|Remember when the differences between one year's version of Madden and the next year's version were worth waiting for? For example, the upgrade
from Madden NFL '98 to Madden NFL '99 that brought the game out of the darkness
of sprite-based graphics was well worth the money. (Even though it followed
in the footsteps of the once-proud NFL GameDay series by more than a year.)
The update from the PSOne to the PlayStation 2 in 2000 was also well worth
the price of admission. (If you don't factor in the cost of the PS2, that is.)
Now, it seems that instead of pushing the hardware, the folks at Tiburon are
playing catch-up with the new kids on the block, Visual Concepts and Sega.
Last year, the NFL
2K series came onto Electronic Arts' turf (the Xbox and
the PS2) and surprised a lot of people by being very good despite a limited
development schedule. The game made Madden's decrepit commentary and somewhat
plodding pacing more noticeable and, in the process, raised hopes that this
year's Madden would be the best yet. Well, to be blunt, ain't much changed
in the land of Madden NFL.
Al Michaels now joins John Madden in calling the on-screen action. He replaces
Pat Summerall who, of course, retired at the end of last season. One would
hope this would mean that the commentary would be given a complete overhaul
but, alas, the somewhat robotic commentary of years past is intact. Al Michaels'
voice is nice to hear, but some of Madden's comments remain from last year's
game (and earlier.)
The gameplay is also pretty much unchanged from last year. Supposedly improvements
were made to the defensive schemes and the running game, but I'll be damned
if I can find them. It does seem a lot easier to get burned while playing defense
against the computer this year, so something must have changed -- although
not for the better.
So, what's truly new? There's a new mini-camp mode that allows you to improve
certain aspects of your game like pocket passing and following blockers. This
is accomplished through the use of several mini-games that range from entertaining
and fun to tedious and not really of much use. I will say that they're worth
a look and might help newcomers to the Madden franchise get into the game a
bit more. For those of us who've been playing Madden since the mid-1990's,
they're a distraction at best.
Also new this season is a play creator which allows you to create your own
offensive and defensive formations and use them. How useful or desirable this
feature is to you will depend on how much free time you really have. With the
actual games each taking over a half an hour -- even with five minute quarters
-- you might not have time to tinker around with something that most feel isn't
The meat and potatoes of Madden is the franchise mode. It's back this year
and just as deep as ever. Spanning 30 years, you can draft, sign and manipulate
your team's roster and coaching strategies in almost any way possible. You
can now scout for rookies and, of course, you can still import players from
EA's college football game, NCAA Football 2003. It's a couch potato football
the big features with the football videogames coming out in the fall of 2002
is online play. In some weird twist of fate, Electronic Arts blessed
only the PlayStation 2 version of Madden NFL 2003 with an online play
feature. If you want to play football against people on the Internet on your
Xbox, you'll have to
buy Sega Sports' NFL 2K3 or NFL Fever 2003. Way to go, EA!
One thing that might impress some people is the inclusion of a lot of actual,
licensed songs from artists like Bon Jovi, Good Charlotte, Nappy Roots and
Andrew W. K. These do add energy to the menus and the mini-camp mode. You'll
also hear the songs as stadium music from time-to-time and that's a nice atmospheric
touch. Some songs are always available and others have to be unlocked. The
song variety is really good and it's good promotion for the bands and artists
So, before you think I don't like Madden
NFL 2003, let me just say that I
do like it. I like it a lot. The problem is that I liked last year's version
equally well. There's so little difference between this year's edition and
last year's that I really have to stretch to say that the game warrants spending
another $50.00, especially since there's no way to play it online. If you've
only got an Xbox and you want to play online this fall when Xbox Live launches,
then this isn't the football game for you. However, if you don't care about
online play, then the game becomes much more desirable.
NFL 2003 is a great football game, no doubt about it. Still, it's going
to need a shot-in-the-arm of some kind to keep players coming back year-after-year.
Essentially, when it all boils down to it, this is the same game as Madden
NFL 2001, which was Madden's first foray onto next generation platforms. Roster
updates, a few new additions to the franchise mode and the mini-camps may be
as far as this incarnation can go.