Collector's Edition Full Review: More of the same can't be a bad thing?right?
Facing perhaps the trickiest competition in years thanks to the brilliant ESPN NFL 2K5, John Madden Football has returned with Madden NFL 2005. While incredible praise and acclaim for Sega's game might have put a slight damper on Madden's hype machine, EA's flagship franchise is here, and is better than ever, as you'd expect. But is that enough this year, when Sega has attacked not only with the most realistic game in the series yet, but also a more wallet-friendly price tag? In all honesty, yes ? if you're a Madden fan. Madden NFL 2005 is a marked improvement over its predecessor, which cannot be said about its collegiate brethren, and that's certainly a good thing. Yet at the same time, Madden does not make the same leaps as ESPN does, which means different things to each camp ? ?Madden's already perfect' would be the claim of Madden Nation, while Camp Sega would ridicule EA's laziness in not upgrading what's basically the same engine as Madden NFL 2001, a game released 4 years ago. Either way though, this Madden is the best yet, and if you like Madden ? you'll love this like it was your firstborn child. Which is the superior football game this year ? that's not for me to decide?that's your call.
As it seems to be every year, Madden's feature set grows more and more robust as time goes on. Naturally the focus is on either online play or the Franchise mode, and both have been fixed up more. EA has introduced something called the ?EA Premium Pass? which allows for creation of leagues, expanded tournaments, etc. for online play, at a cost of zero dollars. This year, anyway?it will be $19.99 a year after that. Otherwise, EA has lived up to their wish to never charge to just play a basic game online, as you can play anyone, anytime, with full voice via broadband and the Network Adaptor, but the Premium Pass is a special bonus for the really hardcore set. Of course, the Dynasty mode has been enhanced with a more user-friendly setup, and the addition of Storyline Central, which we'll get into. Otherwise, Madden has the same setup as always, with exhibition games, Madden Cards, the EA Sports Bio, etc. It also has a set of mini-games, including the devilishly addictive Mini-Camp ? these are the same damn ones as Madden 2003, but yet they're still so easy to get hooked on and play all night long. Unfortunately, one small knock on Madden this year ? unlike ESPN NFL 2K5 which takes advantage of the PS2 HDD for game saves, Madden fails to do so. Tsk, tsk.
Of course, PlayStation 2 owners have the benefit of being able to purchase the ultimate version of Madden ? the Collector's Edition. A limited property, the CE is filled with some cool stuff, especially made for die-hard Madden fanatics. The biggest part is the three bonus games ? Madden Retro, Madden Classic, and Madden Vintage, based on old Madden games of the past (Madden '93 represents the 16-bit era, Madden '98 represents the pre-polygon PSX era, and Madden 2000/2001/2002 represents the late PSX era). These come with all the current teams and players, only in the classic style. Unfortunately, you can only play basic games for 1-2 players?there's no season mode or anything of that sort, unfortunately. Thus, while they're cool for a few games, there's little reason to play them unless you're really jonesing for an old-school game of Madden. There's more to the CE though that is better ? the Madden Moments for one. These let you re-enact some awesome past moments in the history of the NFL ? be it changing history or keeping it accurate. They start out pretty simple, but eventually you move up to ?The Drive' which is incredibly challenging against all-madden AI. However, beating these are well worth the time ? you get tons of points for buying Madden Cards to round out the collection. There's also Madden Trivia which can be used as a multiplayer game, and some videos. All in all, not a bad batch of extras for the $10 upgrade compared to the stand-alone game. Plus you get a cool slipcase package and in a very nice touch, every loading screen on the CE mentions an old Madden game with the new features included each year. It's great for Madden buffs.
Anyway, Franchise mode. This year's Franchise builds upon last year's Owner Mode with even more detail, yet in a very user-friendly manner. This is called Storyline Central. Here, you can access email, read newspapers from across the country to keep up on the news around the NFL, and listen to EA Sports Radio, hosted by Tony Bruno. The radio part is optional, as you can shut him off and listen to music instead, thankfully. The show gets fairly repetitive and annoying, and Bruno can get preachy as hell sometimes. However, the other stuff, especially the newspaper facet, really round out the depth of this robust mode of play. The newspaper articles are usually the key to knowing how things are going with your team in the local paper. If you're playing well, the paper will mention this and praise you. On the other hand, players will also make appearances, either thanking the coaching staff for giving them a shot, or disgruntled players complaining about playing time (I had this happen in my Franchise, my backup HB whined and I thus cut him for it), or even a guy asking for a bigger contract or whatever. It all ties into the morale of the team?if everyone's happy and there's no troublemakers, the morale will be high and you'll play well?but on the other hand, if things aren't good, there might be a drop in player commitment and you might have a bad game or two unless things are straightened out. It seems that while ESPN is going for the ?player' side of the Franchise with the Weekly Prep, EA is going for the ?owner' side of things, which is a decent alternative. All in all, the Franchise/Owner mode (which hasn't changed much) is insanely robust and detailed letting you cover so many angles of the game.
