Troy Aikman Football
from AEO Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 4
||| Troy Aikman Football ||| By: Randy Magruder / | \ CIS: 70720,663 AOL: randyborl ------------------------------------------------------------------ Troy Aikman Football for the Atari Jaguar is finally here. Produced by Williams Entertainment, and developed by Telegames (of Brutal Sports Football fame), the Jaguar version is the long awaited port of the 16-bit versions of the same game. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= //// Standard Features =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= The following are the features which you would expect to see in most any NFL console football game. Following are the standard features available in TAF.  One or two players, as Player or Coach, or Demo mode.  Three modes of play: Pre-season (exhibition), 94-95 season (Aikman for the 16-bit consoles had 93-94 season), custom generated (and editable) season.  FlashRAM backup to store season records and team (not player) stats.  Three skill levels: Rookie, Pro and Veteran.  New rules changes including 2 pt conversion and kickoff from the 30. (When playing 94-95 season.)  Varying quarter lengths: 2, 5, 10 or 15 minutes.  Playing surfaces: Grass, Mud, Dirt, Snow, Rain and Turf.  Multi-game injuries.  Three user-defined offensive plays.  Missing features: NFLPA license, player numbers, individual player ratings. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= //// Special Features =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=  Troy's Analysis: Troy Aikman rates each team by the following positions: quarterback, halfback, fullback, wide receiver, tight end, kicker/punter, offensive line, safety, cornerback, linebacker and defensive line. Players are rated with one to four stars. *=Weak, **=Average, ***=Strong, ****=Outstanding. The ratings for each team are provided in the back of the manual.  Ratings tied to salary: As you might expect from a millionaire quarterback, the quality of a position is directly related to how well you pay your players. Each rating corresponds to a salary range. You may re-allocate money from one position to another, but you take a net loss when doing so, because you are only credited with half the money you took from one position to apply to another. So robbing Peter to pay Paul isn't going to work too well unless you're in real trouble. Also, injuries will often knock off a star. The Miami Dolphins I took to the Super Bowl started out with two star running backs, and were at one star for most of the season anyway because of injuries (sounds ominously familiar to Miami's =real= season!). You do earn money for winning games. The manual suggests waiting until halftime to allocate the money to positions where you might have had injuries, but I always just load up my players at the get-go. Play design: Unlike most other console football games, Troy Aikman Football contains a play editor. You can change your blocking, position your receivers and running backs, change the make-up of the offensive set, assign blocking and pass routes, and even put a man in motion (crossing, or doubling back). You may design up to 3 special plays. As long as you don't power down your Jaguar, your plays are saved. It's a shame this wasn't added to the backup system! I have little patience for re-designing my plays every time I want to play a game. This feature is great if the other team is shutting you down and you need to draw up something that you think will work. Yes, you can edit your plays DURING a game, but it costs you a timeout to do so. Editing is free before the game and at halftime. Computer clock management: Aikman is the first console game (even for the Aikman series!) to automatically accelerate the play clock down to a couple seconds before snap when the computer has the ball. (I've even seen the computer take a delay of game penalty when it couldn't get its play off in time!) This prevents the computer from running an excessive number of plays just because it doesn't use up the play clock. Unfortunately, no option was provided for the user to accelerate the play clock, so you have to either run 2-3 times as many plays as is realistic, or wait to pick your play, or patiently let the clock wind down while you stand there yelling "Hut Hut Hut". Miscellaneous noteable features which set Aikman apart from Brand X: Aikman will let you down the ball in the end zone (what a concept!). You also have a button on the keypad to throw the ball away if you are the quarterback, a button to switch the QB to a runner instead of having him shuffle around back there. You can stiff arm both to the left and to the right using the keypad. This is an addition to the standard buttons, used for juking, spinning, hurdling, a burst of speed, jumping in the air, attempting a catch, and so on. =-=-=-=-=-=-= //// Graphics =-=-=-=-=-=-= Player images: The players are acceptably well drawn, but few colors are used, basically just a couple of base colors and a bit of shading. Don't expect striping or helmets here. There are faint etchings of numbers on the jerseys, and the