NFL Gameday 2003 Review
From fame to tragedy, the history of Sony's GameDay franchise can be best told in a "VH1 Behind the Music" format. It was all going good as the GameDay franchise revolutionized football titles, by being the first to feature polygonal player models. It also featured some incredibly deep gameplay, and up until 1999 it conquered the virtual gridiron, toppling EA Sports' constant efforts. But things turned around, EA managed to bust out one incredibly good pigskin title on the PSX that put the Madden franchise back on the top, and above GameDay from there on. Ever since, Sony has yet to recover. They try, but they fail, and in some cases, they've failed miserably. It's just like a recording artist (which would be GameDay in this case) getting completely depressed and picking up on a dangerous and escalating drug addiction. The drug addiction (remember, I'm speaking metaphorically here, so keep up with me) gets so bad that the artist reached near death at a certain time (in this case GameDay 2001 on the PS2). But like the typical Hollywood Cinderella story, the artist enlists into a rehab center, and slowly battles his addiction. Two years pass since the close encounter of death...has the artist fully recovered yet? Not quite, but the progress is definitely apparent.
Visually, the game needs some improvement, but nothing major. The game runs at a silky smooth 60 frames per second, and the motion capturing displayed in the game is wonderful. Looking at the instant replays, and moving through them slowly really shows how well done the motion capturing really is. From time to time, the tackling animation may look a bit jerky, which is a bit annoying, but the tackles themselves are rock solid and are full of force. The facial detail on many of the athletes is excellent, as the close ups will prove. Thus far, every close up I've seen has looked great, and the facial movements are excellent as well. The faces on the football players look incredibly alive, not quite as zombie and as dull-like as Madden's. Of the three pigskin titles, the faces are arguably the best in GameDay; NFL 2K3 comes really close though. The player models themselves seem to be lacking this certain "smooth" and lean look that NFL 2K3 so wonderfully features. Not only that, but the hands of the players almost seem prosthetic. They're just bulky looking, and look downright awkward. GameDay 2003 looks pretty good, but is missing that certain something that makes games like Madden 2003 and NFL 2K3 more appealing to look at.
Upon first receiving my preview copy of NFL GameDay 2003 a while ago, I wasn't exactly too enthused to pop it into my PS2 and play it the second I got it. But I figured 'what the hell'. But after firing it up, my thoughts changed. I initially entered a preseason match. First thing I noticed was that the team selection screen featured very deep team statistic ratings, not just an overall rank for defense, offense and the team altogether. But passing, rushing, receiving, punting, returning and etc. It adds more depth to the game, and gives it the edge over other football titles in the category of team statistics. As soon as the game began, I was greeted with the -always welcome- commentary of Dan Fouts and Dick Enberg, not to mention Ian Eagle (more on the commentary later). While Dan, Ian and Dick were speaking, the game showed players from each team warming up by stretching, taking practice field goal kicks, or practice throws. Finally it came time for the coin flip, and kickoff.
The second the ball fell into the opposition's hands, GameDay 2003 felt like an improved title. This time around, the game is a much better playing pigskin title, than it was the year before. It played smoother, felt more defined, and best of all, played like it stood a chance against Madden 2003 and NFL 2K3. The game's speed falls right in between Madden and NFL 2K, so you're almost getting the best of both worlds, and if you feel like making the action more edgy, just play the game in arcade mode there's a noticeable difference in pace and style. For instance, the AI will be dumbed down, and constant use of passing plays will not punish you, as it would in simulation mode. The running game, and the passing game feels redone. It's not as stale as it once was, but instead much smoother. Receivers will not stop and jump to catch the ball, unless the play requires them to do so. Wide open passes and catches will not be dropped anymore, so that's a worried thought to get rid of. In addition, the AI is pretty good all around, and even on Rookie setting, they'll put up a fight. GameDay's multiplayer facets are quite impressive as well. Up to 8 players can be play simultaneously via two multi-taps, and of course 8-player online gameplay. Online gameplay allows for gamers to put to use their Network Adapters, be it a compatible USB device or the official Sony Network Adapter. The set up is as simple as 1-2-3, and that's no exaggeration. As far online extras are concerned, GameDay features USB keyboard support, much like Madden, for live chatting (read: you f***ing suck!! OMG! lolz! lmao!) use. NFL 2K3, unfortunately, doesn't.
As far as game modes are concerned, GameDay shows off some good depth there. The General Manager mode will take your franchise through 20 seasons. You are the leader of the team, and you have full control. You'll be able to import players from NCAA GameBreaker 2003, control salary caps, make trades, retire players, offer contracts, and offer player to resign and more. The GM mode is a good and deep mode for the hardcore NFL gamers. There's also a nice little play-editor in the game. The rest is very simple, and basic. The pre-season mode, season mode, and tournament need no explanations. But there's still something not right with GameDay 2003. It plays better, but it still feels off, as far as the feel of the game goes. A certain level of player response just makes playing the game a bit odd. GameDay doesn't feel as tight, but it still plays well.
As I mentioned previously, the commentary of Dick Enberg and Dan Fouts was great. The duo quickly pointed out the upcoming game was nothing more than a slaughter match. Specifically they said: "Now one has to wonder what exactly the Seahawks did do deserve this match." "I agree, the Giants clearly hold the advantage here." And they continued to comment and go into a slight statistic comparison between the two teams. Already, before the actual kick off, the commentary was noticeably spectacular, and is quite good, especially when compared to Madden 2003's. The commentary feels very lively, well done, and nicely coordinated. The sound effects are bone crunching, thanks to the gruesome tackle animations that accompany them. Of the three pigskin titles, GameDay is arguably the hardest hitting one, and I like that. Altogether, the sound is fine. I can't say I have many qualms with it.
The controls in GameDay 2003 are decent, but as mentioned they just feel a bit awkward. I don't have the feeling as if I have full control over my player. It just seems a bit off, and loose -- perhaps I've been playing NFL 2K3 too much. Besides that, controlling GameDay is simple. It's just like any other football title, and it even has hot routes this time, so you can make passing changes before the snap. The analog and digital are both fully functionable, as are many USB keyboards, so put that to use when you're playing online. An online match is never quite complete with an "lol", or "lmao!" or "OMFG!" or "roflmao", and so on. So put your chatting etiquette to use, kids. All in all, good controls, with great force feedback, but the lack of feel is somewhat weird.
After much wait, it seems as if the GameDay franchise is slowly picking up pace again. While it doesn't quite hold a candle to NFL 2K3 or Madden 2003, it's certainly recovering and improving. Let's just hope that next year, GameDay will improve twice as much, then we'll most likely have a competitive pigskin title on our hands. The game plays well, and certainly better than the previous two. It also has good depth, replay, and great commentary. The things it's missing are smoother player models and tighter controls, among other small details that I just don't want to nit-pick. It's a good football title, yes, but it still has ways to improve. I can only hope 2004 will be GameDay's true saving grace. As far as NFL GameDay 2003 is concerned; you may want to rent it and see if you enjoy it or not.
8/14/2002 Arnold Katayev