Wide World of EA SportsDarren Gladstone
Welcome back, everyone! It’s October, and you know what that means: Madden cover model Ray Lewis is probably nursing that injury he got due to the Madden Cover Curse, Tiger Woods is set to rock the golf world, we hope there isn’t an NHL lockout, and it’s time for some “proper football.” Sharing set space with Wil O’Neal, I’m Darren Gladstone, and this is CGW SportsCenter.
The world leader in PC-sports-game articles written in the month of October
Tonight we’re here to talk about just about the only game left in town: EA Sports. It was only a couple of years ago that everyone wanted a piece of the PC sports pie. Sierra, Microsoft, 3DO—you name it. But EA was the only one strong enough to win the title. But enough jibber-jabber…let’s hit it.
Madden NFL 2005
Madden has been dominating the digital gridiron for almost 14 years, and with the overwhelming lack of competition (both figuratively and literally), it seems that its dominance will no doubt continue. Loath to rest on its laurels, the playbook is changing, and 2005 is the Year of the Hit. The development team has been taking cues from current trends in the NFL, so the game’s defense is getting a makeover. Assistant producer Damion Banks acknowledged as much at a recent press conference, saying, “A good defense is what wins championships.”
How are you going to win one for the Gipper? A controller such as Logitech’s PlayStation-ish Dual Action gamepad is one of the keys to victory. While Coach Banks says that keyboard/mouse players won’t be penalized, they won’t be able to take advantage of this year’s biggest addition: the hit stick. This feature is all about timing and momentum. Get it right and BAM—you’re rewarded with unique tackles (from the 1,000-plus animations) and increased chances of causing a fumble. Screw-ups, however, will leave you with a couple of broken ankles while you retrieve your jock from the turf.
Making better use of the analog stick in this year’s PC version, the enhanced Playmaker feature will allow you to better call the shots on the fly. Defensively, you’ll be able to quickly assign individual man coverage (“locking” on or off a player) or shift back to a zone defense—great for faking out receivers. Offense hasn’t been left out, though. You’ll be able to change formations without changing the play. And that isn’t even going into the fact that you’ll be able to create your own audibles.
Another big deal this year is the ability to instill some situational awareness into your players’ brains. Option plays will have the experienced A.I.-controlled players (let’s say Randy Moss, for example) looking for different routes, while the rookies will more often than not just go long. As for going head-to-head online, Banks says EA doesn’t need Punkbuster. With fair-play settings in place, Banks says there will be fair reporting of cheats and people who punk out of losing matches.
Will you give a rat’s ass about the create-a-fan topless, face-painted, beer-gut-ridden guy you can re-create in the game? Probably not, but close-ups throughout will add flavor and indicate how good or bad you’re doing. What you probably will care about is the career mode, which is dubbed Storyline Central. Using a PDA interface, you keep track of your team, its progress, and the 20,000 different real news stories that can impact your season—and for added flavor, there’s a recorded radio show. The Tony Bruno Show gets real coaches and players to come in and comment on how your team is progressing. You get to keep going until you run the team into the ground. Fail to meet owner expectations and you’re out of a job.
Time to hit the ice, Darren! Last year, the NHL franchise got a few teeth knocked out. Literally. 2004’s game was based entirely on thuggery. With all that focus on hitting and beating the snot out of Tie Domi, I forgot we were supposed to score points to win.
In typical EA fashion, assistant producer Dan Sochan is promising to build on the flash factor with authentic coliseum layouts; six hundred top players remodeled from scratch and given personalities; and more subtle touches, such as seeing the glass shake or shatter. What you’ll notice when you start playing is the focus on finesse and passing. With open-ice support, you’re not locked in to playing as the guy with the puck. So get your lazy ass into position and get yourself open for the pass. When you’re on defense, you can even call out picks. All this, and with the refined skating engine, you’ll have tighter control.