players do look correctly sized. It's hard to say why these graphics look amateurish in spite of being accurate in many ways. There just appears to be a lack of polish and sizzle to them. But they are okay overall. I just wish more time would have been spent on creating more detail and less blur. Field images: The field comes in grass, turf, snow, mud and dirt. This basically changes just the overall tone of the field. The numbers on the field are chunky and high contrast. Very little (or no) effort went into anti-aliasing the field graphics to make them look more realistic or pleasing to the eye. The pixellated field lines and numbers make the game look very 16-bit in graphic quality. The Jag can do far better than this field. Views and scrolling: The view is a closer view than what you might be used to with the 16-bit softs, and though it makes for bigger, easier-to-see players, you pay for this in not being able to see your wideouts or in not getting a bird's-eye view of the field. It would have been nice to have a panning out view of the action - ala ESPN SNES Sunday Night Football - but no, the view you get is the ONLY view. It's a shame that with the Jaguar's graphic capabilities, nothing more was added in the view options. How about a nice side view, especially for replays? How about zoom-in/zoom-out in instant replay? Nope. The field scrolls smoothly and the action is fairly easy to follow, but a little diversity would have been nice here. Animation: The players benefit from a great deal of variety in the player animations. Players use several frames when running, 3-4 frames in a tackle animation, 3-4 in a kicking animation and so on. Why count the frames? Because at full speed they help give the illusion of motion. No one likes to see tackles that just happen in a single frame. People just don't fall flat on the ground. It's nice to see some attention was paid to developing solid player animation. It's not as smooth as what it might have been had it been rotoscoped, but better by far than the 16-bit excuses for animations. Players do seem to fall a little =too= flat on the field, and there are areas where the animation is quirky, such as the kicker approaching the ball for a kick off. The guy looks like he's hopping and skipping around. Also, tackles seen from the side appear to happen even before the tackler touches the carrier, so a few more frames in there would have been nice. Overall graphics: The field really dragged down the overall score here, and these graphics won't sell the game, though they are competent enough. On an SNES or Genesis, these graphics are an 8 or a 9. On a "64-bit Multimedia System" they are a letdown. =-=-=-=-=-= //// Sound =-=-=-=-=-= Sound effects: The sound effects are your basic deep bass "oomph" variety. The QB audibles sound fairly accurate, but the repetitive "hut hut hut" can drive one crazy when running down the clock. It would have been nice to have something like "Blue 32! Red 85" or something to pass the time. (Though you do get that if you call an audible.) The referee's whistle is a truly pathetic imitation of a real whistle. There are also low "whoosh" sounds during passes, and nice thumps for kickoffs. The crowd does cheer great plays, and gives a sad "awwww" when a field goal misses. However, they don't seem to be particularly partisan towards the home team. This crowd seems to enjoy action whether it's for you or against you! The sound effects are basically unspectacular. Music: The opening music has sort of a college football band sound, which segues into the main menu music, which is just a port of the 16-bit music onto the Jaguar. Won't get you pumping the way NBA Live 95 does on an SNES, that's for sure. During the game you'll even hear hockey style organ music, and this completely drives me nuts, as anyone who knows anything about NFL Football knows that they don't let organs in the stadium, let alone the PA system. If there was ever something someone included in a game that just screamed: "Shoot us, we're clueless", it's the organ music during the football. Football fans should feel that their intelligence =is= being insulted. I sure do. Voiceovers: The voiceovers are simple and range from "Touchdown", "No good", "Tipped ball", "Interception", "Knocked Away" and so on. You won't find colorful Maddenisms here. What's worse, the voice sounds like a badly sampled imitation of someone with a Madden-like voice. What good's the voice without the colorful commentary? Not only that, but the voiceovers fall out of date in a hurry. You'll hear "knocked away" just before an interception, but the interception won't be reported. You'll have to read that in the play summary. Overall, a pathetic attempt at voiceovers. Overall: As you may have guessed, this game suffers badly from the sound department. I wish I could give it a higher score, but regrettably, this isn't one for cranking up the ol' stereo system. