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Platform

Xbox

 

Genre

Sports

 

Publisher

Electronic Arts

 

Developer

Tiburon Entertainment

 

ESRB

E (Everyone)

 

Released

Q4 2001

 

 

- Strong graphical presentation
- Loaded with tons of extra features including the fun Two Minute Drill
- Realistic CPU AI

 

 

- Impossible to exploit running ability of agile quarterbacks
- Tackling adequacy of defenders leaves much to be desired
- Hard learning curve for defense and field goal kicking

 

 

Review: Madden 2003 (XBox)

Review: NFL Fever 2003 (XBox)

 

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Madden 2002

Score: 8.6 / 10

 

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It's an annual rite of passage in the world of sports video gaming. Another NFL season starts, and another rendition of the long-running Madden football series hits the store shelves. In its heyday of the Sega Genesis, not only was Madden the best football title around, it was the best video game of any sport, bar none. Riding the wave that has carried it since those Genesis days, every year like clockwork, the game quickly becomes a top seller, supported in large part by the fanatical Maddenites. This despite the fact that the game has had less-than-stellar years during The 32- and 64-bit gaming era, which weren't very pleasant undergoings for the Madden franchise, particularly when we're talking about the graphic and control elements. Don't give me any talk about the grandeur of the franchise's entire 2002 line. Madden 2002 on the N64 is uglier than Quasimoto's hump, with a difficult control scheme to boot.

But it's been the 128-bit era that has seen the moribund Madden resurrect itself to its once-lofty perch atop the sporting video game realm. With the release of

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Madden 2001 on the PS2 last year, Madden again had a right to claim superiority over its direct counterparts. Was the 2001 rebound a fluke? Or does Madden 2002 continue the franchise's resurgence? The overall goodness of Madden 2002 on the XBox verifies that the 2001 version indeed has given rise to the return of Madden to top-flight gridiron video gaming greatness.

 

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That's not to say that there aren't some deficits in Madden 2002 either. But let's start with what makes this year's game a title worth buying. This is of course the initial season debut of Madden on the newly released XBox. Tiburon Entertainment has successfully taken advantage of the power of the XBox to create the best Madden yet, even though it is just slightly better over the PS2 version than one suspected it could have been.

Madden 2002's graphics are one of the title's biggest assets. This is one great-looking game, from the players and their uniforms to the stadiums and crowds. Out of the three XBox football games, Madden 2002 wins the aesthetic award for its eye-pleasing visuals. Player animations look awesome, particularly running backs scampering in open pasture. The motion-captured animations of all players are extremely well done. The cyber-players in Madden 2002 are the most realistic looking seen in any football game.

One minor glitch in the running back animation is when a back hits a defender-filled line and doesn't attempt to squeeze through any miniscule opening similar to NFL2K2. Instead, they look like a hamster on an exercise wheel, legs a-churning but not going anywhere fast, just waiting to be tackled.

During the opening coin toss is the only place in the entire game where the graphics are below par when you consider the stellar visuals everywhere else in Madden 2002. The players gather at the 50-yard line for the toss with their helmets off, which is a mistake, because the heads are so grossly ballooned compared to their respective torsos you almost get the feeling you just have engaged some type of big head cheat in the game. But that is a minor complaint considering the whole coin toss aspect takes less than 30 seconds of Madden 2002's gaming experience.

Sound elements are solid, at least in respect to the loud crashing together of large male bodies on the cyber-gridiron. This is evident in the great replays that show you not one, not two, but three different angles of bone-crunching impacts. The crowd noise is serviceable, and increases in volume if the home team happens to be enjoying a good streak of plays. But the crowd cheering can start sounding a little bit unrealistic compared to NFL Fever's better and more genuine audience audible exploits.

Player chatter on the field is basically non-existent. Does it detract from the game not hearing the banter of defensive players talking smack? No, not really. It's just noticeably missing after playing a few games of NFL2K2.

And of course, the signature of Madden 2002 is the inclusion of the one and only John Madden and his esteemed sidekick, Pat Summerall. Unbelievably, while not as bad as the NFL Fever tandem of Dick Stockton and Ron Pitts, Madden and Summerall provide only average at best commentary to this year's rendition. Summerall retains his overall steady play-by-play calling, but Madden's comments are a stock variety of generic voicings, and repeat too often. The usually flamboyant real-life observations of Madden are mostly held in check in the video game dominion. The Madden remarks are at their best when the are specifically referring to a Madden 2002 individual virtual player. Most are right on the money, describing the player or his situation in close synchronicity to what has happened on the Madden 2002 playing field.

What makes Madden 2002 a good football game is the CPU's artificial intelligence. In single-player action, you can't expect to roll over the CPU-controlled opponent with large chunks of yardage on offense or shut it down with an impossibly tough defense. You have to work to get the hang of beating Madden 2002's AI. Nothing's easy, and that's a good thing. The biggest fault with NFL Fever is that its way too simple to defeat the CPU. You won't encounter the same situation with Madden 2002. When playing with other human competition, the AI helps you both on offense and defense. The AI reacts to the play on the field. You're going to wind up with realistic final scores, not 60-points-for-each-side shootouts.

This game's learning curve is steep. It's no wonder that this series has such a devoted following, because the amount of time it takes to master this franchise doesn't allow for even any casual acquaintance with another football title good or bad for each respective system.

Also, the AI referees are a little too quick to toss a yellow hankie, especially if you stick to the same play a few too many times or running or passing every single down. The penalties, especially holding, can promptly ruin a good scoring drive, and it seems like the CPU's AI is forcing you to develop a more balanced approach to playing offense, so get used to seeing more flags flying than appear in other football titles.

