Each of the past 15 years, EA Sports has released John Madden football. Each of the past 15 years it is one of the best selling titles in EA’s lineup. More recently it’s been THE biggest seller of the year for EA. This trend will continue most likely, although ESPN’s really putting up a good fight. Each year gamers have to decide which football game to buy? Do I get NCAA? ESPN? Well, I think that this year’s coveted “Best Football Game” goes to Madden 2005.Last year’s game was criticized for having too much offense, and not enough defense. There were a few exploits that needed fixing in the online version of 2004 as well. This year, the game has been tweaked out. I don’t want to use the word over-hauled because if you are a Madden veteran, you’ll still be ok here. The game just puts a little more emphasis on defense, and allows hot routes, audibles, and down to the man changing of coverage and assignments on the defensive side of the ball.
Last year “Virtual Vick” dominated because no matter what defense you could call against the Falcons, Michael Vick would be in a position to outrun whatever blitzes or spies you have, and if you give him time, he could just wing the ball downfield for a ton of yards. This has changed.
By allowing you to control each of the 11 men on defense by group (linemen, defensive backs, linebackers), or individually, you can put an end to something that you know is coming. You could, in the above example, have your fastest linebacker and a defensive end spy Vick while your secondary double-covered the main-go to guy (Price was Vick’s favorite target in last year’s game). You could choose to blitz a safety and spy with one linebacker. You could do really anything you could in real football. You can assign people to spy, blitz, double cover specific receivers, rush inside, rush outside, slant left or right. It’s pretty amazing. On top of this, you can do the normal defensive audibles to get into the proper formation. The improved AI all around on defense really makes the game more realistic. It’s fun to play defense once again.
While the defensive improvements do make a pretty radical change from the pace and scoring of last year’s efforts, the games play out pretty much the same. This is not a bad thing. Madden has been pretty dead-on with the menus, and play calling screens. The mechanics are sound. There have been more animations added for the players with one-hand-catches or different tackles. I found this to all add up to a more fun and more enjoyable game than last year.
Other hyped features include a hit stick, league play, online play, storylines for the season, and create-a-fan. While league play is a cool feature, this is not really a groundbreaker in the console football market. You also have to sign up for a free subscription to EA Platinum which usually costs you $20 per year to play in the leagues online. I suspect many people will wonder why their credit cards get charged when they forget to cancel before Madden 2006 comes out.
The other features are more gimmick than substance. The Hit Stick allows you to flick the right analog stick in order to go for the highlight-reel hit. It’s pretty easy to miss with this all-out tackle, but increases the chance for a fumble or injury. I have found that I use this stick a lot more if I have backup. Punts and kickoffs are pretty good examples. Other times it’s a risk. It’s just too similar to a diving tackle, so there’s not a lot for me to relearn flicking the stick versus hitting the dive button.
Storylines in the franchise are kind of neat, but all they really are is how your team chemistry and individual players act towards you. They may demand a trade if they aren’t getting enough time, they may want more money and hold out before the season. The create-a-fan is pretty lame. I guess it’s cool to make your own fan that will get featured sometimes during an in-game cut scene, but there’s just not much of a reason to do this. Make a fan, give him a sign. It’s not adding a lot. This is cool stuff, but again, these don’t make the game a MUST BUY on their own.
So, I’ve set the stage to say that Madden 2005 is a very well made game. It’s got enough in my opinion, to warrant buying the 2005 version if you own the 2004 version. How does it stack up to NCAA 2005 and ESPN 2k5? Well, it stacks up pretty good. I think it’s better than both the games.
I had some issues with ESPN 2k5. I found that the presentation and atmosphere were both better than Madden. What I didn’t like about ESPN was the actual football game play. Madden wins it for me. It’s more precisely controlled, and it’s easier to do the easy things. I had a horrible passing game in ESPN, I would hit a receiver right in the hands, and they would drop the ball. I would throw the ball up and out of nowhere some defender would block it. The players may have moved more realistically and more momentum, but that’s not to say that Madden ignores momentum, it’s just to say that Madden has it down a little better. I felt like I didn’t have ENOUGH control in the ESPN game. I give ESPN a lot of credit, its come really close, and from people I’ve spoken with there’s pretty much a split on ESPN versus Madden this year. Many bought ESPN due to the price. Can’t go wrong for $20. I didn’t care about price; I want the best football game this year.
As far as comparing Madden to NCAA 2005, well that’s not really an apples to apples comparison, but I’ll do it anyway. I liked NCAA’s game last year best overall. This year, it was buggy on the X-Box, and for those of us with widescreen and Dolby systems, the game was horribly laggy/choppy. I again found the game play in Madden to just be more fun. The same dropping balls problem was around in the NCAA that was there in ESPN. Usually I am all about EA’s college football game, it’s a testament to Madden 2005 that I am crowning it king of the football games this year.
In conclusion, if you are a Madden-ite, no matter what I say in this review, you’ve already bought the game. For those of us that are looking for the one best football game each year, Madden isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty close, and it’s definitely the top football game for 2005.
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