Madden NFL 98

This an extremely thorough effort that die-hard football gamers are going to love.

Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Tiburon
Genre: Action

Since Sega never bothered to purchase a football game, Saturn armchair quarterbacks don't have much choice for video football gaming this year -- it's Madden or nothing. But unlike last year's Saturn debacle with the better-than-average Madden '97 and horrific NFL '97, this season is much different. The only choice is a great choice.

Madden 98 is more of an "options galore" version of last year's model. There are definite improvements, but don't go looking for a totally new product.

For starters, Madden 98's familiar gameplay gets a facelift with a much improved interface. The players are still sprites, but with the detailed backgrounds - like the polygonal stadium, for instance - the game moves at an impressively smooth rate. True, flat characters are a huge trade-off, but what's offered in the bitmaps are plenty: versatile motions like stiff arms, spins, sidestepping, and more. V-Poly (tm) is the phrase EA Sports has coined for the "technology" used for the player sprites. Uh, yeah...

Passing is just as easy as ever: each receiver has been mapped to a single button on the Saturn pad. Just call a pass play and follow your men. A single tap of the button will send the ball flying to the appropriate receiver. This has been named Touch Passing (tm). Is nothing sacred to the marketing folk?

No. The minds also came up with Liquid AI (tm), a term given to the extremely well-tweaked artificial intelligence of Madden 98. It's going to be hard to find that single play that works time and time again this year -- those computer opponents mean business in the 98 season.

James Brown, Pat Summerall and Madden again bring the illusion of televised coverage to this year's version. Madden and Summerall come up with those clever - yet generic - quips throughout the game, while Brown sits on his cushy in-studio chair to bring you pre- and post-game summaries Fox-style. It's a nice touch that really draws you into the whole football energy.

All 30 teams are fully represented with their NFL logos, real players, and true stadiums. If you've got yourself a couple multiplayer adapters, up to eight of your buddies can huddle around the television for one maniacal football match-up.

And if you've got time to burn, you can trade, create, sign and release players, complete with salary caps. Let's not forget the neat Fantasy Football option where you and your pals can make your own league and take it to the Bowl. This an extremely thorough effort that die-hard football gamers are going to love. Granted, you're going to need a whole memory cartridge for all the modifications you're going to make.

This is an extremely solid sports product. It doesn't really break any new ground, but EA Sports' over half-decade football experience does show itself in Madden 98. Yes, it's a take-it-or-leave-it option, but you'd be crazy to skip it.