Well, it's back. And in full form.
Madden 2003 was a great game. Although some gaming publications chose NCAA Football 2003 as the Sports Game of the Year, it was probably only because people were sick of seeing Madden as the winner. Yet, it was EA Sports' professional football game invading every college dorm room television.
Hell, when I was on my residence hall council the only game we ever discussed in using for our fall video game tournament was Madden. Not NCAA or NFL 2k3 or NFL GameDay. It seems Madden always tops itself year after year so much that we, as gamers, have come to expect nothing less. If the new "Playmaker" control were to be debuting in another game, I'm sure the critics would douse it with so much innovativeness we'd hype it like Harry Potter.
Does Madden impress? Yep. But does it impress me more than other years? Read on to find out.
Madden Owner Mode tutorial video PS2
Madden Playmaker Control
tutorial video PS2
Madden Owner Mode tutorial video Xbox
Madden Playmaker Control
tutorial video Xbox
The visuals of a game are becoming harder and harder to gauge with every year. Madden has traditionally been a great-looking game and 2004 is no different. But is it jaw dropping? Orgasmic? Not really.
Since the first PS2 Madden in 2001, I can't quite remember a big leap in visuals. There's more detail in the uniforms this year and more face masks. The new animations, which the gamebox boasts there are "hundreds" of, are much appreciated. The game looks and plays more realistic than last year, and I'm sure we're not too far away from getting accurate arm, leg and nose hairs. I can, however, still tell that the game is a video game when someone is playing.
Madden has a pretty damn good 25-song soundtrack. While I appreciate the fight songs and band music of NCAA, the solid compilation of rock and hip hop music isn't that bad (AFI is in, but Good Charlotte did not make a return).
John Madden and Al Michaels do just a good job on the game as on Monday Night Football, but you can't help but chuckle at some of the Madden-isms. Here are some of my favorites:
"First downs are critical to the game."
"The defender didn't intercept the ball, so that's an incomplete pass."
Interface/Options : 95
The addition of the owner mode really helps, but in my opinion, it's a few years late. Since I have played the all-text Front Office Football and the College Years series, many of the new toys of the mode: hire staff; set ticket and concession prices; and customizing your own stadium, really did not wow me.
I do appreciate the extra level of micromanagement that has been added but unlike in the all-text games, I haven't seen evidence of how a savvy owner could keep fan base high if the team is losing, i.e. the Chicago Cubs syndrome. Pretty much if your team wins, you can set a king's ransom for ticket prices, jack up parking and make buying a beer really hurt the wallet.
The interface has stayed fairly intuitive despite the adding of all the side features. Navigating among the various screens and subscreens checking fan attendance and your city's average weather is not a strain. I still wish a less number-tastic spreadsheet format was available when looking at potential draftees and free agents.
Madden has always been the trend setter it seems in the number of game options. This year you can even customize your default home and away jersey with throwback jerseys. So, if you want the San Diego Charger's powder blue jerseys of the Dan Fouts and Kellen Winslow days, you are more than able to do that.
The online mode has added Fairplay rules, but it seems people still manage to find ways to cheat. I think the rules are a step in the right direction, but when I play online it's always against people I know. There's just too many cheesers out there.
Madden was given a new playcalling interface where the cut scenes still remain on the screen and the plays are split at the top and the bottom. I like this new format, but I can't really tell you why. I just think it's cool to keep a closeup of the players instead of the usual panned-out view.
EA Sports Bio is really overrated. I never got into the pennants and Madden cards, so I really don't get a kick out of it. I think I'm a level 26 gamer. The only practical use it has for me is that it tells me how many hours I have wasted playing the game. What I did really appreciate, and this has been in the game for many years, is the Madden 101. It's basically a tutorial for how to implement the new Playmaker ability and a few other guides but I found them to be a good quick re-jog of the buttons from last year.
Gameplay : 92
Madden plays a lot slower than NCAA, and I think the reason is everyone in the NFL is fast. There's less of a speed discrepancy between the top-tier teams and the lower-tier teams. Because of that, I had a tough time adjusting to the methodical style I had to take on. There's also more animations in Madden, so that alone made for more time.
The new playmaker control is hit or miss. In some ways I enjoy it, but in other ways I have seen it really abused. If you get Michael Vick and Peerless Price on the same side of the field, it's pretty much over. The only time I can beat the Falcons is if Vick gets hurt. I would like Madden's playmaker ability to that of NBA Live's. It's nice to see and it's cool, but people can really just sit back and do it all day until something comes up.
The passing is again the best part of the game. I don't know why, but passing to running backs in NCAA never quite felt right. Nor did it seem the appropriate amount of touch, even with 99 tha players, was ever allocated. In Madden, that's not the case. The passing seems a little tighter than last year because of the new catching animations. There's more two-handed animations and there's less dropped passes where the ball drops dead to the ground like the player is holding up a piece of plywood.
I don't know if I got worse in the last year, but Madden has really kicked my ass. Even on pro, my Philadelphia Eagles team is struggling. It seems the AI really got a boost in playcalling, passing decisions and defense. I noticed especially on defense, the playcalling varied pretty well. It kept me off guard for sure.
Although I think the speed is calculated well (except for on All-Madden), the special moves like spin and juke still aren't accurate. The spin moves are so fierce and sudden with most running backs and wide receivers that they would surely tear their ACL or MCL if they did that in real life. Even the whirling Barry Sanders couldn't pull off those spin moves. And, I can't wait until the time comes when the juke move is tweaked to where it is not a 90 degrees cutback.
The best aspect of Madden, in my opinion, is the blocking. In too many football games the blocking seems to be determined like a snapshot. Once the ball is hiked the defenders and linemen are either advancing or halting. Very rarely do I ever see blocks occur mid-play, or on the second wave of contact with linemen. In Madden, that's not the case. Not only that, but I see intricate blocking with the fullbacks and guards in pulling plays. The positive effects of this is that you really feel that there is a reward for being patient as a runner, waiting for lanes to open up and finding that gap. In other games, it's merely a spring out to the left or right hash mark.
Replay Value : 96
Because I really enjoy the hit-or-miss recruiting of NCAA Football, Madden rarely gets much play past the NFL season. Since Madden is the most universally played game, it's usually the choice for two or four player games.
Despite those thoughts, I can't deny Madden has a list of gameplay modes, options and goodies to keep you motivated until Madden 2005. The number of options available is almost intimidating in a way. You could really spend an entire week planning out your team in the offseason. That's sort of intimidating! But in a good way.
The replay value in terms of having your buddies to "run a game of Madden" are infinite. Having Madden in a college dorm is like having a car in some ways. Once people know you have it, they pester you to borrow it, pimp it out to others they know that they are playing the 2004 version, the newest, latest model. I love the mini games and two-minute drill. This will be the most-played version of Madden for me since the 2000 version on the PC when it was the only football game I owned.
Overall : 97
Well done. That's all I can say about Madden, which has gotten to such a level that the only flaws I can find are nitpicky. There's new features, the ability to download updated player rankings and the added pleasure of uploading all your guys from NCAA Football. The game's pretty damn solid, too. I can't say "if you only have money for one football game this fall, it should be Madden" because I think NCAA is great also, but if you like the pro game, I think Madden is the way to go.
It's so good, I find it humorous that ESPN uses Madden for its pre-game show. That's ironic because ESPN has its own football game, formerly known as the NFL 2k series.