Madden 2002's game speed is nice on the offensive side of the ball. Select a fast-moving fleet of offensive personnel with a team like the St. Louis Rams and you will be flying around the field at what seems like warp speed. On defense, the players move with swiftness of foot, just not as evident as on offense. Amazingly the nice game-speed aspect of Madden 2002 holds true despite the fact that the speed burst function provides little velocity increase to your cause. This is probably the result of Madden 2002 trying to deem itself as the most realistic football simulation available. Oh, you do move a little faster than usual both on offense and defense, but it pales tremendously in comparison to the speed burst in NFL2K2 or the "lightning" burst in NFL Fever. In those games, increased speed is obvious in that Wile E. Coyote on Acme rocketskates way.

You want extra features? Madden 2002's got them at an insane level. This is one area that neither NFL Fever nor NFL2K2 can come close to matching Madden 2002. My favorite feature is the two-minute drill. Playing on offense starting from your own 20-yard line, you have to try and score as many points as possible within the supplied two minutes. The more you score, the more tokens you earn, which in turn are used to buy the Madden cards which are the player, hidden bonuses and cheat cards you can use in the game. Your best bet to collect tons of tokens is to pick the Rams as your offensive team and select a bad defense like the Houston Texans or a NFL Europe team. This practically guarantees you scoring at least four or five touchdowns.

All the NFL teams including the new Texans, NFL Europe, NFL Alumni teams and Madden teams are included to select from. If are a Daniel Snyder wannabe and somehow don't find a team you like out of the multitude Madden 2002 gives you, you can create your own. Everything from the team logos and colors to the nickname are left up to you. And the franchise mode gives you complete control over a team that you can run as its general manager. Trade and replace players as you see fit to fine-tune what you hope will lead to the ultimate NFL prize, the Super Bowl championship. One feature that is more of an Xbox goodie than a Madden 2002 one is the ability to save games directly onto the built-in Xbox hard drive instead of the traditional memory card.

The biggest complaint I can fire at Madden 2002 is the utter lack of the efficient ability of using quarterback scrambling to produce a high-octane offense, especially when considered against NFL2K2 and to a lesser extent NFL Fever. The only way to get your QB to use his feet to gain yardage is to pass the line of scrimmage. There isn't a way to immediately allow your signal caller to hit the turf at high speed, a la NFL2K2. Instead, your field general, still in a passing stance, shuffles up to the line. But by the time you get any chance of crossing the point of no return, when no passing option is left, the defense has usually smashed your QB into the ground for a sack. It makes the using of a skilled running quarterback, especially Donovan McNabb of my hometown Eagles, useless as a running threat. Essentially, Madden 2002 negates any threat of running in the game by a quarterback who usually inflicts a lot of headaches on the defense facing him in real life due to his talent at scrambling (McNabb, Kordell Stewart, Jeff Garcia, Daunte Culpepper to name but a few). I don't see how Tiburon Entertainment could have allowed the important game feature of quarterback running options to be left out. It is inexcusable from the self-appointed masters of the sports video game.

Learning the nuances of the kicking game is one of Madden 2002's tougher acquired skills. I still haven't found the perfect stoppage points on the kicking meter to attempt a field goal or loft an effective punt. Early on, you won't have any faith in either aspect of the kicking game. In fact, even in field goal range, I more often than not will wind up just going for the necessary yardage on fourth down instead of what to me is a futile and generally unsuccessful field goal.

Tackling on defense isn't too easy either. Frustration mounts as an offensive player escapes the seemingly inescapable grasp of your controlled defender. Usually this occurs against the better running backs in the league like the Rams' Marshall Faulk or the Redskins' Stephen Davis. I guess you won't mind your player gaining a few more unexpected yards if you are on offense, but it can be maddening (pun intended) while you are on the defensive side of the ball.

Considering how many button, joystick, and trigger variations are possible with the XBox controller, the control scheme is much less complex than one would think possible, especially after dealing with the harder-than-it-needs-to-be controls of NFL Fever. Offensively, the running game is much easier to learn than the passing game. Passing the pigskin requires dedication. Madden 2002's passing controls are frustrating for a while until you play a few games and gradually get more comfortable. Defensive controls take much longer to master. I like the ability to easily shift both the defensive line and linebackers. But learning to play with your cornerbacks covering passes to wide receivers will take time. The only facet of Madden 2002's control scheme that I didn't like was the assignment of letter-coding instead of color-coding to your available offensive receivers during passing plays. Maybe it's just me, but I think its easier to figure out which receiver is you best option by having a color button above identifying him instead of a letter. In NFL Fever, the receiver assigned to the red "B" button has a red "B" identifying him, much the same as in some variation NFL2K2 and GameDay do. In Madden 2002, you have a yellow "B". Being used to the color-coding of the above-mentioned games made Madden 2002's passing attack more difficult to learn.

For the hardcore Maddenite, this is the best and most balanced Madden yet in spite of some absent and suffering game conditions. But 2002 is the greatest season for football game choices. Those with a leaning towards arcade gridiron action or an easy-to-learn football experience may want to consider the other two relatively solid choices out there instead, NFL Fever or NFL2K2. The various 2002 releases have made this the most competitive contest ever when it comes to selecting a football game to buy. Madden certainly fills up a lot of the holes that made my prior experience with the recent series releases on the N64 and PSX totally unpleasant. But it is definitely NOT the unanimously brilliant game many make it out to be, although I will throw Madden its just props for giving the Xbox another early A-list title.

- Lee Cieniawa
(February 3, 2002)

 

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