When Fall comes there are two things I am sure of: a dramatic change in the weather and some intense football action. This of course means another edition of Madden hits the local electronics stores shelves, and the possibility of a waste of cash or a wise investment. Picking the game up, I didn’t know if I should expect 2003 all over again with a couple of flashy additions or if I would be simply amazed at this new game in my hands. So, here is what I found:
The graphics of Madden 2004 are well, like all the graphics I’ve seen in the Madden games since 2002, great. The players are crisp and clear, although they do look a little fuzzy here and there, I am blaming my video card on that one, but overall the player models are simply amazing. The crisp animation is flawless, and doesn’t seem robotic, but more fluid like actual body movements. The stadiums represented in the game, are as close to their real life cohorts, but more importantly, the way the stadium gets destroyed is just as close to the real thing. When playing on grass, players that are getting slammed to the ground all day, like the quarterback stuck behind an inexperienced line, will get dirtier and dirtier. Likewise when snow and rain come into play the players get dirtier ,and the fields take more of a beating.
The audio in this game, is surprisingly well done. EA brought EA Trax again this year, with 15 hit singles that vary in style from Outkast and Joe Budden to Yellowcard and Adema. The songs play during any menu screen and in between plays during game time, if Madden and Al Michaels aren’t adding their colorful commentary.
Going back to Madden and Michaels commentary, it seems that like every year their comments seem to flow a little bit better, and instead of sounding thrown together or sloppy, seem to be almost constructed for that individual game, making the feel of being “in the game” that much easier to attain. Madden also supplies commentary when the user asks him for assistance on play picking, by adding comments like, “You need to vary your offense up” or “This should do the job”.
Of course in-game sounds like cheering and the random grunting and groaning of football can be heard, and are actually pretty close to on key.
The gameplay can be summed up in one word, innovative. Madden pulled out all the stops this year with their new addition of Playmaker. Playmaker does all the things hardcore football gamers needed before: the ability to tell that guy in front of you to block the guy coming at you, tell the safeties to cover the other side of the field, and probably the best way to exploit any defense, switch the direction of a run play without calling a time consuming audible. Of course this new technology isn’t perfect, it still has some flaws namely with trying to run and control the guy ahead of you. I found myself losing a few yards here and there trying to get my blocker to help out, instead of just going at it on my own. This however doesn’t mean that the idea of Playmaker should be scraped, in fact once it is “perfect”, I see it changing some of the major facets of football gaming as we know it.
Another addition that is welcome to the football genre, is showing the replays in between the play calling screens. This easy addition takes away the frustration of getting an instant replay every other play. Besides, it actually looks a tad crisper then the graphics rich replays that we have seen in previous versions of the game. The replays almost have a TV quality to them, and by keeping you in the action at all times keep the stress of maintaining control of the ball or beating your buddy online a constant high.
And for the Franchise mode lovers come some additions aimed solely at them. First off comes owner mode, where you can control all the aspects of your team, and I mean all aspects of the game. Deciding whether to raise the ticket prices, depending on the section of course, or raising the cost of a beer and hot dog, are just some of the new challenges that await you. Owner mode also allows access to some great graphs displaying everything from how much your fans actually love you, to apparel sales. One other new awesome feature is training camp, which allows you to develop more player creation points for your recently drafted rookie, or your veteran wide receiver that needs just a few points to be at the top of his game. The other welcome addition to players wanting to bathe in realism, is the ability to offer key players signing bonuses to bring the realities of a harsh salary cap home.
Madden brought back all the other classic game modes with a few twists here and there. Create-A-Player is back with a couple of new player models and some minor appearance options (tattoos, armband placement, and 4 new helmets). Create-A-Team is back with the ability to create a custom stadium, which is semi-limited to how creative you can actually be, but the idea is still there and could possibly be much better next year.
The other thing I noticed about this edition of Madden is the stepped up AI. With the addition of Playmaker, the developers must have made the AI just a tad smarter to keep games from becoming slaughter fests. The computer is pretty confident at picking defensive plays and also able to play a decent game of offense.
Madden 2004's multiplayer, is just as I expected it would be, football against a human counterpart as opposed to a bunch of AI driven goons. As simple as it could have been however, Madden offers quite a broad selection of game types to choose from when playing online. From just a quick game to creating individual leagues and having your own fantasy season, the options are almost endless. EA also does a great job of keeping track of individual stats and displaying the best player(s) on the entire network on the main page which is something helmet heads will aspire to achieve.
Wrapping up, the new Madden game is great, with just enough changes to make it worth purchasing. In terms of what this game is doing to the entire football gaming community, I am thinking of this as a huge stepping stone, and if some of the new additions are perfected. could result in some amazing virtual football.