There was a time when I would count the days until the next Madden was released. That moment would usually begin about three or four months after the current edition was released, the approximate amount of time that it would take for me to get bored with the game. Nowadays the countdown doesn’t begin until about two or three weeks until the next iteration is about to be released; not because I’m more enthralled by each and every successive iteration, but because each progressive title seems more and more like the previous. Madden 2002? Madden 2003? Madden 2004? Who cares? It’s all the same to me, but if you’re OK with more of the same, you just might want to invest in this next release in the vaunted Madden franchise.
EA Sports is known for producing half-hearted updates to their franchises that pan out more like expansion packs than stand alone products. This is still the case when it comes to Madden 2004
; the majority of the core gameplay from last year’s game remains while a few sparse elements have been added to beef up the already robust features. There are a few interesting additions to this year’s game, but none that really justify the game’s high price tag. Owner mode allows you to create a team from scratch, place them in a stadium and then micromanage some aspects of the team. This is definitely where the new meat and bones of the game lies as you’ll have to decide whether you’d like to make a few extra dollars off of your fans by raising the price of beer, or reward them by lowering the cost of concessions. The micromanagement aspects are a nice addition but they don’t quite have the depth of the Sims that Maxis (a division of Electronic Arts) is famous for creating.
Building upon last year’s rather solid foundation, EA Sports has gone the extra mile and turned the casual and relaxed online game into a full fledged, hardcore aspect. A new fair game system ensures that your punk-ass 12-year-old opponent won’t go for it on 4th and 15, forcing you to blow one of your precious time-outs. To make things even better the game only rewards you for completing the game so those who whine and quit when getting blown out after three quarters won’t be rewarded for their childish tactics. Making the online realm even more fun voice over ip (voice chat) is now possible via the USB headset so now your Xbox toting friends can’t rub that into your face. Oh wait a tick, your Xbox fanboy buddies can’t play Madden 2004
Hey, I can see myself on TV!
Also new to this year’s edition is a revamped play calling interface that allows the game to show you replays of key plays while you’re selecting your play. It’s nice in theory, but since the game takes its sweet time in setting up the replay, watching it will most likely yield you a delay of game penalty. Had EA Sports started up the replays the instant that the play clock started this feature may have panned out a little better. Including it isn’t such a bad idea as it reduces the number of times that the game has to stall to show full-screen replays. It’s just that it makes it difficult to watch your big-time plays and
beat the clock. Luckily the instant replay feature is still here and it works as well as ever.
When you finally get into the game you’ll probably come down with a case of déjà vu, mainly because relatively little has changed on the field. All of the same intuitive features and not-so-intuitive features still remain. You’d think that after all of these years that EA Sports would finally map the run buttons for the offense and the defense to the same button, go figure. Everything else is still the same, save for the new playmaker feature. This feature allows you to reposition players, direct receivers with the QB and control blockers while carrying the ball. It’s a simple, yet intuitive, feature that helps you get the most out of your gridiron experience. This isn’t one of those features necessary for your success in the game but mastering it can prove to be a valuable asset to any Madden player worth his weight in salt.
Aside from this new addition the game plays more or less identical to Madden 2003
. This means that the same momentum system is still in play and while some prefer NFL2K’s
unrealistic physics, Madden’s
system is still the king in my book. In terms of realism I noticed that there were far more big plays where the offense gained 20 or more yards. It’s almost too easy to break away from the defense, even on run plays designed for short yardage. It almost seems as if the Defense is too small to cover the field as any runner who breaks the 10 yard barrier will likely find daylight in the end zone. The same goes for passing plays, it’s simply too easy to throw a bomb down the field for that big gain. In most cases my passes were of 12 yards or more, much higher than in real life. If that receiver gets ahead of the coverage you can usually kiss him goodbye and add that six on to the board. Seriously, scoring on most defenses in this game is like scoring with a virgin on Prom Night.
