Pros: Mini-games and card collectables are fun, graphics are amazing
Cons: Slippy controls, bad franchise. It's Madden, it's a damn roster update, okay?
The Bottom Line: My 5.6 original rating on Netjak may have been too high.
This is another one of my preserved reviews from Netjak. Last time I visited Netjak, the domain name was for sale, so I assume that's it. We had a truly awesome site during the seven years it lasted.
Well, this year’s edition of EA Sports’ ever-popular Madden NFL franchise is finally upon us, and it is being showered with the usual accolades: “Best Madden ever!” “One of the great football video games of all time!” “Madden continues to improve with every edition, and this year is no exception!” “The very best and most realistic football you’ll ever play without leaving your chair!” If you’re in the crowd that thinks that EA Sports can do no wrong, and Madden is the greatest thing to ever happen to sports gaming, and you generally agree with any of the fictitious quotes above, I strongly advise you to leave this review. I’m not with the Madden-rules-all crowd. Not a year goes by when I don’t think the series is overrated and needs more than updated rosters. With that statement, the Madden-rules-all crowd has been warned: This gamer is mad as all hell and not going to take it anymore.
Please allow me to preempt the inevitable inflammatory comments about me being biased towards Sega Sports. You’ve hit the nail right on the head. I’m a lemming-like devotee to Sega Sports and I’m damned proud of it. EA Sports has never once given me a reason not to be. I may be a Sega Sports loyalist, but I’m also a sports nut (an aspiring sports journalist for that matter) and a particularly rabid fan of the NFL. I take my football seriously and expect the designers of my NFL-licensed video games to do the same. Apparently, that’s too much to ask in the case of the grossly misnamed EA Sports. Almost every Madden football game I’ve played, except for the groundbreaking 2003 edition, places flash over substance. Sure, the series succeeds in the atmosphere department, but atmosphere is more needed for the spectators than the guys playing the game. Madden, to me, is a warm, fluffy roll without the hamburger. Yo EA, where’s the beef?
Madden NFL 2005, sadly, is no exception. With last year’s game, it looked like EA Sports was finally beginning to run out of ideas for different modes. They started using an owner’s mode with their last game, in which you could decide things like ticket prices. It turned out to be the best new feature they could think of. Maybe there are some football politicians out there who care about that sort of thing, but this mode was not something that would endear me to it. It’s sad when the highly touted new mode in a football game has absolutely nothing to do with the game of football itself. It returns in Madden 2005, but it’s still not something I would waste my time on. Madden 2005’s improvements over its predecessor actually have something to do with game and video game alike, so that fact alone makes Madden 2005 an improvement over Madden 2004; it shows that the boys at EA Sports haven’t run their creative well dry after all. The most touted improvement is the hit stick, a little device which isn’t supposed to assist you in tackling so much as it’s supposed to make you tackle extra-hard when you need to force a fumble. The other visible new feature is buried within the franchise mode. It’s called Storyline Central, and it basically allows you to play spectator as well as general manager to your chosen team.
The hit stick takes a lot of practice to master, but it’s actually pretty fun once you get it down. There’s little in gaming more fun than lining up your chosen linebacker so he’s staring right into the ball carrier’s eyes, and then SMASHING him with a monster hit to say hello! The hit stick isn’t something you’ll automatically master, and the tackle button is still a much better option to use if you have to tackle someone from a diagonal angle, but it’s still a nice little addition that adds depth to a series that rarely takes such risks in its gameplay department. But while the hit stick itself is nice, the computer having one of its own is not. Do unto others. Since EA Sports gave you the ability to hit extra hard, it also gave the computer the ability to hit extra hard - and it uses its ability far more often than you could ever dream of. What’s annoying about this is the computer’s ability to force a ridiculous number of fumbles in any given game, mostly on punt returns. It’s unfair because while you fumble more often than Tiki Barber, you won’t be able to force too many yourself.
The next visible feature is Storyline Central, which is supposed to add some depth to the franchise mode by allowing you to track your team through the media. Ultimately, it fails because it’s way too simplistic for its own good. While it’s nice to see your hometown paper in the game (if your hometown is also hometown to an NFL team) the designers at EA Sports failed to hire the sportswriters. They also failed to realize their talents are strictly for game designing, not writing, so the paragraphs which appear in every paper are clichéd bullet points that are the exact same from paper to paper. These bullet paragraphs are often less than 50 words long, so they merely repeat generic information saying “The (team name) won!” or “The (team name) lost. The (team name) suck!” Occasionally, you might get a report on what an unhappy team member is whining about. (I’ll talk about that in the next paragraph.) Storyline Central is enhanced slightly by Tony Bruno’s radio show, which you can listen to. Although Tony is a very likable radio personality, his show is only slightly better than the newspapers because the programmers didn’t bother to give him a diverse script. So game after game, you hear the same old dialogue.