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= //// Game Mechanics =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= //// Playcalling The playcalling screen is a simple scroller with 3 plays per screen, selected by A, B and C. You may also call one of three custom plays you have designed (see Special Features, below). You may also "flip" any play so that run left becomes run right, tight end lines up on the right instead of left, etc. The scoreboard shows the hashmark that the ball is on, so you can decide which side of the field you want to run towards, a nifty feature. [Editor's nitpick: Whenever you start an offensive series, you always do so in the middle of the field.] The play diagrams are easy to read. Troy's plays have a Dallas Cowboy star under them, a departure from at least the SNES version of Aikman. You can also hit Option to access instant replay, game statistics, call a time out, or edit the custom plays. There's not anything much else I would do to the playcalling system to make it better. The clock gives you 30 seconds in Pro and Vet modes (40 in rookie) to select your play. In a two player game, once you've selected a play, the playbook is replaced by NFL logo shields to hide the page of three plays you selected from. There's even an option to play a game as Coach only. When you select this play mode, you pick an offensive or defensive play. If you're playing offense, you can call an audible and snap the ball. From there on out, the CPU controls the flow of the play. If you're playing defense, you can move one defensive player around before the ball is snapped, and that's pretty much it. Oh, you can call defensive audibles also. //// Passing System The passing interface is a windowless system. Each receiver has a letter under him (A,B,C). To pass the ball you just hit the letter of the receiver you want to throw to. Since the game is windowless, you can actually follow a receiver through his pattern, provided that he fits in your current view. This is where the problem with the close-ups occur. Because you're so close to the action, you can't easily tell what's going on off-screen. To help you throw to off-screen receivers, the letters of the receivers will stay at the top or top right/left of your screen to show you the general direction of that receiver. If the receiver's letter is red, he's covered. Don't throw to him. Otherwise air it out and hope! This is where the difficulty level of the game comes in. At the rookie level, your guys will generally catch the passes. At Pro level, it's more important that the receiver be open. At Veteran... you have to take over and catch the ball. This means pressing B to throw, B again to assume the receiver, navigate him to the crosshatch on the field, and press B again to catch. I have to date completed TWO passes over 50 attempts using Veteran passing. I just have no idea what they expect me to do here, as what I've tried in the manual just isn't getting it done. I rate Veteran passing nigh impossible until someone tells me otherwise. The ease with which you can control the passing game also depends upon the quality of your receivers and quarterback and the quality of the opposing defense's defensive backfield and linebackers. (More on this below). The quarterback actually drops back nicely in this game (in contrast to that 32-bit football game), and he will move around in the pocket, scanning down field, looking for a receiver. Looks great. My Marino does a nice little shuffle, and finds Keith Jackson in a hole in the zone 20 yards down field. He zips the ball to Keith who gets tackled at the goal line. Touchdown, and worth an instant replay to boot! It's easy to see when a receiver on the screen is being covered. The game quite nicely models picking up a blitz and throwing to the inevitably open running back coming out of the backfield. Great touch! The passing system would get higher marks if you could pan back from the field at will, and if Veteran was just a tad more controllable by normal humans. Perhaps I'll acquire the touch necessary. //// Running the Ball Running the ball is a fairly straightforward affair. You can press "2" on your numeric keypad to hike and automatically hand off if the running play has a default running back. Or you can take the ball yourself and hit the button corresponding to the letter of the running back. Like passers, running backs can have letters. This allows you to run quarterback options and give your back time to get further outside before you hit him with the pitch. But beware! Defenders will sometimes cover the back and slam him to the turf for a big loss. Make sure he's open before you gamble! You can cut back and find holes easily in this game. There are buttons on your keypad for throwing stiff arms, or you can use the C button to get a burst of speed, the B button to spin and the A button to hurdle (I hope I got those straight!). The Jag could badly use a controller with more of the keypad buttons duplicated as frontal controls (ala SNES) and three more buttons with the first three. The keypad is a poor substitute. [Editor: Such a controller is on its way.] Also, you can escape tackles for a long period of time... perhaps too long! Some guys are just hard as heck to bring down. However, its worth it when you find a hole and cut back, doing a nice little