NFL Gameday 2004 Review
Back in 1995, a little hyped game simply called NFL Gameday came along on the original Playstation. NFL Gameday 97 followed in December of 1996. In Gameday 97, Sony and developer 989 studios had a legitimate football game. It featured all of the NFL licensed teams and was seen as the first real challenge to the Madden series on the Playstation. Then came NFL Gameday 98. With Gameday 98, many people felt that Madden had been temporarily dethroned. It featured polygonal graphics for the first time in a Playstation sports game and boasted tight control and good animations. It seemed 989 was on a roll. Gameday 99 while boasting improved graphics, a GM mode, and commentary for the first time in the series, was seen by many as a step backwards in terms of gameplay. NFL Gameday 2000 was an improvement, but seemed to be missing the magic of the 98 version. Gameday 2001 was released on both the Playstation and Playstation 2. While being competent on the PSOne, it was a complete flop on the PS2 and began the downward spiral that Gameday has been in every since.
With NFL Gameday 2004, a genuine hope is created for the future of 989 developed football titles. We'll start with the gameplay. It is a definite improvement over Gameday 2003. Receivers run clean routes, there is some good interaction in the open field with regards to blocking, and the tackling animations are much improved. The overall feel when playing a game is a much more satisfying one than in the previous edition. The controls in Gameday 2004 are a mixed bag; sometimes feeling responsive and sometimes feeling sluggish. When dropping back as the QB, you get the feeling of running in knee-deep mud, and when the QB releases his pass you will notice that the ball seems weightless and floaty most of the time. This "floaty" feeling can be quite annoying and really detracts from the realism. The slow ball travel is almost necessary however, because of the unresponsive and questionable play of the defensive backs. Most of the time, if you don't attempt to manually control the DB closest to the ball, the passes by the CPU will be completed at an unrealistically high clip. There is definitely a feeling of imbalance in the passing game. The running game suffers from this imbalance to an even more serious degree. Breaking long runs with your fullback is a feat not seen very often in the NFL. However in Gameday 2004, it is routine. Running between the tackles insures you 5 + yards 99 percent of the time. It is quite possible to amass 200 yards rushing in a game regularly regardless of the back. A large part of this has to do with poor line interaction. The defensive linemen seem to stick to the offensive linemen at the point of attack, meaning defensive backs make most of the tackles. The linebackers seem to get lost during running plays as well. Even with the sliders adjusted to the hardest levels, running is very easy. Another quirk in Gameday's running game is that the fullback always moves towards the line of scrimmage BEFORE the snap. This is illegal in the NFL and also contributes to the problems with the running game. The fullback moves out to block before the snap, thus opening gaping holes, between the tackles, to run through. Play on the defensive side of the ball is somewhat better, although it still doesn't feel right. Controlling a LB or DB is a must, as Defensive Linemen are almost always a non-factor. That is a problem from a simulation standpoint, especially in today's NFL where defensive linemen are becoming more dominant. You'll notice some questionable play-calling, but it's not too bad. Special teams play is a bright spot, with realistic wedges and seams appearing on kick returns. Also, the kick meter is the best in any NFL game. Lastly, ball physics on tipped balls are really nice, as you'll see quite a few tipped balls whether intercepted or caught by a receiver.
As a single player game, NFL Gameday 2004 doesn't yield much replay value. The online experience however is a different story. Gameday 2004 shines it's brightest online. Featuring a robust online experience that includes the ability to load live weather, tournaments, buddy lists, voice chat, polls and surveys, real time leader boards, a completely cool real-time sports ticker, online message boards, weekly roster updates, via the network adapter, online ranking and stat tracking. This is no doubt the online model that you will see copied in your favorite sports game next year. I can't stress how impressive it is to get real time score updates as you play in both single player and multiplayer modes. I saw the Yankees/Red Sox score, the USC/Auburn score and all of the other happenings of the sports weekend. A huge kudos goes to 989 for this innovative feature. Online, the game runs nearly as smooth as offline, provided you are using a broadband connection.
Play-calling is simple, if not too simple, and doesn't match the depth of other PS2 football titles in terms of number of plays and variations in formation. On offense the playbooks lean towards standard; you won't see many trick plays. Offensively, the game comes off dry; as players don‘t really play like their human counterparts. For example, Mike Vick is every bit the pocket passer in Gameday 2004 as Drew Bledsoe is. On defense it is a little better, with teams such as Atlanta sporting a 3-4 defense instead of the 4-3 used by most NFL teams. You are allowed hot routes and line adjustments. It's a shame that the defensive play calling seems useless at times however, due to the strength of the running game. The online experience is worth a rent alone if you own a network adapter. One notable omission by 989 is the ability to challenge a bad call in single or multiplayer modes -- hopefully next year.
