Review: Madden NFL 2004 (PS2)


Madden NFL 2004
Genre: Sports (Football)
Platform: Playstation 2
ESRB Rating:
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date:
Official Home Page: Madden2004.com

I know what you’re thinking right now. Why is the humping RPG guy reviewing a sports game? Well, it’s a little known fact that I used to be quite the fan of football games. In fact, I’m still a fan of football, even though I don’t follow it as much as I used to. I haven’t played any football games in several years, so I figured I’d give this one a shot.

Since I’m not familiar with the previous incarnations of Madden Football, I’m going to look at this as if it were the first game in the series. I will also be looking at it from an entirely casual fan’s perspective, rather than a rabid Madden fanatic. Hell, if I like it, then any Madden fan is sure to love it. So let’s take a look at the newest game in one of the most prolific sports game franchises ever.

Gameplay
Surprisingly, the game plays like football! No, really, there are a lot of features that make the game look and feel like a real football game. You have several choices of how you want to play a game. If you want a completely hands off experience, you can just simulate the game, which calculates everything for you and you don’t even have to watch the game. But what’s the fun in that? If you’re more like me, where you like some control, but don’t get that much into the in depth game mechanics, you can pick the plays and hike the ball and watch the game progress. If you don’t know what plays to pick, there’s an easy option to have Madden pick for you, but I recommend picking them yourself, because Madden is getting old and can’t call them like he used to. That’s humor, folks! You’re supposed to laugh! Ok, ok, I won’t quit my day job.

Anyway, for the majority of the people playing the game, they want ultimate and complete control over what goes on, and this game does not disappoint. I’ll go over a standard game and explain everything in more detail. As with a regular football game, you start off with the coin toss, and the winner gets to pick if they want to kick or receive, and the loser gets to pick which side to defend. Then you either kick or return. It’s all pretty standard stuff. Once you get on offense or defense, you get the opportunity to start calling plays. First you pick a formation, like shotgun or I formation, and then you pick a play. Each formation has about 12 or so plays, and with at least 6 regular formations for offense or defense, it adds up to a ton of plays. Of course, you can modify the plays if you want, so the possibilities are endless.

After you pick the play, you get to the guts of the game, where you execute the plays. On offense, you hike the ball and control the quarterback when selecting which receiver to throw to on a pass play, or the running back when executing a running play. Also, with any player in the game, if you don’t move them, the computer will control them for you. So you can just hike the ball and let the computer do the rest if you’re so inclined. A helpful tip for before a play starts is to hit R2 and the camera will zoom out so you can see exactly how the play is supposed to execute and judge the coverage on the defense. Based on this, you can do several things: audible, hot route or PlayMaker.

With an audible, you change the entire play around, so if you think they’re going to be defending against the pass, you can change to a running play. Hot routes are similar, but they don’t change the entire play; they just make one receiver go a different direction. PlayMaker is one of the new features the game has to offer. This is all done by the right analog stick, and can be used to do all sorts of stuff. Before the snap, you can use it to tell the running back to run a different direction, and can do other such things right after the snap. While running with the ball, you can also use it to point out opponents to blockers so you don’t get tackled. In addition, you can do other standard stuff while running, like stiff-arm, spinning, jumping over downed players and sprinting.

Defense works very similarly to offense. Once you pick a play, and before the ball is snapped, you can make coverage audibles or use the PlayMaker tactic to shift your backfield. Defensive linemen can do other nice things like shoving their blockers out of the way, while the backfield can swat the ball or go for an interception. While having all of these options is very nice, and add to the feel of a REAL football game, the button schemes are very complex and the meager tutorials don’t help that much. A quick reference card would come in real handy with this game.

Despite the fact that the point of the game is to PLAY FOOTBALL, there is still a whole lot of other stuff in the game. The one that most people will be going after is the franchise mode, which allows you to pick a team and do basically whatever you want with them. You can release players, sign new ones, do trades, and everything else you’d expect from a game of this sort. What really makes the game unique though is the Owner mode, which is turned on by default. While playing the Franchise mode, you can access the Owner menu and do several things like change the prices of everything, including admission, concessions and merchandise. During the off-season, you can even upgrade your stadium or move to an entirely different city. These features really make the game stand out and give you a total hands-on approach with everything.

At the beginning of the season, you can go through training camp, which allows you to do several drills and if you do well, you can improve player’s stats. You can also do a fantasy draft, which is a really nice touch. From there, you play several preseason games and go right into the regular season.

In addition to Franchise mode, you can also play just a regular single game. The nice thing about this is that you can play as several historic teams. Each team has at least 1 historic team you can play as, and some have many more. Some teams have to be unlocked to play as though, and I’ll get into that in the Fun Factor area. The drawback to the historic teams is that they don’t have names, only numbers, and they don’t even be correct. For example, I played the 1985 Dolphins, so I could play as my favorite QB of all time (Dan Marino of course), but last I checked, he didn’t have number 9. Personally, if they aren’t going to stick with the actual teams and not have player names (or at least give you the option of changing the names, which I couldn’t find) then it’s pretty pointless to have the teams at all.

Overall, the gameplay aspect of the game is very well executed. There are no gaping flaws to be found here, and it has pretty much everything a football fan could possibly want. The only gripes I have with this are minor. First of all, the game itself is very difficult to a casual gamer like myself, and I’m pretty sure I have it on the lowest difficulty. I know it’s probably just the fact that I’m new and need practice, but that leads me to my next gripe. The fact that it includes so many different options for you as far as play control goes when on the field, it also means that the button configurations are hard to master. In most cases, all the buttons are used, and sometimes even button combinations are necessary. The last gripe I have is the most minor of them all. Some of the players don’t have names, which causes their name to show as “RG #56” or something like that. I don’t think there’s any reason for this, because even if the player’s real name can’t be used, they could always use a different name.

