For Mac users, sports games have traditionally consisted of little more than an empty void. By the time computers became powerful enough to match the graphics and performance of dedicated gaming consoles virtually every gaming company in general had given the platform up for dead. Not since 1989 when the original John Madden Football debuted for the Apple II have Apple fans had a chance to write home about a hot, new sports game. Until now. Thanks to the folks at Aspyr Media who ported the game, Madden 2000, one of the most acclaimed games in Electronic Arts' impressive sports lineup, has made it to the Mac.
During its ten years, the Madden series has become the most recognized football game on the market, spanning nearly a dozen consoles with a new version released every year. And every year Electronic Arts successfully finds a way to improve the game, be it with major new features such as the 3D graphics the game received a few years ago or the general overhaul that was given last year, or the smaller refinements that are found in Madden 2000. Of course, for Mac users it's all new.
Madden 2000 aims to blow your socks off, and succeeds in doing so, the moment the application is launched. An impressive introduction filled with footage of incredible plays coupled with an invigorating soundtrack leads you to the game's main interface. The game's interface is clearly designed with consoles in mind, making it easier in fact to navigate the options with a keyboard or gamepad than with the white game cursor.
A wealth of game options are available from playing a more action-packed arcade game to carrying a team through several seasons, drafting and trading players while trying to reach the Super Bowl. Everything in Madden 2000 is about realism, from the 200+ teams past and present to the careful construction of every stadium in the NFL, it's certain that you've never seen a game put this much effort into accuracy.
All this realism takes an enormous toll on your hardware; even the recommended requirements are a little modest. A relatively slow, first generation G3 that doesn't sport upgraded graphics hardware, bondi blue iMacs included, will have trouble playing the game even with the graphics quality set at low. The RagePro graphics chipset, found in first generation, fruit-colored iMacs and PowerBooks, does an acceptable job with the graphics quality and the faster (266-300+ MHz) chips in those machines will be able to keep up nicely. A sizable amount of RAM is also needed, and the minimum requirement of 32 MB is laughable. You'll want at least 96 MB if you don't want to turn on virtual memory, which hinders performance. If you're running the latest hardware, basically any G3 system with a Rage 128 or Voodoo 2 or 3 (Voodoo 1 performance is showing its age with Madden 2000) your eyes are in for a visual treat: stunning, fluid 3D graphics that you have to see. [Screenshots show the game as running on a PowerBook G3/400 with RagePro graphics; Rage 128 shots will be added soon.]
While the game's manual is on the brief side, it shouldn't take too long to get a hang of the game, especially if you have played previous versions of Madden. That's not to say that game will become easy, just that you'll be able to get some yards on offense and be able to force your opponent to punt or kick a field goal on defense at least a couple times a game.
Madden 2000 sports hundreds of plays in several different formations. If you're not familiar with the game of football you'll have an incredibly hard time figuring out what play to run, but if you can at least understand the basics of the formations, the plays available, especially on defense, soon take on the appearance of being incredibly similar.
Moving the ball up the field on offense is the game's biggest challenge. The running game is impressive, but the sheer number of different moves needed to break through the line is often too much to gain more than a couple yards, and frequently will amount to a loss in yardage. Sweeps and tosses are by far the most effective running plays, with a single, well timed spin move sometimes being all it takes to run the length of the field.
If you're going for the big yards, you'll have to turn to the passing game, something that takes time, patience, and luck to become adept with. After you snap the ball, press the snap button again to bring up your receivers. The camera angle pans out so that all the receivers can fit on the screen, and the letter or number underneath each receiver corresponds to the key or button you should press to pass it to that one. The offensive lines are relatively weak and do a poor job protecting the quarterback, meaning that not only do you have only a few short seconds to eye an open receiver, but you'll usually have to drop back a good ten yards to avoid the sack.
Interceptions are also thrown with far more frequency than usually found in football games, especially when the computer is on defense. Throw the ball to well-covered receiver, especially when he's double or triple teamed, and your asking for trouble. While this is certainly realistic, it's also very frustrating given the unrealistically short time you usually have to find an open receiver.
Despite these few annoyances, the offensive game in Madden 2000 is not only realistic, but also a blast to play. While not as refined as the defensive game, you'll always smile when you win the coin toss and can immediately start trying for the touchdown.
Until you master the defensive game, you'll find yourself basically running linesman towards the quarterback or running backs while pressing a variety of keys, trying for the tackle. The real challenge comes on passing plays; if you choose to switch control of the defender closest to the intended receiver, be sure you can accurately control where he runs so as to break up the play, otherwise you'll be sure to make your opponent very happy.
You should also pay careful attention to delivering any hits after the play has stopped, or the referee will gladly throw his yellow flag and call a personal foul on the offending player. Fans of the game NFL Blitz will find this especially hard to resist at first.
Kicking and punting are perhaps the games biggest flaws, and that alone should tell you how good the game as a whole is. While the actual movements are incredibly accurate and impressive, setting up that perfect kick takes a bit of guesswork. A meter controls the power the kick; press the button to start it then press it again to stop it. Unfortunately, by the time you press the button the first time the meter goes from full power to no power, and if you wait for it to go back up and down a few more times you'll automatically kick the ball at a poor power setting. I found tapping the button again almost immediately after tapping it the first time was the easiest way to ensure a nice kick. You can also adjust the direction of the kick with the left and right keys, although anything more than a small nudge will send the ball out of bounds, and on a kickoff that amounts to a penalty for illegal procedure.
Madden 2000 boasts impressive audio as well, including play by play commentary that, apart from the short pause before speaking a team's name, is very well done. John Madden contributes his own wisdom of the game after some plays, and while it can be helpful at first, after just a couple games you'll have heard everything he says, which can often be downright annoying.
Madden 2000 for Mac doesn't support madden.net, a server for multiplayer games, but you can set up your own games on a network or over TCP/IP. Performance over a 56k modem was impressive to say the least, although as with all multiplayer games you'll be better off on a local network or a high-speed internet connection. While the game doesn't offer quite the same enjoyment as sitting down with your friends in front of a big screen TV, it does offer the obvious perk of being able to play across the globe. Not to mention that you should be able to find someone to play with little difficulty, thanks in part to the game being supported by GameRanger.
Madden 2000 is an ensemble of stunning graphics and realistic gameplay that will impress any sports fan. For Mac users, Madden 2000 also represents more than a great football game; it marks the first time in recent history that any sports title of any magnitude has found its way to the platform. We can only hope that this just a small glimpse of what's to come.