Madden NFL 2003
System: X-Box
Publisher: Electronic Arts Sports
Developer: Tiburon
Released: August 2002
Genre: Sports (Football)
Capabilities: Memory unit

Review Written: August 31, 2002

The Game

Madden is back for a second season on the X-Box. Last yearís game was a straight up port of the PS2 version, with no upgrades at all. This yearís version has slight graphical upgrades due to the power of the X-Box, but lacks one key feature the PS2 version has. It is online play. This is vital for the Madden because its two main competitors on the X-Box (NFL 2K3 & Fever 2003) support it. Why did EA go with online support for the PS2, and not the X-Box? It mightíve been Sonyís huge wallet, but who cares. Letís see if Maddenís tried and true game play can get us through one year of no online play.

Graphics

Madden 2003 stuck with the same game engine as last year, with bits of improvements here and there. All the players are proportioned to their appropriate sizes. For example, most of the linemen are heavy and slow, and most of the receivers are fairly built and fast. Youíll notice that the playerís faces got a bit more work on them. Most of the recognizable player faces such as Jerry Rice look identical to their real life counterparts. Youíll also see players without their helmets at the coin toss, and on the sidelines. Most of these players without their helmets look pretty sharp, but there are some that look plain out silly. I like the player models in here overall, but I prefer the ones in NFL 2K3ís much more.

The animations are pretty much the same as last years, but there are a few exceptions. All the old ones still look good such as the spins, pump fakes, and so on. The Quarterbacks now have a new sidearm animation. This looks great when a QB is trying to get the ball off to a receiver when a lineman is right in his face. There are also brand new gang tackles. They look fairly good for the most part, but youíll barely notice them from the default view of the game. They look great in instant replays, where itíll show a big tackle three times in a row. The interception replays are well done too, where itíll do some 3D, Matrix, type of effect around the ball when it is intercepted. I love the opening introduction of the players in this game. It makes you feel like youíre in the stands when you watch the team run out through the tunnel. EA has also added a new half time show, complete with dancing cheerleaders. The dances look great, but they wouldíve been even better if the cheerleaderís faces werenít motionless as they dance.                                                                                                            

Itís great to see the developers at Tiburon finally decided to take advantage of the power of the X-Box. They did this by polishing up the graphics a good amount, and make things have an overall cleaner appearance than the PS2 version. I donít know how they did it, but the loading times are about half as long as the PS2 version as well. The graphics are great by first impressions, but after playing NFL 2K3, it makes you expect more out of the developers for this game.

Sound

Nobody has cared for the commentary team of Madden & Summerall. It has been around in the Madden games forever. However, last year Summerall retired and Al Michaels took his place. Michaels took his place in this game as well. His commentary is much better than Summerallís offerings. Madden still sounds as dumb as ever. Heíll make simple observations, and I could go without his commentary in the game. I do like hearing his advice when you choose ďAsk MaddenĒ at the play calling screen (which can now be selected for defensive play too). His commentary in the ďMadden 101Ē mode is a nice touch as well.

I have to give mad props to EA for finally going a season without rap songs in their soundtrack. Itís about time they make the change to rock. There are some great tracks in here such as ďParty HardĒ and a brand new song by Bon Jovi. I canít believe they didnít add a Everclear song to the soundtrack. No game should go without one. Too bad they didnít allow for support of the popular X-Box soundtrack feature. It wouldíve been much better jamming to my own play list, but whatís here is good enough for me.

Game play

The main controls are the same as before. This is still the only football game you can challenge plays in. It functions great and it actually works in your favor if you pick to challenge at the right moment. Madden has all the same moves as NFL 2K3, and Fever. You can juke, high step, spin, stiff arm, and so on. I donít know why, but it sure is annoying that the game assigns different buttons for you to change players and speed burst, for offense and defense. For the most part, I am adapted to this silly tradition, but I still find myself getting mixed up. Audible calling in here has got to be the worst system ever. Doing so requires you to move the thumb stick in an awkward direction, and youíre not even sure which audible you are picking either. They applied the audible system to shifting your line to the left or right. Instead of easily pressing the L or R triggers on your controller to shift your line like before, you have to go through the same complicated system as picking an audible! I swear, this has got to be the worst control change since the ďcatchĒ button in NFL Quarterback Club 2000. Yeah, itís that bad.