There are some issues with the camera as well, the same ones that plagued last year’s game. On passing plays the viewpoint doesn’t zoom out quickly enough to give you a glimpse of your outside receivers. This makes it difficult to hit them on quick short yardage plays because you’re afraid of throwing into coverage that you can’t see. As a result you have to either scramble towards your desired receiver or wait for something else to develop. Regardless, the passing system is still the best on the market as it gives you the best view of the action on the field. It’s also pretty realistic as balls thrown into triple coverage will probably end up in the hands of a d-back as opposed to your wide receiver.
Speaking of d-backs, controlling them is now easier and more entertaining than ever. In past years I opted to control one of my linemen for fear that I would blow my coverage and leave my man open for a huge gain. This time around I felt that I had full control over the situation, to the point where I could go man-to-man and fend for myself in long yardage situations. Interceptions are still a bit hit-or-miss but under most circumstances, the guy with the position will be the one who ends up with his mitts on the ball. It’s nice to see that the number of deflections has increased as I felt that it was far too easy to make completions in last year’s game. I'll refrain from going over the old stuff that was carried over from Madden 2003
. If you missed out on last year's game you can check out my old review of the PS2 version
to catch up to speed.
What I’ve always enjoyed about this series is the relatively simplicity of the controls. Sure, advanced players who understand the intricacies of the juke and stiff arm functions are at a distinct advantage, but newbies can pick up and play the game with relative ease. Hell, even my girlfriend, who has never picked up a Madden game before, had an easy time getting into the action. She was even able to play quarterback for a few downs. In fact, I had so much confidence in her that I even allowed her to play with me in the Franchise mode. This bodes well for anyone who is looking to get their novice friends into the game and for hardcore football fans who spend little time with video games. The manual may be a bit overwhelming but after getting into the game, it’s relatively simple to get in to. Seriously, every one in the universe understands the simple premise of running towards the top of the screen and avoiding the guys in the other uniforms.
Even though EA Sports has been utilizing the same engine for the past three years the designers have made enough tweaks to it to make it look passable. It’s not the same type of mind-blowing visual that made the first next-generation Madden so amazing, but it’s still the most attractive PS2 football game on the market. To improve upon the engine EA Sports added hundreds of new animations, mostly pertaining to tackling. I have begun to notice the engine’s deficiencies though, especially when it comes to the close-ups and the replays. As you play more and more you’ll begin to notice the numerous clipping problems. One would think that the QA and design teams would pick up on it, especially when it’s right in their faces. Perhaps it was just a part of the engine that couldn’t be reworked or retooled.
Everything else looks relatively similar to what we saw in Madden 2003
. Some of my favorite features from last year’s game make a comeback here, such as the field that deteriorates over time and the crowds that grow progressively smaller when the home team is losing. As you play you’ll notice that the stadium design is far superior to most of the competition. This is most attributed to the amount of life and amenities that adorn each stadium. Boot up your copy of NFL 2K3
and notice how empty the stadiums are, now pick up Madden
and notice how the art designers were able to recreate all of the small nuances that make each stadium so unique.
It appears that EA Sports spent some time remodeling the coaches and the referees but the end result is less than desirable. The close-ups of the referees as they explain the penalty on the field are laughable and are bordering on painful. These guys are just poorly modeled and look like the type of rendered characters that you’d expect to find in the audience of a sports game, not on the field itself. Same goes for the coaches, they have this sort of unfinished look to them that makes me cringe. I realize that the game should focus on the look of the players and not the coaches, but EA Sports is the one who chose to highlight these facets, not me. Make no mistake about it, the engine still looks good, but it’s starting to show kinks in its armor. It actually reminds me of Madden and his commentating.
Are you ready for some football? It’s the opening line to each and every Monday Night Football telecast, the program that EA Sports’ Madden
line of football titles tries to emulate. In past years that line used to get me pumped up for some hardcore gridiron but in recent years it’s left me jaded and desiring something more. Monday Night Football has lost its luster over the years and while some will blame this on the poor quality of matchups, I choose to blame the bland and boring commentary. Ever since the team of Al, Frank and Dan was dismantled MNF has been a breeding ground for boring and nonsensical commentary. So it probably comes as no surprise to find that the commentary in Madden 2004
is lacking as well, especially when compared against SEGA Sports’ latest entries.
