Can anyone remember what it was like B.M. - Before Madden? Hell -- would you want to?
Madden 2005 Screens(41)
Madden 2005 Screens(10)
As an avid sports gamer, I'd hate to endure an August without the promise of the newest Madden. Gosh, it would be like that first Thursday after Friends ended, that first Orioles season after Cal Ripken Jr. retired, that first Jeopardy episode after Alec Trabek shaved his moustache. Madden football is a staple in the sports gaming world, its release a date so anticipated that many of us mark on our calendars shortly after the Super Bowl. Quality. Consistency. Tradition.
Famous sports athletes and celebrities play this game religiously, as do grown men and young boys. The game has sold millions of copies globally, and EA Sports consistently pools its brightest and best resources for this NFL football game that started in 1989 on the Apple II. Now, in its 15th season, it's safe to say that the Madden series is on top of the sports gaming world.
That's not to say there isn't stiff competition, both within its professional football genre (ESPN Football) or the sports gaming world (Winning Eleven 7, Tony Hawk). But no sports series has the name recognition and attachment with excellence that Madden does. Baltimore Ravens' bad a** Ray Lewis graces this cover, and EA Sports packs 2005 with a number of game upgrades that tailor to the defense, like the hit stick, defensive hot routes and defensive Playmaker abilities.
Madden sets the benchmark for video game visuals year in and year out. The game's looks, in terms of quality, look similar to EA's MVP Baseball - the same color scheme, the same player model shape, the same detailed faces. But, I have to admit being more impressed by Madden just because of the added difficulty of having 22 moving players on the field, not just 10, as is the case with baseball. The animations are tight, especially the new tackling ones that result from the Hit Stick. But aside from looking cool, they look realistic, whether it's a wide receiving nabbing a tipsy-toe catch along the sideline or a cornerback deflecting a Hail Mary pass.
Overall, the audio presentation is solid. The menu screen music rocks, featuring bands like Hoobastank, Green Day, and New Found Glory. A good mixture of dance, hip-hop and R&B are also thrown in, giving Madden the acoustics its 20-something crowd enjoys. I know I certainly enjoy it. I sometimes keep the game running on the PS2 while I walk over to my computer, just so I can hear the game's soundtrack. It certainly blows away the other sports games (my gosh, All Star Baseball had that Vengaboys' song, "We Like to Party!" I'm not sure the soundtrack betters the "cruising in my sports car" track of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, but it's at least on the same level.
In a move that's new to any EA Sports game, a radio show (called EA Sports Radio) fills the dead time while navigating through the Franchise mode screens. The show's host, Tony Bruno, has a sort of smart aleck-type of persona. The radio show is both practical, as it talks about the season and league news, but it also has humor. There are trivia questions and call-in comments about certain team's roster moves. This is a nice addition to the game, as it adds a nice touch to the Franchise mode experience, providing a sense of reality.
The duo of John Madden and Al Michael are uninspiring. Madden's comments, which used to be so "Dick Vitale in his prime," are now too old school (but in a bad way). There's only so many "Booms!" you can take in a lifetime. The Mr. State the Obvious commentary is nice when you're going head-to-head against a friend: "Yeah that's right," you say while glaring at a friend. "Listen to Mr. Madden here, you need to score more touchdowns to come back and win this game!" Other than a situation like that, the commentary is mostly lame. I wouldn't say it's "avoid at all costs," but don't expect to have anything added to the gaming experience. Of course, we know why you can't write off the commentary team: Jill Arrington. Ow, ow!
Interface/Options : 95
Similar to the graphics department, Madden really holds the torch here based on the number of game options, the amount of fun those options create, and the upgrade of the interface. A lot of the key components return, like the Mini-Camp mini game drills, Two-Minute Drill, and Franchise. But what impresses me is the depth of the Franchise mode. You can really take over every facet of your team, from an individual player's happiness to sales prices to the fans. True, most of these game features, especially the micromanagement ones, have surfaced in simulation games on the PC. But the implementation into Madden is interesting and effective. The Franchise mode also has a Storyline Central feature that includes not just Bruno's radio show, but also information from local and national newspapers on team and league news. It's funny - some of the newspapers (Minneapolis Star Tribune, USA Today, Indianapolis Star) are real, while others are fictional. Nonetheless, one can't help but note that this was a feature stolen from EA's popular college football game, NCAA Football.