On the field, EA has promised that this year's game would be defensive-minded ? and by golly, it is (and why not seeing that the first defensive player to ever reach a Madden cover, Ray Lewis, happens to be on this year). It may seem transparent at first, but the defense is tougher and more alert than ever before. When you're playing defense, you finally have your own Playmaker controls, letting you shift players around to cover different assignments on the fly, in case you fear a mistake in coverage or maybe feel a little uncomfortable about that no-huddle offense and don't wanna play with audibles. It works well, but at the same time, can punish you greatly if you leave someone open because of it. Of course, the swarming defense will help ? the D is as aggressive as always, and it seems to affect how the game is played. The coolest addition is the Hit Stick, which lets you knock the living crap out of someone with a flick of the right analog stick. There's a certain risk/reward to it, as missing can lead to a big problem, but when you connect, it can be a punishing hit, which could injure, or force a turnover if done at the right time with the right force. Honestly the only thing missing that could make defense even more interesting is the crowd worker-upper from NCAA Football 2005, which would have been ridiculously cool in many loud stadiums like the Metrodome, Lambeau, etc. It's great for college, but it would be great for the pro game too.
When you're on offense, you'll notice all the crazy defensive crap even more. There's not a whole lot of changes to the offense, and it does somewhat play like Madden NFL 2004, with hot routes, playmaker controls, etc. However, things are a bit different. In this case, the rushing game can be brutal because the defense is tough and smart. Run the same sort of running play over and over and you'll get stuffed for losses constantly. It takes a lot of skill to rush, though it is hampered by the ?pinball physics' of past Madden games ? it's not as smooth as ESPN's running game, though both have the ?earn your yards, son' thing going for it. It's too easy to get ?stuck' with your blockers and thus tackled despite an open hole. It can get highly frustrating. On the other hand, the passing game is a lot of fun this year, and feels very realistic thanks to some smart AI on both sides. There are some semi-money plays that can be worth good yards consistently (mostly curls and slant patterns, like NCAA it seems the outs have been toughened up), but then again?it emphasizes the safer, west-coast style of play as opposed to tossing the ball around like it was the 6th grade flag football team. Good QB's fare well bad ones do not. Pretty simple. However, the top notch AI in Madden makes for some great football.
So the question sits?just how much better is 2005 compared to 2004? Well, it's better, but it isn't a wild improvement. Every year Madden has at least tried to switch things up offensively, but it seems the emphasis on defense really hurt the offense as it doesn't feel all that different from 2004 other than that. Is this a bad thing? It depends on your view of Madden. The fact is, if you like Madden, it simply does not matter that the offense isn't much different than '04, because the defense is tightened up and emphasized this year. And if Madden was great enough last year, this year's will do just fine for you, and despite the miniscule, albeit good changes, you'll love it. The incredible depth to the different modes and the overall realism of the game sticks out, so it's a no-brainer for Madden fans to pick this up. If you're on the fence, or are not hardcore about Madden, you might not like or even notice the changes, and would be better off playing ESPN NFL 2K5. However, in a year when one is $20 and the other is $50, football fans would be well off owning both to get the best of both worlds ? two very different worlds that display football in two totally different and unique ways.
While based on the same 4-year-old engine, Madden looks sharp ? but is outclassed by ESPN. That said, animations are top notch, uniforms look great, players have tons of cool touches and detailed, and the fields look great as they wear away with time or weather effects. A very cool addition is the varying time conditions ? if a game starts at dusk, it will eventually get totally dark slowly but surely. While ultimately a mere touch of eye candy, it's a cool little touch. Unfortunately, the smallish players lack the detail, facial animations and designs, and overall ?size' of the excellent ESPN player models. While which game has the better actual gameplay is up for grabs, this cannot be argued much that ESPN looks leagues better and makes the Madden players look like little midgets running around the field, no matter how well animated and detailed they are.
John Madden and Al Michaels return for some play-by-play, though it seems they didn't do much of it, seeing as they sound the same as they have the last two years: bored and robotic in delivery. A few names were recorded in to match the year, but otherwise it seems they just slapped the commentary from the last two years into the game. Of course, Sega did just about the same thing this year, so it cancels out. EA Trax this year also is a bit disappointing, because it only cost me an extra $10 buying a CD so I could hear that damn Franz Ferdinand song anytime I choose. Compared to 2003 which cost me about $50 extra in music buying, it holds up to 2004 (though I did have the Xbox version last year with the custom soundtrack option) in boredom. But then, it does have a Faith No More song on there, so it's forgiven, and it could be worse ? Tony Bruno could be all over the game and not just relegated to the Franchise.