It’s pretty easy to sell games when you’ve got things like tradition and prestige behind you. Luckily the guys at Electronic Arts have realized this in the past, and have created a game that relies not on its namesake or past, but on the current product that will be played on the consumer's televisions. And while the Madden franchise has been consistently solid for the past decade, one can’t help but look at each successive entry as more than a mere expansion pack devoid of any significant changes or upgrades.
It’s pointless to go over the core features found in Madden 2005
. If you want a better rundown of what to expect just check out my review of Madden 2004
or Madden 2003
. Instead we’ll focus our energy on the new additions that look to take the franchise to the next level. With the exception of a few minor additions here and there it seems like the designers were content with resting on the laurels of last year's game and taking that ride to retail success. I'll tell you though, with the leaps and advancements that the NFL2K franchise made this year, that rest might be much shorter than the guys at EA would have liked.
Electronic Arts went to great measures to bring you into all aspects of running a team. For this they created Storyline Central, the main mode of play for true football fans. It replaces the Franchise Mode and features a bevy of new additions to really engulf you in the atmosphere. The largest addition comes in the form of a talk radio program hosted by syndicated sports talk host Tony Bruno. Here he’ll give the dish on your team while discussing the biggest stories around the league. It’s very well done as Bruno rambles on and on, seeming to never run out of material to discuss and talk about. Also new in this mode is the inclusion of newspapers on both the local and national level. The National Paper discusses the biggest headlines while the local paper gives information pertinent to your team. As a nice touch, the game features real papers according to region. So if you choose the Giants you’ll get your information from the New York Post and so forth.
Taking a cue from its NHL
line of sports games, the designers decided to give players more control of their tackles. This is accomplished via the “Hit Stick” which is mapped to the right analog stick. Operated separately from the tackle function, the Hit Stick can lead to jarring hits and momentum shifting tackles. New animations help push across the power of these hits, often times illiciting “oohs” from anyone watching. It could have easily been a gimmick, but the designers were able to make it an integral part of the game. Deciding when to use the mechanism is half the battle; use it right and you can jar the ball loose. Use it in the wrong situation and you'll miss the ball carrier, taking yourself out of the play.
Building upon its PlayMaker feature, this year’s game includes the ability to give defenders hot routes. Basically what this boils down to is it gives you the chance to change a defender’s coverage scheme before the snap. So if you have a linebacker blitzing you can push him back and have him fall into zone coverage. In theory this sounds very good, but utilizing it consistently is harder than you’d imagine. In order to get it to work you have to switch the individual player and then arrange his coverage zone via the right analog stick. If you play any amount of Madden against human opponents you’ve probably realized that most players are trigger happy and spend very little time at the line. If you’re lucky you’ll be able to change one defensive assignment, barring that you actually had the time to read the play. It does
work out pretty well in the single-player franchise mode though. Speaking of which, it's much easier to do well on the defensive side of the ball than ever before. D-backs are easier to control as I had no trouble covering receivers and swatting away balls. Actually it might be a little too easy to play defense. During the season I was able to get my hands on the majority of passes, yielding only about 40 passing yards a game on the default setting.
How realistic is Madden 2005? Well let’s go to my first play from scrimmage to see if we can find out. I had just stopped Peyton Manning and the Colts for the three and out behind the awesome defense of my Chargers. After the kicker kicks it into the end zone for a touchback I get to work. A quick check in the options menu tells me that the A button is used for sprinting, I call a run play and see what happens. Rivers hands the ball off to Tomlinson, I cut to the right and run, and run, and run, and run, and…. Run. That’s right, on my very first play from scrimmage I broke down off an 80 yard run. I’m not alone here either; Cinescape Magazine’s James Stevenson mentioned to me that he had more than 500 yards of passing in his first game. Cranking up the difficulty to the higher levels will yield slightly more realistic results, but they're still well above what you'd expect to see in a real NFL game. To put this into perspective, I was averaging at least 400 offensive yards a game with my lowly Chargers, about 200 of which often came from Ladanian Tomlinson.
