Madden Football 64
Just prior to Acclaim's launch of Quarterback Club, disgruntled EA Sports reps accused the software publishers of sending out doctored screenshots, dismissing the loudly trumpeted hires mode of the title as unworkable nonsense. This ironically unsportsmanlike behaviour would appear to have held little sway with the public, who turned Quarterback Club into a best-seller on its American release, obviously convinced that Acclaim could deliver a fresh spin on the sport so close to EA's heart.
It's hardly surprising that EA Sports should behave in such a fashion, however. They had, after all, almost single handedly mined this monster sport for over a decade across every conceivable console format, achieving the impossible by converting foreign territories such as the UK to the notoriously complex sport, creating a minor revolution on the Mega Drive, and again, many years later, encouraging a similar rush of enthusiasm on the new 32-bit 3DO system, where their radically updated Madden title redefined the possibilities of sports sims. The (hoped) virgin turf of the N64 offered EA their greatest challenge yet, and potentially their greatest success. But the development was plagued by mishaps, from losing the official NFL team licence (to Acclaim), to inevitably rushed production in response to Acclaim's much vaunted crown stealer, and set against this development hell, was the increasing pressure to show the world that EA Sports could get a handle on the next generation of software, their once legendary brand name besmirched by the bewilderingly bad FIFA 64. Truly, EA Sports were facing a serious fumble on the ball.
The Eyes Have It
Rumours of deadline cutting immediately appear not to be exaggerated. The game opens with the traditional plethora of options available, but presentation is brusque, and once the host of unfriendly menus has been waded through, the camera cuts and drops to the stadium with little fanfare or enthusiasm for the coin toss. As the teams jostle to their haunches, the suspicion that Acclaim have delivered a deathblow to Madden 64 rings loud, for whilst the well defined 3-D models that have replaced the sprites of old are well constructed and convincingly animated (humiliating this year's PlayStation Madden license), set against the extraordinary hi-res visuals of Quarterback Club, designed using Iguana's Turok engine, Madden 64 looks miserably old-fashioned and dull. The primary mission of EA Sports, to deliver cutting edge translations of their franchise for each host console has, it appears, already failed, spectacularly.
Play the game a while, however, and this sense of disappointment gradually subsides. Pleasingly, actual player animations are far better than the Acclaim title, which has been accused of looking gorgeous right up until the snap. Madden's players sprint and leap with incredible gusto, and whilst some of the inbetweening animation (linking running routines to jumps or tumbles) is occasionally jagged, the overall impression is more than convincing. More so than any other sports title around (even Konami's ISS 64), Madden 64 truly persuades you that you're in control of a team of individual sportsmen, each with recognisable features and personalities (in so much as football players tend to behave like they're in panto down the pier) and this is a crucial battle to win, especially for novices to the game struggling to apply the seemingly abstract series of plays to their teams.
Enthusiasm is bolstered further when you start to fiddle around with the clumsily hidden options. Set the camera to moderate close-up instead of the default Madden view, and the view obligingly drops lower and closer to the action, affording you a much greater appreciation of the quality of the players and in turn an amplification of atmosphere and event. True, it's trickier to pick out your receivers with more flashy views selected, but for running plays, such intimacy delivers a much more rewarding sense of excitement as your player punches through the crunching battlefield, and assures you once and for all that you're playing a next generation videogame, with every sacking by the opponent providing an infinitely greater shock to the system (enhanced further by the Rumble Pak if it's plugged in).
Even better is the head cam, which delivers the most extraordinary trump card in Madden's graphics arsenal. You can choose to look at the play from any of your team's eyes, but take control of the quarterback for a guaranteed visceral delight. Hunched right up, your head swinging from side to side, you hold the trigger to identify your runners and receivers, then the snap is made and the ball flies to your hands. If you've made the right play, the opponents will all be taken out, and you can step back to peer at your receivers breaking off to their marks, waiting until the last second before making the throw. It's simply extraordinary to watch and even better to play, and whilst impractical for many tactics, where an awareness of the whole field is essential, for certain plays this head-cam is an absolute must, and delivers an immersive 'virtua' experience that's utterly unique. It's only three years since the 3DO console was trying this quarterback POV format with crudely cut and spliced live action FMV sequences, the game offering a glimpse of how much fun playing from behind the quarterback's eyes could be. Now, Madden 64 has the ambition and the game engine to pull it off, and sports titles have been nudged forward again.
