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Madden NFL 2005

Review By:  Nick Arvites

Developer:  EA Sports
Publisher:  EA
# of Players:  1-4
Genre:  Sports
ESRB:  Everyone
Online Play:  Yes
Accessories:  Xbox Live, HDTV 480p, In-game Dolby Digital, Custom Soundtracks
Date Posted: 

11-28-04

Every fall, millions of people across the country pay their fifty-dollar admission price to get the newest edition of EA Sports’ John Madden Football. While the franchise has proven to be a steady top seller, Xbox gamers were not as enthusiastic about the Madden series because of the lack of online support. However, at E3 2004, Microsoft and EA dropped a bombshell that reverberated through the Xbox community: Xbox Live would now be supported by EA titles. Madden is the second EA-Live game (first being NCAA Football 2005). How does this much-anticipated Xbox Live title measure up to the high standards of the almost two year old community?

The Madden formula is time-proven to work from a business standpoint. All EA really does is tinker with certain aspects of the Madden experience with each updates, and people rush out to buy the product. Some updates are more drastic, such as last year’s franchise mode, while some updates are just polish. This is a year of polishing for the Madden series. Finally, EA has addressed the constant torn ACL of the series: the defense. Even up to last year’s edition, which boasted a much-improved offense, defensive players simply were not there. Safeties were useless, corners made the occasional interception but did little else, linebackers were horribly inept, and linemen were only useful in rushing the passer (assuming the O-line let you through). If your opponent picked the Falcons, you really couldn’t defend against the Vick-and-Dunn attack (scrambling with Vick, tossing short-outs to Dunn, or bombing it). Defensive teams like Baltimore and Miami were useless, while teams like Atlanta and Philly were disgustingly good because of the fast paced offense.

The defensive changes have completely changed the aspect of the game. Aspiring defensive coordinators can now make pre-snap audibles, change individual defensive assignments, and change coverages on the fly before the snap. This gives an entirely new dimension to the Madden system. This allows for defenses to match up against the opposing offense and prevent things like the Vick-and-Dunn combo. Defenders as a whole are actually intelligent, linebackers react correctly and are extremely effective, and D-backs actually do something other than tackle the wideout that beat them. The “hit-stick” is new to this year’s edition. If you want to bring the pain and completely annihilate that pesky offensive superstar, just tap the right analog stick and your defender (preferably cover-boy Ray Lewis or some other mean linebacker) will perform a hard-hitting tackle that has a chance to knock the ball loose or injure the player. There is a drawback…you will miss this if you do not time it perfectly. However, the hit-stick’s true value is when it is used to punish wide-outs with your safeties. Players like Denver’s John Lynch are actually very effective in slamming a receiver and turning a potential catch into an incomplete (or an interception depending on your other defensive backs). Yes, defense is back.

Offense is still more of the same. If you’ve played Madden in this generation, you know what to expect. It’s practically the same thing as last year’s game with two additions. First, that useless hurdle button has been discarded in favor of a protect ball button. If you see a nasty defender about to slam you, jam on the protect ball button and the ball is less likely to fly out of your hands. The second change is the inclusion of formation shifting. Ever watch a Colts game and notice how Payton Manning will start micromanaging his offense and change the entire formation? You can do that. This allows you to bring in protection if you’re running, or throw off the defense by confusing them. However, this inclusion had some serious online problems, which I’ll address later. My biggest complaint with the offense is the running game. This game does not allow for power running. You cannot drag opponents behind you, and breaking tackles is not really a reality in the world of Madden. If you’re using a back like Tiki Barber or an equally speedy finesse back, this isn’t a problem. However, if you’re using any of the top-tier backs (Jamal Lewis, Priest Holmes, L.T.), you cannot bowl over defenders and you will often find yourself unrealistically stopped.

The bread-and-butter of the Madden series is the Franchise Mode. This year, Madden 2005 expands on the Owner mode from 2004. Now, players experience “story-lines” told through the USA Today and local newspapers (including quite a number of real papers) as well as the “Tony Bruno EA Sports Radio Show” that is playing in the background during the menu. Would-be owners can once again build new stadiums, move their team to a number of real-life cities (including Los Angeles), and change the uniforms. There are a few problems that will likely be addressed in subsequent versions of Madden. While the Franchise Mode now allows for players to become disgruntled, you STILL do not see the same amount of bitterness presented by some of the players in real life. While I’m not expecting something like “Player X retires to smoke marijuana ala Ricky Williams,” I do expect egos to make it somewhat difficult to build up a powerhouse team. As it stands, it is far too easy to retain players. If this were a simulation of what it was like before free agency, which would be fine. However, this is not the case in reality. The CPU is a horrible GM. They rarely make trades, and if they do, they’re either nonsensical or rip-off deals (worse than the Jerry Rice for a conditional 7th rounder). On a more nit-picking note, the headlines and stories from the newspapers look as if an illiterate 3rd grade dropout wrote them. The stories are rarely grammatically correct, and in general lack a personal feel.

