The famed Madden series back for the 2003 season and it comes with online capability for the first time. The series has been the gold standard not only for football games, but sports games in general. With the NFL 2k series nipping at its heels, EA and Madden has a lot of pressure to come through this year with a top-notch product.
Plain and simple, Madden 2003 has the best graphics I have ever seen in a sports game on the PS2. There wasn't a giant leap from last year's game, but there are enough subtle improvements to make it the most visually appealing game on the market.
The crowd animations are much improved over last year. They actually stand up and cheer for big plays. It's jaw dropping to go to instant replay and see a stadium of 50,000 people stand up in unison as you break a long run.
The NBA Live series has its many problems, but I always thought it was the forerunner in player faces. Madden took some years to catch up, but I think they are now caught up. You can easily pick up the Kurt Warners or the Marshall Faulks of the world. The eyes are better, but I still think they look too much like baby eyes. I did notice that some players show expression, which wasn't present in last year's game.
There is now side arm and different angle throws and they look very good. The way they are incorporated into the game play takes the passing game to another level. The new gang tackling looks awesome.
The uniforms and stadiums are about the same. The grass looks a little better than last year, but I thought Madden looked the best last year and I haven't seen any different this year.
There was a lot of hype about the Al Michaels to Pat Summerall switch. I was expecting a big change here and although the play-by-play sounds different, it's not really much better.
I am not a big Monday Night Football or Madden/Michaels fan in real life, so it came as no surprise that I didn't like them in the game. I think Madden makes a lot of good points, but it seems like he is always saying something negative. Madden also is plagued by a number of inaccurate comments (saying I should have thrown the ball on third and short, I should have ran the ball on third and long). Michaels is not as dull as Summerall - he sounds different - but I think Michaels isn't half as good as he is in real life.
I did like that the duo says a lot about the game. After I threw an interception and got a three and out, Michaels added that "the interception had no effect on my team." They make frequent mentions about the in-game stats, which I really liked. But anytime you buy Madden you have to expect a bevy of cheesy statements.
I said above that I liked the crowd animations, but the decibel level just isn't as impressive as in NCAA. I think it betters NFL 2k3, but NCAA just has that perfect sound environment.
The in-game music has changed from years previous and I actually like listening to it. They even play it during the games for stadium music.
Wow. There are so many game modes that its mind boggling. Not only do you have the standard exhibition, season, franchise, and tournament modes, you have a plethora of mini-games that keep you coming back for more. When you throw in online play, an already stacked line-up becomes stacked. I call it the "Yankees" effect.
The interface didn't change much from last year. Stats are all easy and fast to sort. I almost take all the tweakable things for granite, such as A.I. sliders and penalty sliders. With the ability to download updated rosters with the network adapter, there is no room for complaints in this area.
Gameplay : 95
I have played the three main PS2 football games this year (NFL 2k3, NCAA Football) and Madden has the most entertaining game play of the three. I can't call it most realistic, but it is the most entertaining.
The main reason is the enhanced passing model. The new side arm throwing allows for quarterbacks to have a quicker release. Madden, unlike NFL 2k3 and NCAA, has route-based passing and I absolutely love it! I know that Madden and NCAA are working off the same game play engine, but you can actually complete interior passes (slants, in routes) with some consistency.
For example, in NCAA when I see a blitz I am sort of weary because you don't really know where you are going to throw the ball. In Madden you can throw to where your receiver is currently at or where he is running. If your wide receiver is running the "go" route of a slant route and you notice that a blitz is coming, you can break off the route by throwing the ball during the "go" route. In NCAA you can't do that. I now prefer Madden's passing model to NFL 2k3's Total Control passing.
I also noticed that there are more standstill catches than last year and lofting the ball up to tall wide receivers also works better. The receivers go aggressively towards the ball better than in year's past. I played the bulk of my games with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Plaxico Burress was nearly unstoppable in the red zone due to his jumping ability and height. Also enhancing passing is the ability to throw on the move. No longer do you have to wait for your quarterback to go through the full throwing animation.
If there is a fault with the passing model, it's only that it's too easy. If you have got a decent quarterback you can easily pass for 60% on All-Madden.
Interior running was supposedly to be improved, but the only change I see with running is momentum is factored more into a run. When you get a big running back like Jerome Bettis or Anthony "A-Train" Thomas, you know your chances to pick up some yards after contact are very good.
I found that the special moves, the spins and jukes, are much tighter than in NCAA or NFL 2k3. The main reason for that is that the cuts and player momentum were shortened up. This was one of the things that pissed me off about last year's game. I didn't like how turn-on-a-dime guys like Isaac Bruce or Michael Vick took so much time to turn directions. This year, with the right guy, you can tear apart defenses.
On defense the main improvement was said to be gang tackling. When it happens (which isn't but three or four times a game and you can't even really notice it) it is awesome, but it doesn't play a big a factor in the game as I originally thought. For starters, when you do have a gang tackle, it's not tracked correctly in the stats. There aren't separate statistical categories for tackles and solo tackles.
Interceptions happen at a better rate. You won't see too many of the lame duck passes directly to your DB's only to see them deflect off their shoulder. There are more fumbles, especially when your quarterback scrambles, and I really enjoyed that.
There is a reason why Madden is probably the most renowned sports game in North America and it's because the game is pure fun. All the guys in my dorm play Madden and we have a huge Franchise going. The game is definitely offense-inclined and that is the only gripe I have. I have not played a multi-player game (and not too many versus the CPU games) where both teams have not reached at least 28 points. NFL 2k3 betters Madden in the realism department. Madden accurately portrays the NFL game, but you can easily get away with blitzing every down and going for it on fourth and 20 every time.
Replay Value : 95
Unfortunately all the Network Adapters were already pre-ordered when I tried to get mine last week so I have not been able to play on-line. However, I ball all the time with the guys on my dorm floor and I don't see the two being that different in style (except that the quality of play might be better). I am having a blast with the single-player experience also. The new rookie scouting passes as a poor man's recruiting and the Import Draft feature only adds more to the fun. I have gotten to the point where I am importing guys into Madden that I actually recruited.
The franchise mode is not as entertaining, but far deeper than NCAA's dynasty. There are so many things you have to watch, the salary cap, resigning and signing players, drafting well, and making sure your roster is full with studs. The Mini-Camp game option is addicting as hell and it actually helps out your Madden skills. There are so many things to do in this game that I doubt I'll experience them all by time next year's game comes out.
I don't think there is an online franchise mode, but I am sure that will be added for next year. Aside from all the game modes, the game play is good enough to shine by itself. There is no doubt that Madden will be in my PS2 until the Super Bowl and most likely months after that.
Overall : 90
Madden still reigns as the king of football. I have heard some complaints about some faulty A.I., but for what it's worth, Madden provides the most entertaining form of football. The game play has been tightened and Mini-Camp and online play have been added to an already full slate of game modes.
There is a small gripe here and there, but when you look at the entire package Madden retains its role as the best PS2 game on the market.