, and I understand that Red Zone hopes to achieve a bone crunching experience, but these over the top maneuvers make the game a bit silly, if you ask me. I also have a gripe with the playbook. GameDay's playbook is somewhat slim when compared to NFL 2K2's, or even Madden's. I didn't feel like I had much of a choice as to what to do, so the playbook is a feature I'd like to see expanded on. I still feel like GameDay has many bumps that need to be ironed out. While it has now reached the platform of being a "good" football game, it doesn't come close to being as exceptional as NFL 2K2. As far as gameplay goes, you've got your average gameplay features, nothing that'll blow your socks off. If you want to play GameDay 2002 for the kicks, go out and rent it. Otherwise, the gameplay is average at best.
The commentary is better than your average NFL fare, but once again it doesn't stack up to Sega's pigskin. Dick Enberg and Dan Fouts do a pretty good job for the most part, and are easily some of the best commentators in the profession. While they do have a good deal of interactivity, I just don't feel anything overwhelming present. Then again, don't get me wrong, the commentary isn't bad; it just needs some livelier moments. It's the stadium noises that don't set the tone correctly. Instead of booing when the away team progresses or scores, the stadium just goes silent. For one, I'd like to see some partial stadium cheering from the fans that are not in attendance to cheer for the home team, but just the opposite. The sound is as average as the rest of the package is.
What I've never liked about NFL GameDay are the controls. Unlike Madden or NFL 2K2, you can actually move the recipient of the football around as soon as the QB lets go of it. On occasion I tend to forget about that, and do it subconsciously, only to yell at the TV screen when I drop a given pass. It's an issue I have with the game, and frankly I want to see it removed. On the other hand, GameDay's analog movements have become more precise and more responsive, but not quite measurable to the caliber of those "other" football games. GameDay still controls like the majority of pigskin titles do, so veterans of the series will feel right at home. The running game seems to be intact, with a few bumps and bruises here and there, but the passing game does tend to suffer because of the previously mentioned control issue. All in all, GameDay's not a very complex game to get a grip of.
While this is a change we've all hoped for, unfortunately it's not enough. NFL GameDay 2002 does have some extensive graphical enhancements, a good dosage of gameplay tweaks, and some pretty good commentary, but that doesn't prevent the game from being average. This time around, GameDay is a very playable game, despite its various shortcomings, as many of the glitches have been hammered out. It's obvious that Red Zone tried to put a little more effort into this GameDay, in contrast to the previous, but as the saying goes, "efforts must be doubled", and that is exactly what Red Zone needs to do. Final verdict: it's official; NFL 2K2 is the best sports/football game of the year.
12/17/2001 Arnold Katayev