A rather annoying new addition to the franchise mode is basically a happiness meter. It goes up and down depending on how well a particular player thinks he’s being treated. You have to keep certain players happy by offering big contracts and playing them as starters. If a player dislikes the way he’s being treated, he’ll take it right to the media and let the city know he feels like an under appreciated housewife. This whole feature seems like an afterthought thrown in to make your managerial duties a pain because what players on your team say can be inconsistent with what’s actually happening. For example, I started a fantasy league using my favorite team, the Buffalo Bills, in which I was able to grab Michael Pittman, who is by all means a very solid running back. But on my Bills team, Pittman was only playing backup to my first-round pick, Clinton Portis. Even though I was 6-1, Pittman never stopped whining that the team lost as a result of his not starting. That’s STARTING, mind you, not playing. He most certainly was playing - I used him on third down and often kept him on the field in the second half of blowouts.
Another failure of Madden 2005 is the contrast of the abilities of certain players to their real-life counterparts. I’ll use one of the running backs I mentioned in the last paragraph as an example. Michael Pittman, in reality, is the starting running back for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While not among the NFL’s elite running backs, it becomes obvious while watching him play why Bucs coach Jon Gruden made him the starter: Pittman is big, tough, quick, and reliable in a pinch. But in Madden 2005, he’s easier to knock down than a soda can.
Speaking of running backs, their position is undergoing an apparent de-evolution in Madden 2005. There are Madden buffs out there who will try to tell you the running game in Madden 2005 is all realism. Any self-respecting NFL fan knows how tough running is, and therefore wouldn’t expect to gain ten yards per carry. And while most NFL fans are aware that dominant defensive teams like Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New England CAN stuff nine out of ten rushing attempts behind the line of scrimmage, they’re also aware that weak defensive teams like Indianapolis and Kansas City lack this ability.
Defense, defense, defense. Madden 2005 has a defensive emphasis that’s very frustrating at times, which explains why EA Sports coughed up the big bucks to make Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis - the best defensive player in the league - their 2005 pitch man. This is for better as well as for worse. One of the best features of Madden 2005 is the ability to decide what coverage should be keying in on impact receivers like Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, and Marvin Harrison. It’s nice to be able to set your cover guys so a shutdown safety like Brian Dawkins will take an offensive threat like Torry Holt out of the equation, so you don’t have to worry about getting burned if you blitz Marc Bulger. What’s REALLY nice about playing defense is that even if Marc Bulger burns you and Brian Dawkins blows his cover, Torry Holt will still have trouble catching the ball. That’s right - for all the effort put into stepping up the computer defense, EA Sports overlooked the other side of the ball. Running a fast, methodical offense in Madden 2005 is a real pain. The four wideouts I’ve mentioned by name in this paragraph are widely considered the NFL’s best at their positions, yet in Madden land, all four seem to have hands covered with industrial-strength grease.
The gameplay as a whole has always been a problem in the Madden series. Skimming through just about every Madden review ever written, I see people handing out compliments left and right about precision control. Precision compared to what? A shopping cart? These people must have very different definitions of the word “precision” than I do because what’s “precision” to them is “slippy” to me. The players always control like they’re sliding around on an ice rink. Top running backs like LaDainian Tomlinson don’t accelerate as quickly as they do on the real gridiron, and changing a running route whenever a hole clogs up proves to be a Herculean task. The evasive moves don’t often work, and opposing defenses are tough on the run to a point where a running game can be factored out. The sliding effect isn’t as bad on defense, but it’s still bad enough to become the difference between sacking a quarterback and allowing him to let loose a 48-yard Hail Mary on third and long.
A passing offense will be a bit more effective in moving the ball down the field, but the passing game in Madden NFL 2005 proves to be as much of a problem as running. Randy Moss’ butterfingers aren’t the only problems you’ll have to overcome. You see, in order for Moss to let the ball slip through his fingers, it first has to get to him. In real life, Moss has one of the NFL’s most accurate quarterbacks, Daunte Culpepper, lobbing long bombs to him. To make it easier for Moss to do his job, you’ll often see Culpepper throw the ball the ball two or three feet ahead of where Moss is. This technique, called “leading,” is an essential part of football because it allows receivers to make the catch while on the run from defensive backs. Three or four feet - sometimes five - is the normal lead. In Madden, the lead is often over ten feet on plays involving any kind of slant. Let’s be real; no receiver can run ten feet in the time it takes for a football to travel to where it’s going in a west coast offense. Therefore even a stud quarterback like Peyton Manning - who, as of this writing, is coming off a real-life game in which he literally threw more touchdown passes than incompletions - will see his negative statistics soar right up there. In other words, screen passes in Madden are thrown to the location where a receiver is supposed to be, not where he is. Apparently, the concept of improvisation is lost on Madden’s designers. It wouldn’t be such a problem if all the offensive lines weren’t so collapsible. But as it goes, it’s either throw early or take a sack.
It’s not to say the game doesn’t have replay value, however. Believe it or not, even after all the angry rambling I just did, there’s still a lot of fun to be squeezed out of Madden NFL 2005. A good chunk of it comes from the mini-camp mode, which allows you to test your skill at just about every essential aspect of real football. If you’re a series n00b, this is the mode you’ll want to start with because it helps you get used to the slippy controls. There are four levels of skill for each mini-game, and once you attain a certain score, you unlock a game scenario in which the skill you just mastered is put to the test. There’s also a really cool scenario mode, in which you design an exact scenario right down to the second. If you’re a Panthers fan who’s still angry at Tom Brady and Adam Vinitieri for what they did to your team in the Super Bowl, for example, you can recreate Brady’s final drive to the Carolina 36 - and stop the drive at the Patriots’ 36! There’s also a two-minute drill in which you try to score as many points as possible. There’s a very useful practice mode that you can use to master those tricky offensive plays that are trademarks of offensive powerhouses like St. Louis and Minnesota.
