"Tougher than tough actin’ Tinactin! Tastier than Outback Steakhouse! Better to watch than Little Giants! A better deal than Greyhound buses!"
John Madden has made a career out of saying simple things that every football fan knows. “Now, to score here, they’re going to have to get into the end zone, after which, they’ll get six points.” Another gem includes, “To stop the pass, they’re going to have to knock the ball down.” However, his firm yet relaxed way of announcing is the perfect way to combat the preponderance of commentators who somehow believe that they’re more important then the game being played. See Bill Walton and Dan Dierdoff for prime examples of this.
But commentators in general do not translate well to video games. It is impossible for a computer intelligence to dissect each and every play and then find a perfectly correlating remark. This problem is compounded when you take into consideration that a computer commentator can’t possible record a bit of sound for every single situation that could arise. Therefore, the same phrases are commonly repeated over and over again, due to the repetitive nature of sports. Without the free floating form of Madden himself, telling long anecdotes about past players and coaches, the impact of a commentary has little to do with the actual game. This should effectively end the impact of a named licensee like Madden on the game.
This is not to say that Madden 200 is not a fantastic football game; it is in nearly every aspect. Bestowing the name of “Madden” on the game every year is a wasted way of spending money though. The same goes with putting Marshall Faulk on the cover. The success of Electronic Arts with sports game has always been the quality of the games, not the endorsements and names attached. Profits are being lost when focus is shifted from the gameplay to endorsements for the product which needs no endorsements.
Madden 2003 has gameplay in spades. It boasts the most realistic football action on the Playstation 2, and also features all the extras once would expect from the premier football game available. The only challenger to the throne is NFL 2K3, and the differences between the two games mainly amount to personal preferences between gamers. Both games are near perfect simulations of the football experience.
You are Tom Brady. You’re hunched over your center, Damien Woody, on a third and short from the Texans’ thirty yard line. Out of the corner of your eye, you can see the cornerback cheating up on a cornerback blitz. Quickly, you audible from a halfback dive to a wide receiver post route. Then, you assign Troy Brown to run a fly hot route, hopefully running past the lone safety left to cover him. Woody quickly snaps the ball just before the play clock expires.
Difficulty immediately comes as the blitz works, and the pocket is flushed. You pull down the ball, scrambling to the right, and somehow manage to wiggle out of a tackle. You launch the ball on one foot, towards the streaking Brown, firing a rocket down the field. Due to your lack of stability on the throw, it wobbles in the air, before Brown makes an acrobatic leap to just grab the ball on his fingertips, spinning out of the tackle of the safety, and crossing the end zone for six points. Before, this level of detail could only be seen in the NFL, but now, it can also be in your living room. If you can do it in real football, you can do it in Madden 2003.
So the game itself is solid; what else would you expect from a Madden game? Well, game modes, options, and statistics, of course! Madden 2003 is a fantasy footballer’s wet dream. A franchise option allows you to build your team from the ground up. You have all the powers of a general manager, including picking players from the draft, signing free agents, and deciding whether the hotshot rookie or wily veteran should be on the starting defensive line. You can play for just one season, or use your general managing skills to start a new football dynasty.
To help develop certain skills, drills and mini-camps have been added to Madden 2003. The drills range in difficulty, most focusing on one aspect of football. Examples are accurate field goal kicking, having proper pocket presence, and the ability to break through tackles as a running back. They’re fun to fool around with as you develop your skills, and a great performance can unlock a Madden card for you.
“A Madden card? What is that?” Madden cards are rewarded for good plays, and can be bought with tokens earned during games against the computer. They can then be used in games for “competitive advantages,” such as making your opponent’s goalposts narrow, or letting you throw for a hundred yards in one pass play. Not at all necessary, but they add depth to the game and reward you for playing.
Want more customization options? You can design your own team, right down to stadium, location, and team name. You can create players. You can create plays, an outstanding feature not seen in enough modern football games. You can practice a certain situation at a certain time in a certain weather condition, which are all customizable options with the practice mode. These options add to the vast replay value that Madden 2003 has.
The most significant addition to Madden 2003 from previous installments is the new networking options. If you have a Playstation 2 network adapter, you can play multiplayer over the internet, just like a PC game. While you might notice some latency issues on a dialup connection, playing on broadband is a smooth experience, with only some occasional packet loss and lag. Perhaps the best feature is the free roster upgrades that networking provides though; they’re downloaded straight from EA Sports, with week by week updates.
Want visuals? Madden 2003 does not disappoint. Realism drips from every frame, as player faces and models are used for each player. The immensity of Gilbert Brown and the svelte frame of Michael Vick are both replicated perfectly. All the NFL’s stadiums, teams, logos, and helmets are present. The only noticeable thing missing is the lack of a first down field line, a la the large yellow line across the screen often seen in FOX and CBS football broadcasts.
Also, for the first time I can remember, sound plays an important role in a sports video game. You can hear linemen screaming out audibles. The crowd can be pumped up or calmed down with the touch of a button. Cheering breaks out in the stands, and an all-star soundtrack featuring Bon Jovi, okgo, and Andrew W.K. make sure that the intensity level never lets up, even on menu screens. All these audio features combine to create an appropriate atmosphere for football.
If you like football, buy this game. That’s all that really needs to be said about Madden 2003.
Staff review by Stephen Greenwell (December 21, 2003)
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