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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

 

 


    

 

 

 

989 Sportsí latest football title, NFL GameDay 2003 represents a significant improvement from last yearís edition. The most dramatic changes come in the visuals, which are much crisper than in previous titles. A deeper playbook and better AI also improve things dramatically. This is also the first in the GameDay to enable online play and it features more extensive stats and a robust General Manager mode which increases the depth and replay value dramatically. The changes are big but are they enough to finally bring the series to the elite level? The Laser hits the gridiron to see if 989 has finally scored another touch-down.

For the past few years, while EA and Sega have battled it out to be considered the best in the business, Sonyís 989 Sports division has always seemed to bring up the rear. However, things have made a dramatic turnaround with this yearís installment, which goes a long way towards closing the gap. Gameday has an extensive depth to it includes complete player rosters, editable and downloadable stats, an excellent General Manager mode plus the inclusion of online play. All of this makes for a deeper and more challenging football game. The graphics engine has also been completely overhauled and gives the game a much better appearance overall, though it still appears a little choppy in spots. Players should find playing defense much easier in the game. While the passing system is decent, the controls are annoyingly hard to master. Even though the stringers have icons above them, itís still hard to see where theyíre at on the field. This leads to frequent missed catches and intercepts, which would succeed in other games. Another big problem lies in defense, where the receivers can easily outrun your defense, no matter what the stats say. It makes for higher scoring games, but isnít as realistic as it could be.

In addition to the new features, GameDay 2003ís on-field gameplay has also undergone a significant revamp, and the deeper playbooks, better AI and new modes of play add plenty of depth to the experience, though they donít completely fix all the gameís problems. There are different camera angles, though the game lacks the variety that other titles offer. Player models look significantly better than they have in previous games. This is especially true in the close-ups and replays which showcase a variety of new animations. 989 put a lot of work into the game with more than 70 different motion captured tackling animations alone. To help you revel in all the new details and realism, thereís a more sophisticated replay mode. Thereís some music, but it can be turned off, which is a big plus. Play-by-play announcers also add to the experience and create an aura of authenticity around the experience, though their commentary can get a little tedious and repetitive the longer you play.

Another major problem that makes the game less enjoyable is that GameDayís interface is a bit clunky, requiring you to go through 2 steps when calling plays and selecting formations. The menus appear muddy and the playbook is hard to read which makes calling formations that much more difficult. The play you choose isnít highlighted, so you never know if you successfully chose the right one. This means that youíll select the wrong play if you push the wrong button, which can be very frustrating. On the other hand, once you get used to the system, itís not too terrible.

Once youíre on the field, the main concern you have is moving the ball, itís not as easy as it seems since the computer AI is quite aggressive, and makes your life difficult, especially at the higher difficulty settings. You can also adjust the aggressiveness of the AI, though why anyone would want to play at the simplest levels is a mystery. GameDay has a decent flow and the matches move along at a decent pace. While GameDayís speed can be adjusted, the default mode should suit most players just fine. GameDayís pace is generally quicker than Madden, but a tad slower than Segaís NFL 2K1. There are some areas, such as the player movement and reaction speed that seem a little bit less polished, and the game just doesnít offer the depth of plays that the gameís rivals have. However, the feel of the controls and plays is very good and there are other features that make up for these deficiencies.

Players who want to go beyond the action on the field have plenty of options. GameDayís General Manager mode is Gamedayís simulation area. Here, you are in control of the team and can build one from scratch over 20 seasons. This allows you to control the team roster from the front office, but you also have to watch your budget and avoid the dreaded salary cap. Signing free agents is another integral task, and you can also negotiate with players with expired contracts, though the decision whether to renew is your call, but remember that you can trade for new ones as the season wears on. Another option at your disposal is to create your own player, and these can be customized to your liking with names, numbers and appearance. You can also edit the team uniforms and sell off players who donít fit your roster. Speaking of interactivity, another cool feature allows you to copy and use players from 989ís college-level NCAA GameBreaker football title, which can expand your universe of potential players even farther.

Aside from the standard gameplay variations, Gamedayís most significant new element is its online support. Before you begin, you have to undergo a relatively painless registration process, which went very smoothly. Once connected, you enter the GameDay Lobby. Here you can chat with other players, and challenge the others online. The lobby is nicely designed and getting online to play is a snap because both Dial-up and Broadband connections are supported with distinct indicators on each. The gameplay here is smooth and easy to learn and suffers little from lag during broadband play. Once youíve completed an online game, you can save the game and stats and check your position out in the leader board, which make things even more competitive. GameDay 2003ís online component is generally well-done and is another great feature that adds to the experience.

Taking all the positives and negatives into consideration, on balance this is the most promising GameDay since its early years on the PS1. The 2003 edition is a decent update to the series with a vastly improved graphics engine with much-improved player animation and motion that finally harnesses the PS2, with improved character models that heightens the realism. While the menu interface makes play-calling an unnecessarily difficult task, GameDayís on-field controls are otherwise quite decent. Even though some serious strides have been made, Itís doesnít have the production values that other titles do. However, the online component is solid and makes things much more challenging and competitive than single player modes do. While itís still a little behind itís rivals in terms of gameplay and depth, this is a solid installment that shows 989 is definitely closing the gap.





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