There is this new mode Iím very found of in this game. Thatís Madden 101. In this mode, you pick any formation of a play, and Madden himself will give you commentary on how to properly run the play, and what to avoid. Itís a great tutorial, and you get tokens for successfully completing each tutorial. Itís much better than the practice mode to get you familiar with how the plays operate. The practice mode is still good for just doing a scrimmage, or practicing a play you created in the play editor. Thereís another new mode in this game called ďMini-Camp.Ē This has got to be the most innovative feature to hit the Madden series since the Franchise mode in the í99 game. In this mode, you travel across the country in the John Madden Cruiser to complete challenges on three levels of difficulty. If you played the QB Challenge in NFL QB Club 2002, then you know what youíre in for, but itís a much better experience. You have challenges where you have to beat a certain score in order to win tokens for Madden Cards. These mini games consist of various challenges such as throwing a ball to a receiver through a tire to practicing field goals. There are just too many mini games to list, and youíll have a blast trying to beat them all 

For the rest of the game modes, there are the usual ones we find like play now, exhibition, and playoffs. Then there are some unique ones like the two minute drill, where you have two minutes of game time to make as many points as possible. The more points you get, the more tokens you earn. Thereís also a situation mode where you can customize any NFL scenario here. For example, do you want the Rams to beat the Patriots in the latest Super Bowl like they should have? You can do it here. The single season mode is gone after being in the Madden series for around ten years. The Franchise mode is now your main single player mode. It has more depth than the one in NFL 2K3, by allowing you to have more control over trades, contracts, and the such. You also have the option of importing your graduating seniors from NCAA Football 2003 game saves. You can play lots of continuous seasons, and improve your coaching and team ratings, donít perform too badly or else youíll get fired.

The Madden cards are always fun to collect. You get these cards by buying them with tokens you earn from the aforementioned game modes above. These cards can do many things such as activating cheats, unlocking classic players to the game roster, and player boosts! Itíll be a tad harder to get all these cards, because some cards arenít unlocked unless you have certain other EA game saves on the X-Box hard drive.

Replay Value

Just like NFL 2K3, you can create anything you want. You can make players, teams, and playbooks. The create-a-team has improved from last yearís game by allowing you to create the event center for your team! A new addition to this yearís game is the ability to create plays and add them to your play book. Besides NFL Blitz, I havenít seen too many games offer this great feature, and Iím sure you will be spending a lot of time making your dream plays come to life. There are also all the modes that are exclusive to Madden 2003 such as the 2-Minute Drill, Madden 101, and Mini-Camp. These three modes add lots of more replay value to the game, and are great for earning tokens to collect all the Madden cards available.

I hated when something came up and I had to quit out of a game early, but this yearís Madden fixes that with the ability to save the position of your game so you can load it up later on to finish. Things wouldíve been perfect for Madden if they wouldíve had X-Box Live support, but no, they had to play favorites for Sony. That wouldíve been great if this version had online support, but it looks like we have to wait for next yearís game.

In Brief

+: Lots of extra modes, only NFL game you can challenge play on, Best Franchise mode out there

-: Horrible audible system, Graphics & Sound are sub-par compared to NFL 2K3, No online support

The Final Ratings Rundown 

Graphics: 9.0
Sound: 8.8
Game play: 9.0
Replay Value: 9.1

Overall: 8.9

Rounded to fit GameFAQs Score: 9

Comments

Madden is the same great game it always has been, but Iím disappointed overall. Its controls took a step back this year, and no online support was a key factor in the consumer choice this year. If you could go without your online play, Iím sure youíll find enough time for all the modes Madden has to offer. As a matter of fact, its perfect if youíre still a dial up user and donít have enough money to upgrade to broadband yet. If youíre thinking about getting the online PS2 version, then think again. It doesnít have voice support, or the amount of features that X-Box Live boasts.  However, if you got to have your online play, then get NFL 2K3.

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