On the features side of the review, Gameday 2004 is fairly well stocked. You have the standard exhibition game (called Preseason), Single Season mode, GM (Franchise mode), 8 or 16 player tournaments, practice, and online play. You can also create a team or create a player. Both of these options are surprisingly robust. The interface is a bit clunky, but manageable. The exhibition mode is self-explanatory, you pick two teams, you control one, the CPU controls the other and you play a game. The season mode is just that, a single season running your desired NFL team. The GM mode allows you to control the team of your choice over multiple seasons. I hate to compare games in a review, but the franchise options are nowhere near the level of Madden's owner mode or even NFL 2K3's franchise. The GM mode in Gameday is a pretty bare bones affair. You have the option to play the week's game, use the play editor, view your rosters and change player equipment, stadium viewer, and a replay viewer fro saved replays. During the season, you can sign and release players to create your 53 man team. Over the course of playing your season, injuries will play a part in your decisions. If a player is injured and you don't have enough players at the position, you will have to release a player at a stocked position and sign a player to take the injured player's place at his position. The injured reserve is nowhere to be found in Gameday 2004.
After the season is over and you have finished post-season play, you move on to player retirements. This feature is pretty cool, because it also lists the reasons for retirement if you highlight a player and hit the X button. Some examples are: wants to try a different sport, off the field injuries, nagging injuries, diminishing skills, to spend more time with family, other off the field interests, and announcer opportunities. This adds a personal touch and is appreciated. After viewing retirement, you head off to FA signings. This area is a bit disappointing, as you only have the option to accept or reject the player's offer without negotiation. If you reject, he is removed from your team and that is that. After you move past the free agent period, you enter the NFL Draft overview. Here is where you will be able to import draft classes from GameBreaker 2004. This overview shows you the overall ratings from each player in the draft, prior to drafting them and there is no individual scouting of players, which I don't like. It also gives their 40 times, height, weight, arm, tackle and hands ratings. After this, you head to the war room, where you get a team overview and the opportunity to trade for draft picks. Then you advance to draft day and you get a no frills draft with available computer generated scouting reports on each player by pressing the Square button. After this, you head back and begin the next season.
On to the graphics and sound we go, and these are honestly the high points of the game. The game supports 480p resolution and allows you to switch from 4:3 perspective to 16:9 widescreen in game. You have 7 camera options while playing. These include classic, quarterback (a favorite of mine), Gameday, multiplayer, sky, sky wide, and defender. Gameday includes every NFL Stadium, as well as several fantasy locales, and every Superbowl stadium from the very first up until the 2006 season, as well as the Pro Bowl Stadium in Hawaii. Also included are "classic" stadiums such as The Vet, Mile High Stadium, Three Rivers Stadium, The Astrodome, The Pontiac Silverdome and others. The fields and stadiums in Gameday 2004 are excellent in terms of detail, lighting, and field textures. The new "field turf" is included in the proper cities and it does look slightly different from the traditional turf. The player models are nicely proportioned for the most part and have nice uniform detail. Facial detail is sorely missing however, as is any alternate uniforms. Little things like dreadlocks and long hair are also missing, while things like QB towels and undershirts are included. Coaches are nicely modeled, but don't quite do the real life coaches justice. A noticeable plus for Gameday is having team specific pro bowl helmets and coaches wearing Hawaiian shirts at the Pro Bowl. The commentary, which is provided by Dick Enberg, Dan Fouts, and Ian Eagle, is very competent and informative. It sounds similar to a CBS afternoon broadcast. The audio also supports Dolby Pro Logic II, which is a nice touch. The replays are done nicely. You get a "key" replay at halftime, at the end of the game and also after big plays. The replay system is very clean and nicely done. The crowd reactions are intelligent, but barely loud enough to be noticed. The menu music is pretty good this year with bands such as Disturbed having songs on Gameday. It is a comparable sound to Madden 2003‘s Trax, but with less wimpy music.
In conclusion, I think that Gameday 2004 is a much better game than any previous PS2 effort, but still falls short of it's competition. If you already own Madden 2004 or ESPN NFL Football I cannot recommend Gameday 2004. However, if you are tired of EA and Sega's representation of NFL football and want an alternative on your PS2, you might find Gameday an enjoyable experience. It provides few single player thrills, but a good online component and feature set, provided you can find enough people with the game to play. Gameday is a vastly improved product that gives hope to former Gameday fans everywhere that 989 and Red Zone Interactive might just give us a real quality football game in the PS2's lifespan.
9/3/2003 Matthew Coe