Summary: EA Sports comes out with new titles in its sports lines every year, it's as sure as the hurricane season. Today, we take a look at their premier sports title, Madden 2003.
Mountains of man meat collide
In what is perhaps male America’s collective expression of its latent homosexuality, the football season is in full swing. Men of all shapes and sizes grapple with each other for the alleged purpose of getting a ball. My old English 101 professor revealed this ‘truth’, and then blew it apart when he stated that no gay man would want to watch men who’s action lasts only twenty seconds at a time. He spoke from experience, while we are content to sit back with beer, chips and a firm grasp on the controls. Remote on one side of the desk, gamepad in hand, Madden 2003 provides the perfect filler while the game is on commercial break.
Brag it might about the slick new multiplayer interface, EA knows that in reality there is no other way to play multiplayer sports except at a console where you can taunt your friend. For some reason, it’s much more satisfying to do a scoring celebration live and yell “Gooooaaaallll!”, “TOUCHDOWN!” or “He shoots, he SCORES!” than to type it out to a complete stranger, across three thousand miles of cables and wires.
So why bother on PC?
In a strange role-reversal, the PC’s advantage over the console is its singleplayer aspect. The interface is more tolerable thanks to mouse and keyboard controls. You can load up whatever MP3s you like into the internal music player. Since the music doesn’t play during the actual game, only in the front-end menu system, it is best used for Franchise mode fans.
Indeed, a sports game’s appeal on a PC really does fall into categories besides the actual simulation of play. The same game on a console has more appeal for the pure play value. With a big screen TV, a buddy in the chair beside you, snacks to fight over and a potential ample audience, it is definitely the preferred venue for getting into position and lobbing some bombs to Marvin Harrison. So why would anyone buy the PC version? We’re going to uncover that in just a second.
SIDEBAR: Athlon/Pentium 400Mhz
64/128MB of RAM (9X vs. 2K/XP)
16MB DirectX 8.0 compatible card
75MB hard drive space
256MB of RAM
GF3 or better
600MB hard drive space
Madden 2003 has a very modern-looking interface. Most menu commands are clustered at the bottom-right corner in a circle menu. Trendy, clean and easy once you get used to it, we cannot deny the appeal of the general design. Granted, it would be simpler to have a traditional menu, but then it wouldn’t be as cool, would it?
Cool only goes so far in making an interface good. After all, the primary purpose of an interface is to help you interact with the game. The Madden interface has some kinks we’re not too pleased with. For starters, while most items from the circle menu you can switch between on the fly, there are others which you need to click “Done” on to close them before seeing another window. The second issue we had was that of clutter. There icons in the circle menu are packed tightly together and not very descriptive. Finally, the trade menu needs a major overhaul. Players can select only one team at a time and then scroll through the two dozen various positions/draft picks to trade. If the trade is denied, it’s time to go all the way back to the original team and modify the choices offered. This is ridiculously cumbersome and time-consuming, even with a mouse. There should two lists, one per team, rather than forcing the players to switch between them.
Ungh, grunt, grrr
The soundtrack that comes with Madden 2003 is stunningly good. Rather than re-using the rap tunes which got too repetitive, EA switched to a rock/alternative ensemble. Featuring Andrew W.K. along with a complement of lesser-known artists, the soundtrack is full of high-energy songs that are perfect for sports. They’d go perfect with a highlite reel for that matter. If some of the tracks aren’t your flavor (like, oh, say… Bon Jovi) you can move them out of the music folder or specify your own MP3 directory. Specific songs from a directory can’t be selected, only moved to their own folder.
The on-field sounds are awesome. Obviously the sound of 250lb men crashing into each other at full throttle is limited in how high quality it can get, but EA has made improvements in other areas. The addition of Al Michaels to the broadcast booth is a godsend, it’s just that much less time that Madden blabs on about “how those big ol’ d linemen” are going up against the “big ol’ o linemen”. The commentary is typical football game fare, on the mark about fifty percent of the time. When the comments are off, they can range from ridiculously funny to utterly moronic. The Al Michaels parts seem to be on the mark more than Madden, surprise, surprise.
SIDEBAR: Athlon T-Bird 1GHz
32MB GF2 GT-S
Motion captured animations seem to have been quietly progressing without anyone taking note. The player animation is fluid and smooth, a step up even from Madden 2001. We can find absolutely no faults in the way any single player moves. There is degradation in realism when, inevitably, two players collide. Each hit is unique, so capturing every kind of hit is out of the question. Despite that, even this traditional graphical weakness inherent in all football games is not as glaring as it has been in the past. Most hits look far more natural than we expected, particularly those from normal angles – head on, from the side, and dragging down from the rear.