In almost every mode, you get a number of “credits” which are stored into memory. What are those worth? Madden cards, baby! Cool little action stills of your favorite players, coaches, and cheerleaders! (Those fans of Green Bay, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Chicago, or either of the New York teams will have to do with “Pump Up the Crowd” cards.) These cards provide cute little cheats that do everything from riling up the crowd to sack-proofing your quarterback. While the cards send Madden NFL 2005’s replay value skyrocketing, they also have the unfortunate downside of being used as corporate shills by EA Sports. It’s literally impossible to collect every card unless you’re also willing to dish out another 150 dollars for more EA Sports games, because certain cards are only available if you have those games stored in the same memory chip as Madden. While this only applies for a handful of cards (probably less than ten) it’s still a truly disgusting advertising move which will undoubtedly send at least a few people back to the local game store to buy games they’re not interested in.
You know, every time I think a long-running series has done everything it possibly can in the graphic department, game designers always find a way to prove me wrong. Madden 2005’s graphics are spectacular, and even better than ESPN NFL 2K5’s graphics in a lot of respects. Colors are bright and splashed everywhere in the stadium, and the end result makes Madden take the appearance of a real football game. The big heads seen in Madden 2003 were straightened out in Madden 2004, and Madden 2005 continues to keep everyone’s heads proportional to their bodies. There are fan shots to go along with replays, which are nice but lacking in variety. The very best graphic detail goes to the natural scenery. In Madden 2005, if you play a game at 4 pm, you’ll get to see the most glorious sunset since Zelda: Ocarina of Time if you take your eye off the game briefly. Weather changes periodically, so don’t be surprised if a partially cloudy day ends up yielding some rain. The shadows and helmet reflections are excellent.
The sound has its share of hits and misses, but mostly misses. The music is another licensed soundtrack that contains a greater variety of music than the last two, but also less quality. Many of the songs are simply bland and don’t fit into a genuine football atmosphere at all. The dialogue comes through clearly, but suffers from the same problem as every Madden game - it SUCKS! The best-written segments are handed off to the talkative Tony Bruno. While Bruno certainly doesn’t lack passion, clarity, and knowledge, he doesn’t get to show it off as much as he would on a real weekly radio show. Granted, he has a share of interesting things to say, but he says them week after week and they get repetitive. Even so, Bruno would still make a better play-by-play announcer than Al Michaels, or a better color commentator than John Madden. Like Bruno, they lack no passion, clarity, or repetition. But unlike Bruno, they have almost nothing insightful to say. Madden yammers on the with the lousy “Maddenisms” which have become his series trademark, and Michaels just repeats the same lines five or six times per game. Makes you wish Madden himself was the next victim of his game’s famous curse.
Madden NFL 2005 has a share of saving graces which would justify a purchase, but it’s not enough to make me end my love affair with ESPN. Now let’s go back into history for a bit: When Sega Sports launched its acclaimed NFL 2K series, they took the edge in gameplay while Madden kept a stranglehold of video game football mainly through its options, atmosphere, and the fact it showed up on more consoles. Since Sega went third party, though, Madden’s crown has been under an unrelenting assault. Madden kept the atmosphere and options for a couple of years while NFL 2K boasted the superior gameplay. But in the last two years, that’s began to change. While Sega Sports began adding more play modes, atmosphere, and options, EA Sports began running in place after the brilliant Madden NFL 2003. Today, they’re beginning to pay for it big time. Two years ago I would have recommended you make the choice between the two games yourself. Today I’m outright TELLING you to ignore the Madden juggernaut and buy yourself a copy of the new king, ESPN NFL 2K5. ESPN contains a variety of play modes that are just as fun as Madden’s, and all of them are executed better. ESPN contains gameplay that doesn’t make you feel like you’re driving a bus. ESPN has simply caught up to Madden in every conceivable way, shape, and form, and costs a mere $20 (as opposed to the normal $50 for Madden, or $60 if you want a special version of it). Madden, meanwhile, comes off like it was programmed by people who were unaware of any competition facing them. Therefore, go with ESPN. If your little one absolutely insists on finding Madden under the tree, however, I’ll just offer some advice: Wrap up your child’s copy of Madden NFL 2003 or 2004 and place it under your tree. I’ll bet you the $50 price tag (which you could use to buy TWO brand new ESPN 2K5 games, plus enough candy to fill the kid’s stocking) s/he’ll never see the difference.
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About the reviewer
Nicholas Croston (BaronSamedi3)
Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial. Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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Madden NFL 2005 is an American football video game that was released on August 9, 2004. It features Ravens star linebacker Ray Lewis on the cover. Al Michaels and John Madden return as game commentators.