Gameplay : 94
In previous Madden games, the main problem has consistently been the defense, whether it was shoddy defensive back awareness or the inability for linebackers to contain QB scramblers like Michael Vick. This, of course, has changed in Madden 2005. And why wouldn't it? Would Ray Lewis have it any other way?
The improvements include defensive hot routes and defensive Playmaker abilities. What this does is provide the necessary flexibility to finally - finally! - not be confined by the defensive plays. Too often, I'd want spontaneously to have a safety zone up and not come up for bump and run. Or, I'd want to blitz a linebacker, or drop a lineman back into zone. The Defensive Playmaker and defensive hot routes abilities do just that. It only seems fair, considering the similar options given to the offense in Madden 2004 when Vick appeared on the cover. In an EA Sports press release, it summed up the defensive additions by saying the innovations will "make playing D fun."
The new Hit Stick is a large part in justifying that statement. I don't know why it's so fun to pummel opposing ball carriers or receiver, but it just is. It's the type of funny that made "Dodgeball: The Movie" so great; the type of funny that makes wrestling and NASCAR racing exciting. Violence is good. The Hit Stick is difficult to execute at first, forcing the gamer to be patient and hone their skills. Using the right analog stick to attempt the big hit is a humbling experience, like the first time you drive a sports car that has the horsepower of 50 Justin Gatlin's. You have so much power, so much destructive force, but you have to use it wisely, otherwise you look like an idiot. I screwed up, that's for sure, as many of the first tries to lay the big hit resulted in a big crunching tackle ... of air.
Also, while the defense has improved, both in terms of control and A.I., so, too, has the offense. Passes land with more precision and the blocking is fantastic! Gone are the days when receivers gallop like schoolgirls while the ball bounces off their helmet (this isn't Little Giants!). Gone are the days when potential open field blockers graze lightly up against defenders, as if they were in straightjackets. Now the blocking is among my favorite parts of the game, as holes open up like the Red Sea. I have always enjoyed passing the ball in Madden, due to its precision. Unlike other football games where passes to the flat or fade routes never feel quite right, Madden gives you that control. And so, with better receivers and blocking, the experience only improves.
You also have some extra firepower on offense (you wouldn't expect Madden to let Miami Dolphins versus New England Patriots-like scores take over did you?), via the formation shifts and black routes, which give the option to the receiver to go out or up (or down and in, whatever) depending on how the defense is positioned. Both help out in more subtle ways than the Hit Stick. Admittedly, I am no Madden pro, but the game challenged me on the All-Pro and All-Madden levels. Some of the money routes and money plays worked with a level of consistency, but that's the case with any video game. Still, the Madden game engine doesn't feel old. You still are rewarded for a well-timed Play Action or a draw play. The game awards cerebral play.
But Madden still has the feel of a fast-paced game. Not in the same way that NFL Blitz or NFL Street is, but it's not as slow as ESPN. This has always been the calling card of EA Sports games, taking the best of both the arcade and simulation worlds, blending fun with seriousness. Madden does this better than any other EA Sports title.
Replay Value : 90
The tweaks in the Franchise mode will make the multi-season mode as addicting as NCAA Football's Dynasty mode. I enjoy exporting my NCAA classes to Madden and watching my players develop. The online mode enjoyed some new enhancements as well. The game engine is solid, and it should keep gamers interested for months. The mini-games are always good practice if you haven't played for a while, or if you need practice. Before each game in Franchise Mode, you are given the opportunity to practice on what should be your strengths against your upcoming opponent. I liked this addition, as it broke up the monotonous feeling that can sometimes accompany playing a full season.
Overall : 94
Madden is again on top of the sports gaming world. There are both aesthetic improvements, as well as practical and functional ones. The defensive stuff will grab the headlines, but I liked the Franchise Mode additions. Is this the best Madden in the series? Yes. It built on last year's game, and it has only picked up momentum. But is this the best Madden, given my impressions on each game the year they came out? Now that's an interesting question. The first Madden on the PS2 (2000) was astonishing because it showcased for me for the first time the graphical powers of the new system. But think farther back: What about Madden '98, the year when the series first went polygonal (on the PSX, it had been polygonal on the N64 for '97) and a Franchise mode was added. Talk about adding a lot! A graphics re-haul and the inclusion of a major game mode? So, to say that Madden 2005 is the best of all the games is accurate, but is it the strongest year-to-year improvement? To that, I say no. Nonetheless, Madden is king.