I’ll be the first to admit that the commentary has been improved, but only slightly. To open up the games Michaels gives a short run-down of the head coaches, including insightful information that casual fans may not have known beforehand. The problem isn’t necessarily with the quality of the commentary but rather with the verboseness and quantity of the commentary. Madden and Michaels are eerily silent; from the opening kickoff to the last ticks of the clock dead air rules supreme. It’s a shame too because the duo are capable of doing so much more with the stick. One can’t help but wonder why the guys at EA Sports haven’t put the telestrator into Madden’s hands for the replays. Hell the guys at SEGA Sports have been doing it for a few years now so it’s more than plausible.
Another problem comes with the believability of the commentary. Lines and comments don’t quite flow into one another and the guys never actually interact with each other. There is a problem with the sound levels too as it sounds like the commentary was recorded in different sessions. There are no lead-ins from Michaels for Madden either. In real life the play-by-play man will usually post a general comment such as “That was a great run” and leave it for the color commentator to elaborate upon. Here they just speak when they feel like it with no lead-ins to speak of. It’s broken, disjointed and rather bland on the whole. It’s a strange oddity, especially when the rest of the game is as polished as it is. I’m not so sure that EA Sports will be able to get away with this for another season, maybe it’s time to go back and record an entirely unique commentary track as opposed to reusing lame line such as “big players make big plays.” It’s like trying to plug a leak with a piece of gum, it’ll hold but you’ll have to find a better alternative sooner or later. After this year I think EA owes it to its fans to go back and revamp both the visual and audio elements.
Another part of the audio that baffles me is the musical selection. Since when did Rap or pussy rock music become associated with football fans? Where's my "We Rill Rock You"? How about "Blitzkrieg Bop?" I don't want these stupid songs by Thrice. I want my Andrew W.K. dammit. EA Sports might want to do themselves a favor and check out ESPN's Stadium Anthems for ideas on what real football fans like to hear.Much ado was made about at E3 about EA Sports’ new Profile system. Essentially, it allows you to accumulate points by playing and succeeding at various EA Sports games. As you gain points they will be used to unlock new features such as stadiums, courses, players or hidden teams. What’s nice about this system is that it works across the board with all of EA Sports’ titles. I’m not quite sure how it’s supposed to work with other games in the lineup but at E3, I was told that earning points in Madden would allow you to unlock new courses when Tiger Woods 2004 is released, and so forth. It’s a nice little feature that rewards gamers for playing their games. I’ll have to see how it pans out in the future but it seems to contain a lot of promise.
Remember when Madden’s line of games used to feature the man on the cover as opposed to some overrated athlete? My friends and I always used to joke about the Madden curse and how it would ruin the career of anyone who was unfortunate enough to grace its cover. In the past no one was affected because the tub of lard himself adorned the cover but in recent years it has proved to be the swansong for anyone who was unfortunate enough to get the call. Think about it, where’s Culpepper? How about Barry? Do we really even need to talk about Faulk and his injury? This time around we’ve got Michael Vick adorning the packaging, Mr. One Year Wonder himself. It seems that the Campbell’s Chunky Soup curse has its own videogame equivalent. Here’s to hoping that Jeremy Shockey appears on next year’s cover, something horrible really needs to happen to that putz.
I'm the Jesus of football! Worship me!
Did we really need another Madden football game? I’ve owned every single Madden game ever since the series made its debut on the Sega Genesis and I’ve always felt that my purchases were justified. In recent years, however, I can’t justify the need to own a new Madden game each and every year. This is a time when the series has almost reached a standstill; little of note is being added to the series and to be honest, one probably couldn’t tell Madden 2002 apart from Madden 2004 if judging by screenshots.
I’ve 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.