All in all, the gameplay is fun and exciting, and the Owner Mode is a really nice addition. I would have given the game a higher score, but many of the things I liked about the gameplay (training camp, fantasy draft, trading and such) were not started by the Madden franchise. The first game to actually include these aspects was a now defunct series called Front Page Sports Football (or originally, Front Page Football) by Dynamix (a Sierra subsidiary). The game was the most in depth football game of its time and started many of the trends that are now common in every football game. Sadly, the series didn’t have the major backing of a big name (Madden) and wasn’t made for consoles, so it wasn’t near as popular, but everyone I know who played it considered it to be vastly superior to Madden. Now that Madden has all those gameplay options and more, it proves that even though it doesn’t innovate at everything, it uses every idea well.

Graphics
Really, I wonder how much more graphics can progress in this day and age. The graphics for this game are excellent, except for some minor things. First of all, the players all look great, and the field is all done well. The player modeling is excellent, and they tried to get every last detail down, even tattoos. And the characters even blink! All is excellent here, except for the fact that occasionally the players look very wooden when moving.

Unfortunately, they didn’t put near as much detail into the non-players. The coaches aren’t too bad, but since they don’t have a helmet on, you can see their ugly mugs, and they are pretty ugly. What’s even worse is the cheerleaders, which were seemingly thrown in as an afterthought. They barely look human, much less like women. But they aren’t what’s important, since you only see them during halftime, so it’s not a big deal to me.

As far as the presentation goes, they obviously wanted to go with the feel of a TV broadcast, and they pulled it off marvelously. You have your standard score box in the upper-left corner and play clock in the upper-right. They even show instant replays after good plays, although usually a split screen replay will have horribly jaggy players. That’s probably just a problem with the hardware more so than the software. There is also a small amount of full motion video in the Bonus and Tutorial areas, and that is crystal clear. Kudos for that.

Sound
In the previous football games I’ve played with commentating, the announcers have sounded pretty bad. Whenever they would say the team’s names or players, something that obviously couldn’t have been recorded in the same sentence, it would sound obviously chopped up. This game doesn’t seem so bad in that aspect. Yes, you can tell that they were chopped up, but it’s not quite the issue it has been in the past.

The announcers in this game are Al Michaels and John Madden himself. The clarity of Michael’s voice is very good, but Madden’s voice doesn’t sound quite as good. I don’t know if it’s just that he’s getting old or if he phoned it in or what, but there is a definite difference between the quality of the two voices. Overall, the commentary was good, but it got old after a while, and I had to turn it off.

The game also features quite a bit of licensed music, but most of the acts I haven’t heard of. They did have a song from Adema and one from Alien Ant Farm, but most of the music is rap based. That’s not to say that it isn’t good, but you just don’t hear the music much so it never really becomes an issue. Overall, the sound aspects in this game are well executed, but nothing stands out as being spectacular.

Fun Factor
When it really boils down to it, most football games are the same. Granted, every year, more features are included, but if I were to go out right now and buy a football game, I’d look most at what the game had that was completely different from any other game.

This game endears to me for several reasons, but one of the main reasons is the slight RPG aspects of the game. What it really ends up being is collecting cards featuring players and coaches, but the fun part is getting them. They can be obtained several ways, the most common of which is tokens. See, when you play a game, you can achieve certain goals in the Madden Challenge, for example intercepting a pass. If you do that, you’ll get 4 tokens/points. If you accumulate 100 tokens, you can buy a pack of 15 cards. There are several different types of cards, including players, coaches, historic teams, cheats and cheerleaders.

Most cards are just for show, but some actually have an effect. The team cards actually unlock those teams for play. They can be obtained in just regular card packs. Some of the other cards have different requirements. That’s where Mini Camp comes in to play.

The Mini Camp is very similar to Training Camp, but you don’t play your own team. Instead, you choose from one of the NFL teams, since each one has a particular drill associated with it. If you get a Gold Trophy on the Mini Camp, you get a special cheat card. And if you get any trophy, you unlock what’s called a game situation, where you basically control that team during a part of a game, and you have a specific goal, like punting the ball so it goes out of bounds between the 15 yard line and the goal line. Complete each of the game situations nets you a cheerleader card. Well, they don’t always have cheerleaders on them for some reason, but each one has the same effect when used in a game. It will pump up the crowd for the entire game. And the cheat cards all have different effects, such as improving your defensive line and making your passes more accurate. I haven’t used any yet though, not only because I wouldn’t want to cheat, but because I’m more afraid of losing them!

The game is a lot more fun with the cards and Mini Camp because it really gives you something to strive for other than the Super Bowl. With 235 cards total, and the ability to get doubles and sell off cards, it’s a really unique experience.

Ratings
Gameplay: 8.5
Graphics: 8.5
Sound: 8
Fun Factor: 9

Short Attention Span Summary
Clearly, if you like the Madden Series, then this game will appeal to you. For the casual football fan, this game is fun as well, because it’s great to play as your favorite team and attempt to get to the big game. At the very least, it’s definitely worth a rent, if you can find it. I consider myself lucky to have found it, because it’ll probably be the top selling football game this year. So it’s fun, even for me, the RPG geek. I bet you’ll like it too.