More important, the A.I. idiocy is being squashed. A pro skater knows better than to go offsides over the blue line. So should computer-controlled players. Now they do. Players side-skate by the blue line, and they behave more like their real-life counterparts. Aggressiveness, passing, and shooting biases mean that when you aren’t controlling Darien Hatcher, he’s gonna go looking for trouble (Sochan’s favorite).
Among the single-player modes is a World Cup–type hockey tournament based on the new real-world event. The dynasty mode is even more of a sports RPG than it was last season. Each team has an owner with a unique personality and different goals for each season. As with Madden, you’ve got to meet expectations or get canned. There’s also a risk/reward system for drafting and A Ctrading players. Try low-balling Lemieux one time too many and he’ll be so offended that he’ll never sign with your team. Another unusual addition is a consolelike free-for-all mode. This over-the-top minigame is a half-ice grudge match for scoring and beating up 40 top players in the league. Sochan also let slip that console-PC online multiplayer matches are on tap for 2006. And hey, if there’s a lockout, hockey’s digital version may be the only game in town.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005
Associate producer Rich Rogers teed up for some hushed silence on the green, talking about building the better Tiger traps into this year’s golf game. Continuing the tradition of building up attributes RPG-style, there is a lot to unlock in this game, with GameFace II and the ability to customize your swing.
You’ll be able to take on 15 real tour players on 14 different courses. Play against—and unlock—legends such as Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, and Arnold Palmer. But the real interesting part is making each course even more challenging by “Tiger-proofing” it. Shorten or lengthen the course, tighten the green, raise or lower the elevation—trust us, you’ll be able to make this game a lot tougher if you want. Ultimately, you want to assemble your “dream 18.” Take the 18 most tweaked-out holes from all the courses you’ve unlocked and try to win the Masters.
FIFA Soccer 2005
Wil, who once held down the title for best PC soccer player ever, is ready to go international! While FIFA Soccer 2005 scores points every year, soccer is probably the only category in which EA still has to stare down some tough competition. Most notable is Konami’s Winning Eleven series, which has been winning the console cup and is coming on strong for the PC crowds (see this month’s review of Winning Eleven for more on that).
What could propel FIFA this season is a much-needed quality first-touch play style. While playing, increased sensitivity and a fluid kinetic system are incorporated so that real-world momentum comes into play. Let’s say you’re running downfield and a ball lands. You need to quickly change direction and kick. Your momentum carries you along after you kick, or, if you try forcing a move, your guy will fall flat on his ass.
Plenty of added animations make it feel even more authentic, with plenty of different ball traps and passes. Still, nothing’s better than humiliating and deking out your opponent. And when you aren’t in control of the ball, you’ll still be in control of your teammates by calling tackles or sending teammates down the line. What still needs to be worked on is the A.I. After all, as you’re running downfield, you still have to rely on your team to hear the announcer scream “Goooooooooaaaaaal!” and Wil O’Neal
Fantasy Football Draft
Partnering with Stats, the world’s leading sports information provider, EA Sports is also kicking off a Web-based fantasy football league for the 2004-2005 season. Some of the highlights of what’ll be available: real-time stat coverage, standings and injury reports; weekly predictions; and player news. Teams can even compete for prizes like $20 off EA games and an EA Sports bobblehead trophy.
Ten bucks buys entrance into a public league, while 100 bones lets you be the commissioner of your own league, in which you call the rules and scoring systems for up to 32 team owners. Want to get started? Go to www.easports.com/fantasy. But for the moment, here are Wil’s top picks for the All-O’Neal team.
Ricky Williams DOLPHINS
Like Wil, he cut off his dreads. Oh yeah, he’s also ready for a breakout season.
Tom Brady PATRIOTS
He’s got two rings and model good looks.
Todd Heap RAVENS
He learned quietly under Shannon Sharpe and will factor greatly into the Ravens’ offense.
Terrell Owens EAGLES
TO has attitude, skill, a new team, and tons to prove.
Copyright © 2004 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in Computer Gaming World.