Barry Sanders escape trick for big yardage, forcing a defender to dive at you to bring you down. This is the best running game I've seen in a console football sim. //// Defending A lot of games are defensive pushovers. Find the right play, call it over and over, and you can beat the defense. However, a human controlled (or even computer controlled) defense, can be pretty competent. Of course, this is subject to player ratings (more later). In Jaguar Troy Aikman, you can pick from a wide variety of defenses, though not as many as some of the competitions' games. You can change which defender you wish to play and may audible to another defense. Defending is pretty tricky against the run and the pass. Running into a pile to stop a running back is no guarantee he won't squirt free and hurt you. Since the B button switches the defender to the one nearest the ball, you have to be careful or you'll take control of a guy poised to make a tackle, do something wrong, and miss the tackle completely. I've been toying with letting the computer do its job if my player gets taken out of the play, so that I won't do something foolish and allow the computer to get away. I haven't seen many runaway plays yet, such as a receiver going all the way down field beating everyone. The defense seems to run receivers down even when they get burned deep. This is actually rather nice, and another welcome departure from the free-for-alls in games like Madden. There is a rather annoying problem, though. To jump up in the air is a press of the "2" key on the keypad. This just doesn't cut it. I keep hitting the option key by impulse. Things are happening entirely too fast to use the A,B,C buttons and then reach down and hit "2" to deflect a pass. What's worse, if you press the B button after hitting the Option button, you will call a time-out. Oops! I'd love to see the fingers on the testers of this game! Also, it seems that the game is biased towards completing passes too often (Troy's doing?), so sometimes it doesn't matter even if your coverage is perfect. I haven't been able to sack the quarterback very often, either, though Travis says he can. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= //// Computer AI =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= There are two components to AI: playcalling strategy and clock usage. In playcalling strategy, Aikman is a VERY solid game. There is no doubt that a lot of time and energy went into making sure that the computer tried to win. Unlike every other console game I've tried, the computer will do what it has to beat you, going for it on 4th down, calling fake punts and field goals, calling passing plays on long yardage situations, running the ball when ahead, passing the ball when behind, using quarterback sneaks to gain critical inches for a first down, etc. It also manages the play clock intelligently, using up all but 4 seconds at the beginning of the game, and as the game progresses, using much less. For instance, I was ahead by 14 points in the third quarter and the computer started leaving 15 seconds on the play clock. Then later when it fell further behind it started leaving 20, then 24 seconds (the minimum for it). It calls its time outs when it needs them, goes for 2 point conversions, has players run out of bounds to stop the clock when under 2 minutes, etc. In playcalling and clock usage, this game is hard to beat. This is the first time I felt like there might be a human being on the other side of the field trying to beat me, and not just a random number generator calling plays at random. Defensively, I haven't noticed the same patterns, but the computer will play a fairly competent defense. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= //// Play execution =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= This embodies how well the computer executes a play. Do the blockers block? Does the quarterback move well in the pocket? How easy is it to complete long passes or run for big yardage? What about turnovers and penalties? Well, in the passing game, I found that in Pro mode it was very easy to complete passes with Dan Marino even to 2 star receivers. There is a higher chance of an incompletion or interception based upon ratings, and whether the receiver is covered, double covered, or even triple covered. I found that the teams I played differed in their quality. Some teams I could pass the bomb against effectively; other teams required me to find short dump off passes and quick outs which would work against their defense. The problem is, through Pro mode it still only took me perhaps a quarter to find the play that would break the defense's back time and time again, and once that was discovered, I could run up ridiculous scores. [Editor: Computer defenses would often adapt to me.] The running game is nowhere near as easy to execute, though. You CAN get solid yardage with plays like Troy's pitch, but I've found teams that just shut my running game down well. Again, it depends upon your tenacity and your running back's ratings, but while I could generally run the ball well, it was by no means the kind of killer that