Audio commentary is akin to listening to glass shards being drug across a chalkboard. Take the commentary track from 2004. Add in a few more names and five new phrases. Pack it and ship it. The commentary sounds distant and generic, and it often sounds worse than the high school games they broadcast on the local access channel. The game has JOHN MADDEN’s name plastered on the cover. WHY IS THE COMMENTARY FOURTH RATE? The presentation doesn’t have a broadcast feel. No half-time shows, no post-game wrap-up, no highlight reels, and the overly generic commentary track makes this feel more like “Joe Montana Sports Talk Football” from the Sega Genesis than something that should be presented in the current generation of console systems. John Madden should be embarrassed to have his name attached to something that has such a sub par presentation. EA is the largest third-party company in the world…why can’t they pay the extra money to get a Monday Night Football license or something to use the MNF logos, graphics, and other things. Look at the competition…ESPN’s addition has added an entirely new dimension to their A++ presentation.

One of the major problems that I found in the game was the actual team ratings and play-styles. Thanks to salary cap and free agency, the NFL has become a league of parity. In other words, while a small handful of teams rise up to the status of elite, the vast majority of the league is equal in terms of talent. However, Madden’s actual play-style doesn’t mirror reality. There’s a definitive ladder between teams, and certain teams that shouldn’t have been rated that high (Redskins and their ineptitude or the Vikings and their lack of D) are, while some teams (Browns) are rated disgustingly low.

So, how is the online portion of Madden? Well, if I had to sum it up in one phrase, I’d have to say “DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE YEAR.” As a (oft rabid) Xbox Live gamer, I’ve been waiting and complaining since the launch of the service about the lack of EA support. EA, as the largest 3rd party publishing company, has an obligation to satisfy their customers. Well, when they announced they would begin supporting the Xbox this year, gamers let out a cheer. Then, the results came back, and they were painfully clear: EA Online is terrible. Let me repeat this: EA IS TERRIBLE. I have NEVER experienced this degree of gross incompetence from one of the major players in the gaming industry, and I’ve dealt with SEGA and NINTENDO before. The first noticeable problem is that the majority of people take advantage of the lack of parity and only play as the following teams: Pats, Panthers, Redskins, Eagles, Falcons and Vikings. Needless to say that in real life, the chances of the Redskins or injury plagued Panthers stomping an opponent is slim-to-none. Less than a month after the game launched, it was soon discovered that there was an online glitch. This glitch involved using the formation shift audible rapidly, and it would drain the stamina of the defense. This was dubbed the “quicksand” glitch since your defenders moved so slow that it appeared they were stuck in the field. EA’s response to this problem? Turn off fatigue for ranked games. While that initially may not sound like a bad idea, the actual practice of it is one of the worst things that happened to the game. It demolished the idea of running the ball. Since defenses never wear down, there’s no point in even trying to run since you’ll never break a huge one unless the defense screws up badly. Defenders can now bump-and-run your WRs, shutting down the pass game, and they can blitz all day without ever tiring out. The one style that sums this up is the extensive use of Quarters formation (3 DLs, 1 LB, the rest DBs) to stop EVERY style of offense.

Offenses can regress to Madden 2002 and simply streak Moss/T.O./any other high profile receiver and get enough long passes to stomp you or simply run with a mobile QB without the risk of injuries. Flags are never thrown unless they’re so obvious that a blind referee can see them. Roster updates have been few, and as of this writing (late Oct./early Nov.) they have yet to update it to include the trade-deadline deals (so McKenzie is still on the Packers, McCardell is still on the Bucs, Rice is still on the Raiders, etc). My online record before they turned off fatigue: 25-14. After they disabled fatigue, my record plummeted. The discovery of several other glitches has practically made this game unplayable. These include DL glitches that allow defenders to blow past the O-line, FG/Punt block glitches that involve sprinting past the line by anticipating the meter (since you can’t delay the kick), and an entire slew of money-play slants. If you don’t like to cheese-play, Madden is not playable online. While they promised league play, it wasn’t free and required a credit card number to sign up. This feature, when it launched a month behind schedule, was also marred with problems and is barely playable, let alone user-friendly. Overall, EA’s online report card gets an F- with additional points off for essentially releasing abandonware.

Highs:

  • Defense actually feels like it’s a part of the game

  • Owner mode additions are cool, but could use some improvement

  • More of the same mass-market appealing (easy multiplayer) game-play

Lows:

  • Xbox-Live/Online support is a joke
  • Horrible presentation
  • No power running game

Final Verdict: 

Herein lies the problem: what to rate Madden? If I had never gone online with the game, this would have been a fairly high rating. All it does is improve from last year’s version, and even though it has flaws, it isn’t bad in the least. However, the online portion kills the entire game. I’ve become so disgusted with Madden because of the online portion that I shelved it, cancelled my premium pass subscription (which was free, but I want out), and plan on getting rid of the title. I cannot recommend this title to anyone who plans on going online because EA does not support it and they have essentially cheapened a simulation football game to the level of NFL Street or NFL Blitz. While Street and Blitz aren’t bad titles in the least, they are not Madden. If I wanted NFL Street, I would have bought NFL Street. To give an idea of the major difference online makes in the rating, I give you my rating for the game without online and the game with online considered.

Overall Score: 8.5
(Buying it for the online?: 5.5)

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