We pretty much know what to expect every year with a new release of Madden Football 2004 - a solid football game with some improvements, perhaps a step or two back, and incredible depth. The release of Madden 2004 for the Xbox is no different. Another year and another release of classic Madden gameplay.
Madden Owner Mode tutorial video PS2
Madden Playmaker Control
tutorial video PS2
Madden Owner Mode tutorial video Xbox
Madden Playmaker Control
tutorial video Xbox
Madden 2004's graphics on the Xbox are impressive. The colors are neutral and they really work well with the game. Compared to a game like the NFL2K/ESPN series from Sega, the images aren't as dark. The uniforms are picture perfect, and the shadowing they experience at someplace like Cowboy stadium are stunning. The transition from sun to shade moves across the player in a realistic fashion. The static graphics of the stadiums are also good. Tampa's stadium shows the huge ship in the background, and other stadiums have their correct features. Advertising adorns the stadiums to give a more lifelike feel to the game. The fields show good detail though the grass textures could be better.
Static graphics are one thing, but the game truly excels in the animation department. While the ball animations are still a bit goofy (ball moves somewhat unrealistically if it bounces off a few players), the player animations are spot-on. Players respond to being hit in various locations on their bodies. A tackle attempt below the waist makes the ball handler stumble a bit. The player may even drop a hand to the turf to maintain balance. A hit above the waist sends a player off balance and he'll gyrate his body to maintain control. The animations help make this version of Madden the most realistic yet.
The main audio feature in the game is clearly the two-man booth of Al Michaels and John Madden. In the past the old game calling of Madden and Summeral really annoyed me. With Michaels doing the lion's share of the audio work and Madden chiming in only occasionally, the overall audio package is more tolerable. Unfortunately, the audio isn't always accurate. There always seems to be at least 10 occurrences in every game where a call is wrong. Usually these happen on a change of possession. Al gets confused about which team just scored, punted, or turned the ball over. Also, while Madden's comments are usually seamless, Michaels' are parsed together with multiple voice samples. The result is a running commentary with difference voice tones.
Interface/Options : 96
Sick. That's the only word to describe Madden 2004. Just when you thought Madden 2004 had the world cornered in the franchise mode, they raise the bar once again. New this year is the owner mode which adds a completely new dimension to the game. As the owner, you can set prices for tickets, parking, concessions, and football related products (hats, shirts, and the like). To help boost interest in your team, you can spend advertising dollars on the radio and television, or in print or on billboards. You can also lobby for a new stadium at the expense of taxpayers. The game provides feedback to your actions; graphs are shown on a weekly and yearly frequency that chart things like fan interest, attendance, income, and more. All the financial data affects the bottom line of your organization. Overall, the owner mode is a wonderful addition. Another new feature is “playmaker” control which gives additional control over the flow of the game.
Aside from the new features of the game, Madden 2004 packs in all the traditional joys. The depth of the franchise mode where you control player management is there, as is the huge playbook selection. If managing a team is too cumbersome for you, the game offers the usual modes of play - single games, season, situation, tournament, and the skills based training camp mode. Once you move down through the game menus you'll find gameplay tweaks for anything you can think of. Unfortunately you will have to play with the sliders a bit to find a game that suits your tastes. Penalties are called too infrequently on the default settings, and even when maxxed out some are never called. You can also adjust the characteristics of the players. Just about everything is discussed in the manual, though some advanced moves are only explained in either the pre-game pop-ups or “Madden 101” section of the game.
Gameplay : 95
Perhaps the number one reason Madden 2004 was always second in my book (Sega's football efforts being first) was the secondary play. To put it bluntly, Madden's secondary play lacked awareness, and picking it apart was a relatively simple task. With the latest version of Madden, the secondary play is much improved to the point where interceptions happen almost too much. Man coverage is tighter and boils down to matchups. A speedy receiver with single coverage can still snag the ball, but you have to read the defense properly to exploit the situation. Zone coverage is hit or miss. If receivers make their way to an open area the ball might make it. But the secondary usually closes the gaps quickly to make for tighter plays. Hooks can still be exploited for a few cheap yards, though going to the well too many times isn't effective as the defense quickly adapts to the play calling.
Another huge improvement in Madden 2004 is the running game. This is due primarily to the implementation of “playmaker” control in the game. Playmaker control allows you to make subtle adjustments on offense or defense that have huge impacts on gameplay. On offense, this can mean guiding blockers or telling receivers to scramble to an open spot on the field. Before the snap you can easily switch the direction of the run play by hitting the stick left or right or change the primary receiver. On the run, you use the right analog stick to point your blocking. For example, on a sweep as the halfback, you can better follow a pulling lineman or fullback. In the passing game, using the right stick allows you to guide the nearest receiver.
The playmaker controls also show up on the defensive side of the ball. Before the ball is snapped a flick left or right biases the secondary to one side of the field or other. If the receiver package is loaded up to one side, you can tell your coverage to concentrate on that side of the field. The best implementation on defense happens within one second of the snap. In that second you can push the stick up for a pass play or down for a run play. If you line up in a pass defense and the opposition calls a run play, quick reflexes and a pull on the stick will bring your secondary in to defend the run.
Another problem with past editions of the game has been a reliance by the CPU on the passing game. The current version gives a balanced offensive attack. Run and pass plays are more even and the CPU only turns to a passing bias when it falls too far behind. In addition, EA has implemented an accelerated clock that makes for balanced clock possession. If playing a CPU team, you can make your play selection early. The clock spins down to around 19 seconds left on the play clock. It may not seem like much, but to stats freak it is a blessing. Drives by the CPU take a realistic amount of time. Fatigue also affects play calling by both you and the CPU. Fatigue is modeled well with automatic player substitutions common. Player effectiveness drops significantly as fatigue sets in.
There really isn't much bad with the game. If there are complaints, they would center on penalties, perceived AI cheating, and the lack of online play. The penalty calling is odd. After the first few games I wasn't getting any penalties so I bumped all the penalties to the maximum. Then I was getting too many facemask penalties. I've knocked those sliders down, but I still don't get a good mix of interference, roughing, or motion calls despite those sliders pegged to the maximum setting. On cheating by the CPU, every so often you'll swear the CPU gets a huge gain, an opportune penalty call, or some other freak occurrence to continue its drive or stymie yours. You really see this in the mini camp game situations. Finally, the lack of online play is inexcusable. The EA corporate line on the Xbox is no online play. That's unfortunate for the Xbox consumer.
Replay Value : 95
Even though there's no online play in the game Madden 2004 will keep you coming back for more. Let's face it, online play can be hit or miss. You know, those guys that go for it on every fourth down? Well, with offline play being the only available option, it won't disappoint. The new owner mode is a huge addition to the game, and I was pleasantly surprised by its features. Building your favorite team through multiple years in the franchise mode will keep you plenty busy.
Overall : 93
Whoever says EA always rests on its laurels hasn't taken a look at Madden 2004. The game has improved secondary play and a new owner mode giving you even more control over the finances of the team. And don't forget the new playmaker control. The advanced controls let you take unprecedented control of virtually every aspect of the game. With it the running game is improved and the defense rises to a new level. All this boils down to one great football game.