The Rules Of Attraction
While the brilliant camera options seriously alter the way the game can be played, the tried and tested AI routines that EA have been refining for the last decade reach their zenith with this translation. The Achilles heel of almost every sports simulation is inevitably reached when the user discovers holes in the computer's intelligence, and the illusion of real competition is dashed, but EA's Liquid AI system provides arguably the most sophisticated computer opponents yet seen in a sports sim. Even on the easiest of the three skill settings, computer controlled teams will adapt to and punish repetitive play, which can be disheartening for the novice. Selecting the All-Madden team to play against rank outsiders, my game was utterly devastated by fiercely aggressive tactics, glorious long passes soon forgotten as defenders rushed to block my receivers with ferocious enthusiasm, interceptions and turnarounds savaging my strategy at regular intervals. More than any previous Madden game, I found myself scrutinising the play moves to locate some new way of penetrating the defence, rather than falling back on two or three favourite moves that might previously have guaranteed success, and I can't remember a more hard fought or absorbing match against a computer controlled team.
Enhancing further this extraordinary gameplay is the sense of realism afforded by the host machine, which allows a degree of finesse and control on the field previously unmatched. When you're trying to block or catch the ball, you can see the whole player's body contorted in a mid-air reach, fingertips straining as you grasp those final inches - there's never any quibbles over computer error or dodgy collision sabotaging play. The game play engine, the very heart of the game is utterly faultless, and the only problem is learning to use it to your own advantage, which makes the occasional inadequacies in presentation all the more irritating. The truly terrible sound almost makes you pine for a 32-bit CD based machine, and the commentary (by Pat Summerall) and quips from Madden himself prove mostly worthless.
This overall sense of haste in the presentation of the game is a real shame, as the buzz of the real sport is its refreshingly direct blend of organised, testosterone charged violence, acute intelligence, Machiavellian managers, cheery chauvinism (the cheerleaders, the locker room vices) and big money, little word, larger than life players. Madden 64 is so wrapped up in its blitz, it forgets the glitz, which is a real shame, as American football is as much a cultural phenomenon as a sport, and with the power of the N64, EA had a real opportunity to deliver something more than just a sports sim, essential if they're to draw in videogame players from a wider spectrum.
Nevertheless, Madden 64 is the most absorbing and realistic rendition of this great sport to date, and whether you're a fan or just have a cursory knowledge of the game (and the enthusiasm to learn), this incredible simulation will keeps you engrossed for an absolute age. With any luck (and longer schedules), the 1998 update will address some of the more superficial deficiencies in the title, but until then, Madden 64 easily intercepts Acclaim's more showy title to take the crown of ultimate American football game.
Madden Football 64 DownloadsMadden Football 64 download
The portly Shatner lookalike puts his name to a decent American football game, but it loses out visually to the hires Quarterback Club.
The Madden series' first outing on the N64 is as fantastic as ever. In fact, probably the best version of the game so far.
Within three days of each other late last October, the first two football games for the Nintendo 64 were released: Madden 64 and NFL Quarterback Club 98. Now everyone is asking, "which one is better?" You've probably endured lots of hype and opinions on this subject from several different sources, including game mags, Web sites, billboards, commercials, and more. I'm here to give you the facts about Madden 64, and let YOU decide which game is more enjoyable. I've played them both, and it's a very tough call.
On the surface Madden 64 appears to be a simple upgrade to the long line of Madden football games released on other game platforms over the years, but when you truly get into this N64 version, you might find a little more than you expected.
Madden 64, a one- to four-player game, is an interactive football simulation where you are in control of the entire pro football team of your choice. You call all the plays, and watch the computer execute them, or you can take control of the quarterback, carrier, or receiver in action and go for the yardage on your own. John Madden and Pat Summerall are your announcers that provide play-by-play commentary during the game.
John Madden has practically become synonymous with football; if you're a big football fan you probably know who he is. His "Maddenisms" are his trademark, and this game is full of them. Usually his comments are normal, like "Oooh, that guy took a big hit," or "He didn't even see that one coming." I had to laugh the first time I heard him say "That guy could rent himself out as a bulldozer during the off-season!" At first I thought these comments would be annoying, but now I think the game needs more commentary, to make it feel more like a real football game on TV.
The different gameplay modes are Exhibition, Season, Custom Season, Tournament, and Fantasy Draft. In Exhibition mode you choose the teams and watch the computer vs. computer, a great way to get a feel for the game. For hands-on gameplay choose the Season, Tournament or Draft mode, pick a team and begin the road to the championship. You can customize the season and even assemble the perfect team of your choice from over 1500 players, all names from the official 1997 National Football League Players Association roster.
All the teams have "city" names only, like Green Bay, Foxboro, Washington, and Indianapolis, with the mascot names and logos left off. Most of the jersey colors are accurate, but a few are different than what they should be. SIDE NOTE: This official NFL licensing agreement is really a bummer, we (the gamers) are the ones that ultimately lose out on this deal.
The customization features are very extensive in this game. You can set the skill level, music volume, penalty levels, and more. And you can also toggle other options like injuries, fatigue, substitutions, trading deadlines, and salary cap.
