In the past 15 years, John Madden’s name has become
synonymous with one thing: videogames. The renowned football
analyst and Super Bowl champion coach probably thought adding his
name to EA Sports’s football game was just another
endorsement deal. However, the franchise exploded through the years
and is played by all different types of gamers from the hardcore
videogame fans to the athletes themselves. “John Madden
Football” is the epitome of sports videogames and a
phenomenon that grows stronger every year.

TV/New Media Reviews

EA Sports could easily rest on its laurels
with the “Madden” franchise and just rehash the
previous games with mere roster updates and still sell millions of
copies. Fortunately, the sports videogame juggernaut continued
adding to its reputation of excellence this season. “Madden
2005” plays and looks better than last season’s entry,
boasts some huge additions and remains the best NFL game on the
market.

Upon playing the game, it becomes evident that the focus has
shifted towards a more defensive style. First, there are now
defensive playmaker options. Introduced in the 2004 season on
offense, playmaker enables gamers to call individual player
audibles, changes to the player’s designated action, before
the ball is snapped. Now, with a touch of the right thumbstick,
individual defenders can be designated to either fall back into
alternate coverage patterns, act as a spy or blitz the
quarterback.

Additionally, the defense’s ability to stop plays has been
ramped up significantly since last season. The developers made it
much less likely for players to be able to convert on long third
and fourth downs — emphasizing the play of the defense.
Creating turnovers and injuring the opposition both rely heavily on
the use of another new feature — the “hit stick.”
By using the right thumbstick during the action, the player lays
out a vicious tackle on their opponent, usually causing fumbles or
fatigue. However, a misaligned tackle with the hit stick could lead
to a large gain by the offense, as most offensive players can
easily bounce off these harder tackles when they are not lined up
perfectly.

Offense, while largely unchanged, still feels as sound and
smooth as ever. Players familiar with the “Madden” game
mechanics will have no trouble at all — calling audibles,
using playmaker, setting “hot routes” (reciever route
audibles). EA also made sure that Michael Vick — last
year’s coverboy – is no longer unstoppable, which makes
things a lot more balanced.

In regards to the offensive playbooks, there is a new ability
for receivers to have option routes. These plays allow for the
CPU-controlled receiver to decide which of three potential spots is
the best for beating the coverage. It adds to the realism and
strategy of the passing game.

The requisite game modes are found in this latest iteration of
the series. In addition to the standard exhibition, dynasty and
practice options, there is now a mini-camp mode. Mini-camp enables
players to practice the drills found in the preseason portion of
dynasty mode. These drills include: pocket passing exercises,
running against practice dummies, coverage workouts and more. While
these games can be fun for a few minutes, they mostly just add to
an already complete package.

The heart of “Madden 2005” is its dynasty mode,
allowing players to control every aspect of an NFL franchise.
Gamers can take the Detroit Lions from lowly doormat of the NFC
North to Super Bowl contender by drafting talent, picking up free
agents and making trades. Further options enable the player to go
as far as to set concession prices at the stadium and watch
attendance figures fluctuate. The entire mode is now set up to look
like a PDA. Through this PDA, the player can choose how to alter or
observe his team. To increase the realism this year, EA included
news reports about the player’s team and from the rest of the
league in the central hub of dynasty mode called “Storyline
Central.” A radio show plays in the background throughout
Storyline Central, featuring interviews with almost all of the
marquee players in the NFL. As the overseer of the franchise, the
player can also view newspaper articles from USA Today and a local
paper (the Detroit Free Press for the Lions) as well as receive
e-mails on the status of players and fan response.

Also, new to this mode is the ability for the players currently
on the gamer’s roster to get increased stats during the
season. These enhancements occur after the preseason and at four
scheduled points during the season. As always, players can choose
to load their rosters from “NCAA 2005” into the
“Madden” draft class, bringing EA’s preeminent
football franchises together.

Even though vast improvements have been made throughout the
game, Xbox owners are receiving the greatest upgrade — Xbox
Live compatibility. Last season, PS2 owners were granted the
ability to play online, and now Xbox owners can join in the fun.
Instead of being stuck against CPU opposition, Xbox players can
challenge other football fans from around the country to prove who
really is the best. With the headset, smacktalk will flow freely
from participants in living rooms to complete and utter strangers.
With the addition of “Madden 2005” to an already strong
Xbox Live line-up, the online revolution has truly begun.
Additionally, roster updates are available for both Xbox and PS2
owners, shifting players to the correct teams and improving
rookies’ attributes.

The big bonus available only to PS2 owners is a special
“Collector’s Edition” of the game. It includes a
bonus disc commemorating the 15th anniversary of the series, which
has three classic gameplay types. These enable players to use the
current NFL rosters and play with them in a Super Nintendo and two
Playstation environments with the classic graphics, music and
commentary. Although the nostalgia of revisiting old favorites is
initially amusing, the entertainment is short-lived.

The graphics have been cleaned up, but not radically overhauled.
Some of the players still look a bit too cartoony, but the motions
and textures are solid. The soundtrack features a vast array of
artists from Franz Ferdinand to The Hives. EA even managed to
secure the rights to the new Green Day single “American
Idiot” before it hit radio. The eclectic mix of rap, rock and
punk should provide enough songs that everyone who plays the game
will be able to find something they like. While the soundtrack is
strong, the commentary failed to improve much over last year. John
Madden and his broadcasting partner on “Monday Night
Football,” Al Michaels, provide the voices for the action,
but it still sounds fake and a lot of the dialogue is repeated from
last year.

“Madden 2005” is the premiere football game on the
market. Even in its 15th season, it shows no signs of slowing down.
EA Sports proves yet again why it has become the reigning champ of
sports videogames.

 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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