the passing game was. One very nice aspect of Aikman is that blockers really do block well. If you are trying to tackle a guy receiving a kickoff, you better dodge the blockers first, or they will box you out and stop you from getting where you want to go. This is true throughout the game. Also, weather has a dramatic impact on the physics of the game. More turnovers are generated on wet or snowy fields (see below). Also, players tend to slip and slide a lot. I picked off a pass with my linebacker because both the receiver and the corner covering him slipped and fell on the snow while trying to make a cut. My linebacker had a clean shot at the ball and didn't disappoint me! It definitely makes the game seem more human when people, even the quarterback, slip and fall on their keister trying to get footing in the treacherous field conditions. //// Giving It Away Now we come to the major problem with this game: Turnovers. Whatever random number generator determines the likelihood of a turnover, it's wayyyyy off. I have seen more than 20 turnovers a game - we're not just talking bonehead passes by yours truly, we're talking freak mishaps. Often, I've seen it happen a few times in a game where the holder fumbles the ball and an extra point fails. Sometimes, once or twice a game a kick returner watches the ball bounce off of him, usually into the hands of a cover guy who scoops up the ball and runs in for the score (which can be against NFL rules, depending upon whether a fair catch was signaled). There are regular fumbles in pileups, tips resulting in interceptions, and so on. The latter is the most frustrating because instead of falling incomplete, the ball will be nabbed by a diving defender for the pick. Granted, these are all realistic occurrences, but they just don't happen as often as this game generates them. One of the thing that keeps the scores down in this game is the rampant turnovers. This just isn't reasonable, and I'd have to say that in many ways this completely offsets the gains made by the strong AI of the game. [Editor again: I've seen games where there would be a high turnover rate, then games that are executed almost flawlessly.] So how can I rate something which is so incredibly good and so incredibly bad at the same time? Play execution score: 6. It would be a 9 if not for the turnovers, but the turnovers just kill it. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= //// Comparison to Madden 3DO =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= Finally, the inevitable question: How does this game stack up against Madden 3DO? Here are my comparative scores: Troy Aikman Madden 3DO ----------- ---------- Standard Features: 8 9 (Player #'s) Special Features: 9 5 (vanilla) Graphics: 6 8 (more detailed, smoother) Players 7 8 Fields 4 6 Views 5 8 (zoom in/out) Animation 7.5 6 Sound: 4 8 F/X 6 6 Music 4 7 Voice 3 8 Game Mechanics: 8 5 (super slo mo beach ball tips!) Playcalling 8 8 Passing 8 6 Running 9 7 Defending 8 6 (too easy...) Overall Challenge: 6 2 Computer AI: 10 3 Play execution: 6 6 Overall Sound/Graphics: 5 8 Overall Gameplay: 8 4 I have to go with Aikman because of its strong AI, varied animations, special options, and superior clock management. But it doesn't challenge Madden for graphics. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= //// Final Ratings =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= Title: Troy Aikman NFL Football JagNet: No Programmers: Telegames Players: 1-2 Published by: Williams Entertainment Available: Now MSRP: $69.99 Age Rating: K-A Here's the summary ratings: "*" is a whole "+" is a half 5 stars maximum Control: **** Fairly crisp play control. Lots of player control options available through the keypad. Near impossible to catch passes in Veteran mode though. Gameplay: *** Nice console AI. Play "normal" or just coach a team. One of the best feels for heading a NFL team on any gaming console. Too many turnovers. Graphics: *** Ugly field, large players, fixed view. Step-by-step instant replay is a plus. Nice variety in player animations. No passing windows, but receiver "openness" is noted easily. Sound: ** Serviceable. 'Nuff said. Overall: ***+ Not an amazing football simulation, but one of the best console video football games around. Look past the graphics, and give this game a chance. Pts Stars AEO Ratings """ """"" """"""""""" 10 ***** GAMING NIRVANA!!! - You have left reality behind... for good. 9 ****+ Unbelieveable GAME!! - Your family notices you're often absent. 8 **** Fantastic Game!! - You can't get enough playtime in on this. 7 ***+ Great Game! - Something to show off to friends or 3DOers. 6 *** Good game - You find yourself playing this from time to time. 5 **+ Ho-hum - If there's nothing else to do, you play this. 4 ** Waste of time - Better to play this than play in traffic. 3 *+ Sucks - Playing in traffic sounds like more fun. 2 * Sucks Badly - You'd rather face an IRS audit than play this. 1 + Forget it - ... but you can't; it's so badly done, it haunts you. 0 - Burn it - Disallow programmer from ever writing games again.
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