The "Liquid A.I." (Artificial Intelligence) is the core of this game, and it's the best of its kind to date. Gone are the mindless robotic drones like in other football games that only run at straight angles, tackle shadows, or simply ignore you until you enter their quadrant. Now the players act much more like humans would, reacting to changes in the current play, and adjusting their assignment if necessary. If you call an audible or change your running pattern, the defense will pick up on the action and react to it more instinctively. The A.I. will even notice if you start to run the same play a lot or tend to pass to the same receiver -- the defense will start using double or even triple coverage on your favorite receiver if it detects a pattern.
Of course it always looks like there's triple coverage on every pass, because the players seem to move slightly faster than the ball. By the time the ball gets to your receiver, at least three defenders are right on top of him. If you do catch the pass, you won't get much yardage after that unless you're way out in the open. Two or three yards is the average, not very realistic to me.
The A.I. is nearly perfect -- the best I've seen -- but it's still got serious problems. One problem is that the pass defenders still seem to be reacting mainly to wherever the ball is at, jumping blindly to block a pass, and running to wherever the ball lands, and standing on top of it. A real cornerback would react to where the ball isheaded, and go after the interception. At least the penalties are not randomly generated. If your quarterback is in trouble, that's when there's a good chance your team will be called on a holding penalty. A pass interference call is more likely to occur if a receiver is wide open. The developers of the A.I. for Madden 64 have really utilized the 64-bit platform, but there's plenty of room for improvement.
The controls can be tricky, mainly because like most sports games, there are so many options to consider at any given moment. On offense for instance, the A button is used to snap the ball, lunge for extra yards on a run play, call up the receivers list on a pass, throw to your receiver labelled "A", and switch to that receiver to control him for the catch. Then on defense there's a whole new set of considerations. The good thing is that the computer can automatically perform the plays you select if you let it, so the controls are not so overwhelming at first, and they will get easier once you learn them. Better learn how to do the stiff-arm and spin move, and also learn to dive for those extra few yards on a run.
Madden 64 is both Rumble Pak and Controller Pak compatible, as I believe all N64 games should be. The music in the game is better than average, with most of it heard during the Intro and the set-up screens. The grunts and barks of the players are there too, along with the constant sound of the stirring crowd, which occasionally cheers during the better plays, or maybe chants "Dee-Fense". Sometimes the crowd noise really enhances gameplay.
The developers at Tiburon used 3D polygon animation for this version of Madden, and it looks good most of the time. The action is fast and relatively smooth, but the players still look grainy and a little stiff (compared to humans). It's good that the players move and react quickly, but the pixilated graphics are definitely a problem they need to fix for the next version of Madden.
The 30 authentic 3D stadiums are well detailed, and always packed (does everyone have season tickets?). The optional weather effects are nice, but the changes are far from realistic. One minute it's pouring down rain and the next it's dry. There's never just a drizzle.
One really nice feature is the eight different camera views available for gameplay. Madden Cam, Classic Madden Cam, Sideline View, and more. The Helmet Cam option is the coolest -- now you get to really see what it's like to be in the game from the players' point-of-view. It's a great alternative, but I recommend it for experts only. It's already difficult enough to control your guys from the overhead views. Try running an Exhibition, and checking out all the different views there.
Probably the best option in Madden 64 is the fully controllable instant replay. Now you're the camera master, zooming in, out and all around the field, controlling the replay with fast-forward, pause, slow-motion and rewind options. If only this close-up on-the-fly camera was available for REAL football games! The camera can basically hover anywhere on the field, from the sidelines all the way to the pocket and straight up overhead. Don't get too close, or you might really start to hate the grainy look of the players. You can choose the replay option yourself at any time, or sometimes the computer will show it automatically, like after a really good reception.
The Intro you see when you first turn on Madden 64 is amazing, much like the effects you might see before a game on the Fox TV Network. This whole game is designed to be a good visual experience combined with a really good and intuitive gameplay experience.
I believe that Madden 64 would be the best football game on the N64 if it had the NFL licensed teams and logos. You may not think it's important, but it really is, since most people have favorite teams, not just favorite players. The speed is good, gameplay is solid and intuitive, and it's a great show from beginning to end. It could use more personality, like plays specialized for each specific team and a lot more action between the plays (hey, look at all the statues!), but almost every sports game could use more spirit. If you're a football gamer that wants a great show along with a realistic football playing experience, you won't be disappointed here.
It's easy to look at both Madden 64 and NFL QBClub 98 and think one game is better than the other. I strongly recommend renting both of them at the same time if you truly want to be objective and judge them both fairly. Everyone I know that's tried them both likes the first one they play better than the second, which is understandable. Both games are very good in their own way, so it all comes down to personal preference. I think that the next generation of football games will be the true test for superiority.
Look for the Playstation and Saturn versions too, titled Madden 98, with all the NFL licensing rights but with 2D graphics, a little less speed, and only a two-player capability.
PROS: Intelligent A.I.; Fast action; Good commentary; Helmet cam option
CONS: No NFL team logos; Grainy graphics; Needs updated and more specialized plays
Overall score: 81