Ah, John Madden ... is there another name that brings so quickly to mind buffalo wings and athlete's foot spray ... and of course, football? EA Sports has enlisted Madden, Pat Summerall and a fair host of other NFL broadcast icons to put together Madden '97, a multimedia football extravaganza that comes as close as any football sim I've seen to replicating the game.
That's not to say it's just like watching the Cowboys and 49ers on the tube on Sunday afternoon, but the physics and sophistication of computerized football have come a long way since the 9-volt Radio Shack handhelds of my youth.
Madden '97 is as fun to look at as it is to play -- EA is the consummate name in computer sports games (although Sierra, Accolade and others give them a run for their money), and Madden '97 shows how well the EA folks understand their audience and the games they replicate.
Unlike some sports titles, EA always manages to get the players' unions and professional leagues to sanction the use of the actual player names, team names, logos, emblems, etc., and this adds a great deal to the game's level of realism. Also, EA does a great job of making good on their motto: "If it's in the game, it's in the game," meaning in a less than Zen way that their games take nothing away from the real turf and athleticism of the pros they've programmed in. Well, not quite, but pretty darn close ... close enough that there are times playing Madden '97 where you'll easily mistake what's on your computer screen for what's on the big screen down at the local pub when you're watching your favorite teams.
To get a sense of how realistic the play is, set the game to "pro" setting and try to wage an uphill battle against one of the powerhouse teams in the league (in "rookie" mode, the game is probably too easy for most players, and scores, individual performances, etc. are grossly inflated. I played Carolina against San Francisco and had a running back gain 431 yards en route to a 73-59 final ... in this mode your scores will look more like NCAA basketball games than NFL contests). In pro mode, the game is quite realistic -- defenses won't bite on the play you snookered them with moments earlier, and the average gain on most running plays and short passes is very accurate. You can play as either coach only, or as player and coach, and can control any player on your team at any time -- it's pretty cool to switch control to your nose tackle and blitz, say, John Elway as he tries to air one out late in the game only to kiss the frozen turf as you make him pay for that pump fake ...
Graphics in Madden '97 are first-rate -- the flying camera angles, the player movements and the rich colors all add up to make this an excellent game visually. Action is smooth with all the details turned on, and the EA folks even allow you to set options for weather, shadows, fans in the stands and on and on. The only area for improvement would be in the actual appearance of a few player moves ... nobody has really managed to get human physics down pat in a football sim and you will notice some instances here where a player leaps or sidesteps in a fairly robotic motion. Not a major flaw, but just something to note.
While you might think that the most a football game would need would be a few grunts, groans and thunks to get by, once you hear the audio in Madden '97 you'll think differently -- they've included lots of ambient stadium sounds, QB audibles (you can actually audible a play change at the line), and a number of pad-popping, helmet-colliding audio effects that really add to the game.
Overall, Madden '97 rates a 90 out of 100 -- a definite recommendation for anybody who even thinks a computer football game might be fun. The graphics, audio and realism are all top notch, and EA has thrown in enough extra touches and customer-friendly considerations to warrant a look. This game should please die-hards and newcomers alike and is extremely easy to learn, but difficult to master -- my kind of game!
People who downloaded Madden NFL 97 have also downloaded:
Madden NFL 2001, Madden Football: Limited Edition, Madden NFL 2000, Madden NFL 2004, Madden NFL 07, Hardball V Enhanced (a.k.a. Hardball 5 Enhanced), Madden NFL 06, NCAA Football 98
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