It's very difficult to think of NFL GameDay 2001 as a new release, because it's just a rehash of last year's NFL GameDay 2000. Actually, it's not even a rehash, because "rehash" implies "revision." GameDay 2001 makes no notable improvements on the old GameDay formula, nor does it show us anything new whatsoever. Well, that's not entirely true. There's a new menu design that's no easier to use than the interface in the last game, and there are a few high-res stills of St. Louis Rams running back Marshall Faulk here and there. Oh yeah, and let's not forget the incredibly long loading session at the beginning of the game to get you pumped up for the same PlayStation football action you played last year!
Allow me to dispense with the sarcasm. The fact is that NFL GameDay 2001 brings little more to the table than updated rosters, uniforms and stadiums. I didn't really expect it to have anything more than that, so I guess the game wasn't disappointing in that respect. What is disappointing is how primitive 32-bit football is looking in the face of NFL 2K1 on Dreamcast. Playing GameDay after spending most of my free time playing NFL 2K1 was not unlike a first-class trip back to the Stone Age.
Of course, it's not really fair to match a state-of-the-art NFL simulation against a football franchise that's as old as the PlayStation. But even on it's own, GameDay 2001 has a hard time justifying it's existence without a major overhaul. The graphics are sloppy and cumbersome, the gameplay is overly complex and the action on the field is too hard to read. Visually, the game hasn't changed at all from GameDay 2000, but I was still surprised at how poorly this year's GameDay fares in that department—especially when you consider how much 989 Sports likes to brag about all the high-profile help they bring in for motion capture. The graphics might be 3D, but there's no depth to them. Everything appears flattened, and it affects the gameplay because it's hard to judge where players are in relation to each other. The action during a game lacks any kind of fluidity—everything moves at a jerky, unstable and unnaturally quick pace. Sometimes it just looks like a bunch of grainy blocks flying around at light speed. Players don't even appear to make contact with the ground when they run—it looks more like they're skating across the field. And there are other visual miscues that have nothing to do with PlayStation's graphics limitations at all, and instead serve as examples of bad (or lazy) design choices. Take the diagrams that go with play calling for instance—they're drawn so poorly that they all look the same, making it nearly impossible to tell what is supposed to happen in a particular play. You'd think after all these years the GameDay developers would have perfected such details of the game. Unfortunately, they haven't, and there's no reason for it.
Even when I was able to overlook GameDay's visual shortcomings, I didn't have a very good time playing it. The controls aren't smooth enough to keep up with the game's high speed. There are a lot of moves available to ball carriers and defensive players, but it's too much of a hassle to perform them due to the confusing movement on the field and a somewhat complicated control configuration. On pass plays, you have to hit the X button an extra time before you can throw to a receiver. If you select a pass play, and you know you're going to pass, why does the game make you go through an unnecessary step before allowing you to get rid of the ball—so a defensive lineman will have more time to sack the quarterback? There are control problems even before a play starts. Sometimes I like to look at where my receivers are lined up and which buttons they're assigned to before I snap the ball. However, the perspective never pulls back far enough to see the entire field, so it's anyone's guess as to which players are lined up outside the screen. Why couldn't the developers take the time to focus on simple things like this? Since they didn't make any changes to the game's basic structure, I have to assume that they had plenty of time.
GameDay 2001 is loaded with all the standard football simulation features that are too numerous to name here. I just don't see the point of discussing the many ways you can play the game when the gameplay on the field isn't any good. GameDay 2001 seems more interested in such disposable things like player celebrations than the genuine fun of playing NFL football. I wasn't expecting this game to be much better than the many GameDays before it, but I also wasn't expecting such a lackluster experience. 989 Sports and Red Zone Interactive were content to release this game without making any adjustments, so I guess they thought they had a perfect formula in place. The end result is not only far from perfect, but far from any high standard this series might have had. Because GameDay 2001 fails to innovate or impress at any level, it takes several steps backward in its evolution as a leading NFL simulation.