Players: 1 to 2 Player Game | Release Date: 08/27/03 | Genre: Sports
Last year I was a bit disappointed that NFL GameDay 2003 was not a little more competitive with the other titles. Going back to the drawing board once again, 989 and Red Zone Interactive decided to add plenty of online features, and use a new engine. While the graphics may not be quite on the level with the other football titles on the PlayStation 2, if you can look past this area, you will find a great football game underneath the surface.
Last year, one of the few things GameDay did right was in the online modes. While there weren't a whole lot of people playing online at once, the experience was much better than what was found in NFL Fever 2003 or Madden 2003. This year, 989 and Red Zone Interactive have added a few new tweaks. First, you can connect online even if you are not playing an online game. You can then receive updates on real life college and pro football games and virtual ones happening within the 989 world. This is an excellent feature that mirrors what goes on in TV broadcasts during the real games. This feature will only get more impressive with each release of 989 titles. Since all of the games being released from this point on will have online play, players will soon have a very large network of 989 games they can play and since you only have to register once, it will be very easy to stay involved in the online community. This also means that if you add a particular group of players to your buddy list, you will know when they are online and what 989 Sports title they are playing. If you want to, you can even send them an e-mail or start up a voice chat with them.
Besides these features, players can also create 64 team tournaments, check out player rankings, look at the leaderboards, chat in several different chat rooms using a USB keyboard, virtual keyboard, or voice chat, download roster updates, and keep up to date on any contests that may be going on in the world of 989. Users who have dial-up and broadband can participate in games. However, if you are using dial-up, voice chat will not be available to you and the gameplay may be a bit more laggy. But for broadband players, the game plays very well online.
My only problem with the online features was trying to find another person to play against. There were not many people online during the writing of this review. I think this may be due to the bad reputation the NFL GameDay franchise has made for itself the past several years. Unfortunately for Sony and 989 Sports, a bad reputation can be a little difficult to get rid of. But with the release of the 2004 version, there is not a reason to hide from NFL GameDay anymore. This is a good, solid game with great online features. I feel like as people begin to read reviews stating this, hearing their friends talk about it, and even trying the game out for themselves that they will realize this and there will be a multitude of people online ready to play.
Another great new feature in NFL GameDay 2004 is the pressure sensitive buttons. In the past, it has been possible to tap the button for the specific receiver you are targeting and for him to catch the ball. This won't work in GameDay. If you are throwing into tight coverage and lob the ball, expect to be picked off a lot. However, if you hold down the button for the specific receiver, you will throw the ball much faster. Besides the passing, you can also use the pressure sensitive buttons when running with the ball and on defense. You will probably have to practice a bit to get the hang of it, but after a few games, you will begin to see how much of a difference it makes to the gameplay.
This year, the single player game will allow you to make some plays by using a USB headset. To do this, the player must hold down the R2 button. You can do things like call a time out, hike the ball, send a man in motion, etc. The only problem is that the voice recognition is still a bit buggy. If the game does not understand what are you are trying to do, you will be prompted to quit the game. On top of this, is it easier to hold down a button and say hike or just hit a button to hike the ball? While this does add a lot of reality to the gameplay, I hope they can fine-tune the voice recognition in next year’s version. I probably won't use it much until they perfect it a bit more.
The gameplay is a bit slow. However, you can speed it up a bit in the options. Also, there are some problems with the AI. It is very easy to run the ball--especially when you go right up the middle of the field. And because I am not an expert at what style of defense is best to use, it would have been nice for the developers to throw in a "recommended" play to run. In fact, while we are on the subject, I would love to see a complete change of the playbook. It is rather small and hard to navigate through. In the competitive video game football market, this one blemish can cause a potential player to purchase another game.
Despite these small problems, I am very impressed at what 989 Sports has put together this year. While the graphics and gameplay is not quite as good as some of the other titles on the market, it is very close. The game also plays a lot different than the other titles. Because of this and all of the online features, I recommend taking a look at NFL GameDay 2004. 989 Sports is making a comeback and lets all hope they can carry the momentum into the 2005 version.