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Platform

Xbox

 

Genre

Sports

 

Publisher

Electronic Arts

 

Developer

EA Sports

 

ESRB

E (Everyone)

 

Released

Q3 2002

 

 

- Eliminated "treadmill effect" from running game
- Crammed full of features and extras that series has become famous for
- Challenging CPU artificial intelligence

 

 

- Kicking game still difficult to master
- Play-by-play and commentary should be better than it actually is with the addition of Al Michaels teamed with John Madden
- No online support by EA for Xbox Live

 

 

Review: Madden NFL 2003 (Playstation 2)

Review: Madden NFL 2003 (PC)

Review: Madden NFL 2003 (Gamecube)

 

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Madden NFL 2003

Score: 8.8 / 10

 

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Odds are when you think of great football video games, one comes immediately to mind: Electronic Arts’ Madden series, now entering its 13th year. Despite some uneven showings with the 32 and 64-bit Madden renditions, the 128-bit PS2, Xbox, and GameCube generation has seen the series make a spectacular return to its glory days of the Genesis Madden games. Last year’s Madden 2002 was very solid with a few minor problems. This year, especially on the Xbox (with NFL 2K3 and NFL Fever 2003 also available for the Microsoft system) the Madden franchise is facing its toughest competition in years for the top gridiron game crown. But EA has done it again with Madden 2003 (Xbox) which is getting only better with age.

When EA claims “if it’s in the game, it’s in the game” they ain’t kidding, football fanatics. Madden 2003 has the return of the Madden cards and the 30 season franchise mode. There’s also the two-minute drill that serves as a training mode. Again you can import graduating players from EA’s NCAA Football into Madden’s

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draft pool. You can create a team, player and playbook if you got a little Bill Walsh jonesn’ to get out of you. Some of the best features are the mini-camp and the preseason. The mini-camp mode has you traveling to each of the NFL cities in the Madden Cruiser to participate in drills that require you to perform certain plays, runs, or passes to earn points (for purchasing packs of Madden cards) and trophies. How

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realistic is a game that actually encompasses the preseason games and evaluation process that franchises use to build a team each year? Very realistic. Madden has outdone the competition again for the 2003 football video game season. Nobody can come close to outdoing Madden in the sheer volume and quality of the extras and features it provides.

Passing in the game stays the same as last year with pressure-sensitive throwing controls that either toss a lob pass or a howitzer at the intended receiver depending on how light or heavy you tap the corresponding controller button. It takes a little getting used to if you haven’t played Madden 2002 in a while or at all, but with a little practice it comes naturally and depicts the truest representation of an actual pro football passing attack.

 

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The biggest improvement on the offensive side of the ball is in the running game. Gone is the “treadmill effect” that plagued last year’s Madden, where if you called a running play and a back got trapped behind the offensive line, he practically ran in place or appeared to be on a treadmill until finally mercifully getting tackled. This year EA stole some innovation from both the NFL 2K and NFL Fever series by allowing the back to attempt to squeeze through any slight opening in the offensive line instead of staying in a “running man” stance. Coupled with its passing features, Madden 2003 can boast of having the best offensive video game football scheme for the 2003 line of titles.

On defense, Madden is relatively stable, although it’s shakier than the hard-to-top offensive schematics. Against you, the CPU artificial intelligence is at its best on defense. You must develop a balanced and efficient offense if you want any chance of winning against the virtual defense. It’s tough, but not impossible to score against once you put in plenty of practice and game time. When you are playing defense either against the CPU or another human opponent, the CPU-assisted defense is the smartest available in any football video game, helping out whenever possible in tackling or covering the opposition. Another nice defensive feature is that you can shift both the defensive line and linebackers to give you a better shot at either the quarterback or running back at the snap of the ball.

Really the only negative aspect of Madden’s defense is the tackling. Either against the CPU or a human opponent, too many times a player seemingly caught in the clutches of one of your defenders finds a inconceivable way to shake your defender off and gain additional yardage. Just when you think you got ‘em, they slip through your grip. It is Madden’s second-most frustrating characteristic right behind the kicking game.

Whether punting or on field goal attempts, the kicking game is still a trying experience. Unless you spend tons of time in the practice mode, the kicking power meter is extremely hard to master. Its difficult to the point that you almost are discouraged from attempting to kick field goals (and instead going for the yardage on fourth down) or punt (to the CPU punt returner who usually winds up bringing back the kick to your last line of scrimmage). Also, when you are in position to return a punt, even the best punt returners in the league can have a difficult time gaining even one yard on a return most times. The CPU or human-controlled punt coverage team almost always is right in your face tackling you as soon as you field the punt.

Graphically Madden 2003 has its strong and weak points. The player animations are as great as last year. When your Madden players are in animated motion they are exceptionally realistic. But once players take their helmets off, Madden’s visuals sink. The player’s facial features are nowhere near the amazing quality in NFL 2K3. And the cheerleaders that pop up at halftime are gruesome in appearance, not anywhere close to the voluptuous beauties they are in real life. But those minor criticisms aside, you might actually think you bought a ticket and are sitting up in the stands yourself when you get a glimpse of the highly detailed stadiums, although the crowds that fill up each stadium are pretty flat and phony looking. It’s not quite as polished visually as either NFL 2K3 or NFL Fever 2003, but Madden more than makes up for it in other areas or the game.

 

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Where Madden 2003 really isn’t anything special is the sound department. One of the highlights of Madden 2003’s auditory elements is the sound of hard tackles, which again is bone-crushingly impressive. The crowds can be pumped up or quieted by pressing down the left trigger, which is cool, but the crowd can at times sound almost as if it is trapped in a tin can and doesn’t sound authentic at all when this effect happens.

You would assume that with all the experience in the broadcast booth, the play-by-play tandem of John Madden and his Monday Night Football partner Al Michaels should provide better audio work than they actually do. Many times the commentary of Madden and the play-by-play of Michaels is too generic and not specific enough to make you believe they are really commenting on the action that is occurring between the two teams on the field. On one play during a game I was involved in, Michaels was talking about how the play lost yardage and that I would have to punt while at the very same time my running back laid the ball down on the carpet and the fumble had yet to be recovered. Sega Sports’ NFL 2K series announcers Terry McGovern as "Dan Stevens" and Jay Styne as "Peter O'Keefe" do a much better job than Madden and Michaels, and they are fictional!

And finally, EA decided at this point not to support Xbox Live online gaming with Madden 2003, instead opting to provide functionality to Sony’s PS2 online service. I personally see that as a big mistake, because both NFL Fever 2003 and NFL 2K3 will be online on November 15 when Microsoft officially launches Xbox Live. If online compatibility becomes an important feature to a big segment of Xbox gamers and Xbox Live becomes a big hit, then EA is risking losing sales to its competitors.

For the second year in a row, the Madden franchise proves it’s worthy of the praise from critics and fans alike. This is the complete package for realistic simulation football video game players that also spend their time managing a fantasy football league team. With NFL 2K3 giving it strong competition, Madden 2003 isn’t the unanimously best Xbox football game on the virtual field. But you sure won’t be disappointed if you choose Madden 2003 over Sega’s equally excellent pro football title, especially if extensively tooling around with the game’s unbelievable amount of extras and features is a big draw for you.

- Lee Cieniawa
lcieniawa@armchairempire.com

(September 15, 2002)

 

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