Review by Shady

Reviewed: 01/02/02 | Updated: 01/02/02

One step forward, one step back

Football is a strategic sport. A quarterback just can't go out there and mindlessly throw 50 yard bombs to his receivers; instead the quarterback and the coaches must carefully decide which plays to call during the game. No football game series out there realistically captures the strategic game of football better than EA Sports' Madden. Madden 2001 is part of that series, and while it does have a few setbacks, the game delivers on most accounts for both casual and hardcore football fans.

If you have ever played Madden 2000 you will notice many differences between that and 2001 right away. For one, the menus are much easier to navigate through. While 2000's was not difficult to go through, Madden 2001 made it even better and more user friendly. Another difference between the two versions is the coach commentary during the game. When a team commits a penalty, the head coach will make a remark to his team such as ''C'mon guys! Let's go, let's go!'' Also new that's related to the sound is the addition of Leslie Visser, the game's half time reporter. Several more minor changes can be found during play, although most of them are not of any real significance.

Madden 2001 features the usual game modes - exhibition, season, franchise, custom league, tournament, practice, and situation, as well as a brand new 'two minute drill' mode. Exhibition mode is of course just a regular game of football, with no added stipulations of saving stats or anything found in the other modes. Season mode allows you to play a regular season in the NFL, with your team of choice. Franchise mode allows you to play through up to 30 consecutive seasons (more on that later). Custom league permits you to make a customized season that you normally couldn't do in the franchise or season modes. Practice mode is self explanatory, as it lets you practice using a playbook from any of the 31 NFL teams. Tournament mode allows you to play a four, eight, or sixteen team tournament with either single or double elimination rules. Situation mode allows you to make your own 'situation' where you start the game at any point with any stipulations you like. This particular mode also lets you play several of the greatest games in NFL history to see if you can be successful in a tough situation. Each of these modes are worthy of anyone's play time, and with so many choices there is bound to be something for everyone.

The new two minute drill mode is a nice little addition to the game. In it, you pick a team and try to score as many points possible within two minutes. You are given the ball at your own twenty yard line with three timeouts. Successfully pull off a touchdown or a field goal and you get to do it all over again with whatever time is left on the clock. Besides points for scoring a touchdown or kicking a field goal, you can get more points with the little bonuses found in the mode. These bonuses include such tasks as getting a first down and running out of bounds to stop the clock. The two minute drill mode ends when you run out of time or you turn over the football. This new mode is no doubt a fun arcade diversion from the main game modes.

Speaking of the main game modes, franchise mode is definitely the biggest one of them all. In this mode, you create a head coach and go through up to 30 consecutive football seasons while making moves that normally only a general manager would do (sign free agents, trade players, draft rookies, etc.) The best part of the franchise mode is the fact that you can get fired if you lose too many games or don't meet up to the owner's playoff expectations. For example, in one of my franchises I signed with the Detroit Lions. In year one, the team went 6-10 (I simmed all of the games). In year 2, they went 8-8. I received a stern warning from the owner about possibly getting fired, but he decided to give me one more chance. In year three, the team went 10-6 but lost in the first round of the playoffs. I was fired as head coach shortly after; apparently I did not meet the owner's playoff expectations. I signed with the St. Louis Rams the next year and didn't do very well either (I was still simming the games). I was fired again and it took me a while to find a team that wanted a below .500 coach such as myself. Needless to say, the whole coaching idea could very well be a mini-game in itself.

A new addition to the franchise mode is the option of going through a preseason. Four games take place during preseason in which you can see how your second string players and how good your rookies are. After the preseason is over, you can find out how well your players progressed during the games. Usually the progression only puts a player's stats one or two points higher at most, but most of the time they never get really good. It can become quite irritating to have a 67 overall rookie running back have an amazing 1500+ yard season with 20+ touchdowns, but only to have him gain a couple extra points. You would think that having a career year would raise your stock a lot more than that, but apparently that is not the case in Madden 2001. While that is only a minor problem, it is still a problem nonetheless.