One of the major problems with EA's early next generation endeavors was that they often looked pretty but lacked substance. Now it appears that the exact opposite is true. EA has taken some serious steps back in the visuals department, culminating with a 2004 lineup that looks straight out of 2002. Stadiums have been redesigned and players have been revamped, but you'd be hard-pressed to find the difference. Compare the visuals in Madden to those of NFL2K5
and you have something that looks like it was made by a bunch of amateurs. Watching a quarterback drop back, face towards the wrong end zone and then spin around completely to launch a 50 yard pass is just ridiculously bad, almost comical. In past years the look of the game was passable because the competition was so far behind. Now that Madden has been passed, it'll be interesting to see if the designers can up the ante in next year's game. The create-a-fan mode is pretty nice though, it's entertaining to see my created fans sitting in the stands.
I'm not sure if the sound designers got the memo, but most of the people who play Madden are fans of the real game of football. So why they continually decide to include mainstream pop-rock tracks in their games is a mystery to me. Here you get some truly awful tracks from some of today's most popular teenie bopper chart toppers. Also, including social commentary tracks like Green Day's "American Idiot" was just a perplexing move, especially considering the message of the song. I'm here to play football, not bitch about the media's control over the public. Sandwiching it in a lineup that features tracks from bands like NewFound Glory and Hoobastank doesn't help matters either. As for the commentary, you don't really need me to tell you how awful it is. You've all played a Madden game before, you know exactly what to expect here.
All of those additions are nice but the biggest one for Xbox owners is probably the inclusion of Xbox Live. As far as Xbox owners are concerned, this is probably the single greatest reason to upgrade from Madden 2004 to Madden 2005. We’re happy to report that it works quite well thanks to some solid network code and cheating countermeasures instilled by the guys at EA. Are you tired of playing against annoying 12-year-olds who keep going for it on 4th and 15 when their back is to the end zone? Apparently you’re not alone because Madden 2005 contains a new feature to combat this annoyance. Called Fair Play, the system ensures that players maintain the highest amount of realism possible. So if you’ve got a 4th and 30 play ahead of you and you’re on your own 20 you’re out of luck. You’ll have to kick it away, just like in real life. What’s nice is that the designers of the feature had the vision to see that players aren’t always playing cheap in these situations; sometimes they sincerely need to go for it on 4th and long and a conversion could mean the difference between the W and the L. For this the system makes exceptions, smart ones at that. Let’s say you’re stuck on no man’s land between midfield and your opponent’s 40. You’re out of field goal range but kicking it back is pointless because they’re bound to get great field position out of it. In real life most teams will go for it on 4th and short in this situation; if they convert it’s a great move, if they don’t then they’re not hurt too much by it. The same holds true here, you can go for it if the situation seems logical. If not then well, you’re out of luck. This will also be the first time that EA tests the waters with its premium online league service. It’s not up and running yet so we werent’ able to test it yet.
What's left to say? Well I'll leave you with the same parting words that I used for my review of Madden 2004
: "Ive played EA Sports’ line of Madden games since the series made its debut on the Sega Genesis back in the early 90s. I was hooked and I made it a point to pick up the newest entry into the series the day it was released because I didn’t want to miss out on anything. Flash forward 10 years and now my enthusiasm for the series has waned a bit. It doesn’t seem like EA Sports has done much with the series ever since it appeared on the PS2 and to be honest, each and every entry since Madden 2001 has felt like a thinly disguised expansion pack sold at a retail game price point. Each year adds new features but the minor additions make me wonder whether the $50 that gamers are willing to pay each and every year is justified. Perhaps I’m just getting a little jaded, or maybe the luster of the series is starting to wear off, but the 2004 entry in the series just isn’t as appealing to me anymore and in fact, the series has dropped from “Must Buy” status to “Buy if there’s nothing else worth getting” status. Not that Madden 2004 isn’t a great game, it’s just that it’s more of the same and unless that’s OK with you, you might want to hesitate a bit before running out to pick this one up."
With SEGA selling its franchise for $19.99 this year, those words have never rung more true. If you're willing to take a chance I'd say that you should bench Madden and take NFL2K5
for a spin. In our opinion, it's the better football game this year.