In what could be a demonstration of John Carmack’s statement that we need 64-bit color, there seems to be dithering on the football field and some uniforms. This is nothing that’s the fault of the game, but it serves as a useful demonstration of how too much (32-bit) is never enough. One glitch we did encounter was the disappearing face on created players, where the facial textures got replaced with a blank white one. Odd, random and it didn’t seem susceptible to repeating under any specific circumstances.
Multiplayer, such as it is
We feel true sympathy towards Electronic Arts, since they tried very hard to make multiplayer Madden attractive. In fact, after trying it we will admit it is better than its predecessors. That doesn’t make it good though. Players can customize their ‘character’ looks and earn points by playing. These points allow the player to purchase equipment to outfit their avatar with. Games are played in ‘rooms’ like Yahoo or MSN Gaming Zone games. You create or join a game, and combat ensues.
The second problem we had was with EA and the online service itself. It is little more than a battle.net, but EA sees fit to charge for it. True, the first 60 days are free and any additional EA Sports purchases will extend that by another 60 days (cumulative, so you don’t have to worry about the days for the two products expiring at the same time.) This is a scam. EA offers nothing of value online that is worth having to buy another game or to subscribe. Yes, there are contests and giveaways and a few more meaningless trinkets thrown the players’ way to justify the cost over a battle.net type service. Do these mean that gamers should pay for the service? Up to the individual, but you won’t see these individuals online.
SIDEBAR: Demon fairies war
as the sky turns red from my
vision at midnight
The actual play
Madden 2003 offers up a very solid simulation of a football game. It is designed for 5 minute quarters so if you play the whole season, game by game, your stats will be off. There won’t be as many attempts, sacks and tackles. Scores are about right, we found the Pro difficulty a nice balance though while Rookie is easy, it’s not ridiculous. “Madden” difficulty was maddening, pardon the pun. Runs were totally ineffective, but that could just be the ineffectual coaching decisions of the writer.
Of course, EA offers fine-tuning of various settings for the computer AI and human-assist AI like passing accuracy, interceptions, tackling, awareness and so on. Turn things down properly and we’re sure you can get those 15-minute quarters with accurate stats and scores. Of course, we’d be a lot happier if EA had those pre-sets for those options out of the box…
Where the fun is at
Madden isn’t about football. The strength of the game isn’t in designing and calling a fake HB weakside smash while the QB sneaks in. It’s not about throwing the long-bomb to Jerry Rice Jr., your created super-player who will break the original Jerry’s records. Nor is it about even calling plays from the sidelines and watching them develop. No my friends, the reason to play Madden 2003 is that it’s the best sports management situation currently out on the market.
There is absolutely no feeling as satisfying as starting with the Cincinnati Bengals and bringing them to the Superbowl with nothing but pure moxy and management skill. Scout and draft wisely, make sure your picks start in the pre-season and get regular season experience. The more time they spend on the field, the more they’ll learn. Negotiate contracts for free agents or contract extensions for players currently on the roster, or re-sign that holdout star player. Every EA Sports game, particularly the NHL series, should have these management features.
Drafting has changed dramatically from previous Madden games. You no longer see the stats a player has, but are just given their 40 yard times, cone times, bench reps and other stats. Scouting reveals what the scouts think of his abilities, and each player is ranked according to the probability of going in a round. I’ve yet to make a smash draft pick, through about 60-odd simmed seasons.
SIDEBAR: I’m sure my griping that the NHL games don’t have such an elaborate team management system has nothing to do with the fact that I’m Canadian. No. Nothing at all…
Gameplay. We’re very impressed with the standard settings that EA Sports put the game out with, keeping scores and offensive stats realistic. Now if they could only offer pre-set adjustments for 15 minute quarters…
Multiplayer. Like we’ve said all review, the only way to play multiplayer sports games is at a console in front of a big-screen. EA tried to make their online service attractive, but charging for it is bad karma.
SIDEBAR: I’m kicking Brandon’s ass in our fantasy football league. Enter Sandman… with a knuckle sandwich!
|<% print_image("32"); %>||<% print_image("33"); %>|
|Gallery||Page:: ( 7 / 8 )|
|Gallery #2||Page:: ( 8 / 8 )|
|© Copyright 2003 FS Media, Inc.|