New to Madden 2001 is the addition of 'Madden Cards', a mini-game of sorts that allows you to unlock football legends, cheat codes, and even improved stats for current players. The whole football cards idea is a spin-off of 2000's 'Madden Challenge' mode, in which you have to perform certain tasks during a game. Like the challenge, there are five levels of tasks that you can work at. The first level features very easy goals such as kicking a 45 yard field goal or sacking the other team's quarterback. The fifth level, however, contains much harder goals like returning a punt or kickoff for a touchdown. When you successfully complete any of the tasks, you are given tokens as a reward. The tokens in turn are used to buy the Madden Cards. With over 250 total cards, the Madden Cards mini-game never gets old.

Even with close to a dozen different modes, Madden 2001 is not without problems. The game's two biggest flaws are surprisingly ones that weren't problems in Madden 2000:

Flaw #1 - The game is way too easy. Even on All-Madden mode (the hardest in the game), it is extremely easy to win a game even if you have a below average team. The game's settings can be tweaked to supposedly make the game more challenging, but the tweaking doesn't even appear to help. Let me put it like this - if you lose often in this game, you have no business playing a football game anyway.

Flaw #2 - The computer almost never runs the football. Even with the settings tweaked all the way to 100% run, the computer will still pass the ball on almost every play. The only time the computer will do a running play is if they are winning by two scores or more. Since the game is so easy, the computer winning will be a rarity which in turn means that the running backs will never see action. Just a bit ridiculous, if you ask me...

To top off the problems, the memory card saving system is glitchy. There is nothing that will make a gamer more angry than having an important game save destroyed by the game itself. On my first franchise in the game, I played five or six games with everything working fine. The next time I try to open the file, the game says something like 'Loading failed. Unable to use current memory card.' and it won't let me open the file. While that particular problem could have been caused by the memory card, I still get errors every so often from the game, saying that the file could not be saved. The memory card system in the game is definitely a nuisance.

The controls in the game did not change much at all in the transition from 2000 to 2001. The passing system remains the same 'press X then another button' system used in most other football games. The running game still has the same juke and jive moves, as well as the stiff arm among others. In fact, the only difference I noticed was that the defense has a few more options now such as swatting the ball or attempting to strip the ball from the opponent. The controls are easy to learn and just about anyone can get into the game without much difficulty.

Visually, Madden 2001 is much improved over its predecessors. Animations are much more realistic now; dives no longer take the player ten feet from their original location and now tackling a player actually looks like tackling. There is also more detail added to the player's uniforms and the stadiums. The Buccaneers have their trademark ship in the stands and it fires off cannons every time a Buccaneer scores a touchdown. Collision detection is still a problem though, as players frequently go right through each other. Also, just like every other sports game, the crowd is still 2D and flat. Even with its minor setbacks, the game's graphics are about as good as the Playstation can do.

As for the audio, the game manages to take a step down from 2000. Pat Summerall and John Madden's commentary is much, much worse than before. Repetition is the commentary's biggest flaw; they say the same thing after almost every play. On punt returns, if you get less than ten yards on the return, Pat always says something to the effect of ''Number 82 couldn't get it going there.'' While that seems like an innocent statement in writing, it can really drive you up a wall if you hear it ten times a game! Another step down in the audio department is the background music that plays while browsing through the menus. Instead of 2000's simple instrumental music, EA Sports decided to change that to rap music relating to football and the Madden games. I've heard worse music, but the new songs just....aren't very good. The only good sound in 2001 is the player's sound effects when getting tackled or dodging a defender. The sound effects are much more common and realistic this time around. Still, that can't save the audio from being below average overall.

Make no mistake about it - the Madden series is easily the best football game series out there, but it still has some flaws that need to be taken care of. The lack of challenge and the frequent passing are the two most glaring problems in Madden 2001, but even with those flaws the game is still worth playing thanks to its sheer depth of gameplay. Keep in mind that the game is a year old and the rosters are a bit out of date now. If that doesn't bother you and if you are looking for a good football game for your Playstation game console, then you should try Madden 2001. It's worthy of a purchase.

Best Feature: Madden Cards.
Worst Feature: No challenge; computer has no running game.

Final Analysis:
Graphics 7/10 - improved, better animations
Sound 4/10 - bad music, repetitive commentary, yet good sound effects
Gameplay 7/10 - loads of options and game modes, but too easy
Control 8/10 - the usual Madden fare
Replay Value 8/10 - franchise mode is great for replay value
Challenge 3/10 - not difficult at all, even on All-Madden mode
Overall 7/10

Rating:   3.5 - Good

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