Madden NFL 2004
Publisher: EA Sports
Released: August 2003
Genre: Sports (Football)
Capabilities: Memory Unit, Custom Soundtracks
Review Written: September 8, 2003
Last year, NFL 2K3 barely nudged ahead of Madden NFL 2003 in my
preferences of NFL game of choice last year. All the little things like money
plays, cheap defensive AI, and other control bugs were the things that made the
deciding factor of me choosing 2K3 over last year’s Madden. While
the new additions to this year’s edition like Owner mode and Playmaker control
make Madden 2004 even more in-depth than any other NFL game on the
market, there are still a few flaws that irritate me with this franchise.
One of the biggest additions to Madden NFL 2004 this year is Playmaker control. What it does is change play routes for particular players before, and during plays. This is an excellent innovative control technique that helps you out a ton when used correctly. Things I like it for the most are flipping plays right at the line of scrimmage, say you’re doing a halfback toss to the right, but you see extra defenders stacked to the right, so flip it to the left and you’re chances of getting a good carry are increased. Other things Playmaker control is handy for is changing the routes your receivers run while you’re scrambling in the pocket, to calling in your d-backs to help take out a running back early in his carry. All of the Playmaker control functions are easily done with a flip of the right thumb-stick in a specific direction. If all this Playmaker stuff confuses you, then don’t fret, there are several bonus tutorial videos hosted by Al Michaels and Melissa Stark, where one of them goes through all the ways you can make the most out of Playmaker control.
The other notable change to the controls this year is how the Play Action works. The developers over at Tiburon did a genius thing by making the camera and ball carrier icon focus on the running back for a split second before panning back to the QB and showing all the eligible receivers. Whenever the comp or a buddy of mine ran the PA, it almost always fooled me, and I guarantee it’ll catch you off guard on plenty of occasions to boot. Big kudos to the developers to making the Play Action the most effective it has ever been in football gaming history.
As with every yearly Madden, there are still a couple of things that irritate me about the gameplay. For starters, the blitz plays seem to be over-effective. I don’t know weather or not if it’s the game reflecting teams actual defensive attributes, but when the stinking Cardinals start getting 8 sacks a game it does raise a few eyebrows. Also, turnovers seem to happen more frequent than before. Defensive men will seemingly zap over to a receiver who was wide open two seconds earlier to manage an interception. Even though the developers already claimed they removed the dreaded “catch-up” AI of the defense, I can’t help but think that little bits and pieces still linger around.
The acclaimed Franchise mode is still as good as we remembered it, and just when you think EA Sports can’t make it any more in-depth, they still manage to wow us one more time. One little addition Tiburon did is adding the Mini-Camp drills in preseason play, where well performance is awarded with a few extra attributes to your players. Preseason play is remarkably well in Franchise mode, because the game automatically subs in most of your backups, and if you perform well with them you’ll notice their ratings and attributes go up once Season play starts.
This year the Franchise mode gives a nod to the legendary Front Page Sports Pro Football series on the PC by adding simulation type elements with the new Owner mode options. Now aside from playing season upon season, and doing all your other regular Franchise options like retiring players, negotiating contracts, and going through the draft, there are a slew of elements you get to control by being the actual “Owner” of a team. This means you get total management of the stadium by adjusting the prices of tickets, parking, souvenirs, and concessions, yes you heard me right, if you want to charge $55 for a cup of beer, than go ahead and do so! Other Owner mode options include you managing your team’s budget, changing the uniform, and even moving the franchise to a different city. Just imagine the announcer going……..”And now, welcome your Bismarck 49ers!”
One thing I can count on for each yearly Madden is that it has the most versatile amount of gameplay modes available, and this year’s version doesn’t disappoint me one bit. All the modes exclusive to the Madden series are back, such as the Two-Minute Drill (make as many points in two minutes as possible), Football 101 (Madden guiding you through the many plays of the NFL), to the awesome Mini-Camp mode that debuted last year where you tour the country on the Madden Cruiser doing various drills for scrambling, tackling, and kicking accuracy to name a few. There are also the other modes we come to expect in all pigskin games like Practice, Tournament, Playoffs, and Situation. The one mode I wish they brought back to the series is the standalone Season mode, simply because there are times where I want to play just one season without all the micromanagement involved in the Franchise mode.
The in-game graphics of Madden NFL 2004 are a bit of a mixed bag. The arenas you compete in look mighty nice where you’ll notice that every banner and sign that is in the arena in real life are featured in the game. There are also a couple of slick lighting effects where you’ll notice shadows gazing across the fields in outdoor stadiums. The player models are the thing I’m disappointed with the most. Sure, they have come a long way since this game engine debuted on the PS2 back with Madden 2001, but they aren’t up to par when stacked up against other graphical powerhouses on the Xbox such as ESPN NFL Football and NFL Fever 2003. The face texturing is accurate for some of the major players like Michael Vick and Marshall Faulk, and all the body proportioning is pretty dead on as well. However, it is obvious this graphic engine is showing its age, I mean the players look downright silly without their helmets. Even with the outdated player models, the developers still manage to muster out quite a bit of animations for things like gang tackles, helmets getting popped off of players after vicious hits, and countless touchdown celebrations (there are even player specific celebrations such as “The Sharpie” where Terell Owens signs the football and tosses it to the stands).
Another thing that Madden has always lacked in was presentation. They did manage to add in a couple of cool effects like integrating instant replays in the play section screen in single player games. But one thing that is a drawback to that is while you are gazing at that awesome second look of that killer play, the play clock is ticking away at you. For the rest of the presentation, the stat and score overlays look bland and generic when compared to the competition, and watching those inanimate faces on the cheerleaders during their halftime dance gets me ecstatic all over (I’m being sarcastic by the way)! Also, other football games like Fever and ESPN NFL have been adding things like halftime and post-game shows that show little clips or snapshots of previous key plays in the game. There is nothing like that at all to be found in Madden 2004.
John Madden and Al Michaels return as the commentary team for this year’s game. While Madden will throw in many comments that are either blatantly obvious or make no sense at all, the developers managed to recycle most of the lines from the past few games scrambled in with a slew of new ones so he doesn’t sound as repetitive as he did in previous games. We can at least be thankful that Al Michaels livens up the mood of the game to a certain extent, and while he may not have the jive and pizzazz of the hired voice actors that the ESPN NFL Football commentary team has, he does a decent of enough job with many more lines of commentary than Madden so you will never get fed up with him. Also keep a keen ear for the PA announcer, as he likes to slip in a few comedic lines from time to time.
For the past few years Madden has offered genre-specific soundtracks. In 2002’s game it was rap, where in 2003 it was mostly rock. This year the developers decided to give us the best of both worlds by throwing in 22 tracks that come from a mix of Rock, Rap, and Hip Hop songs from the likes of Soil, AFI, and Alien Ant Farm, among others. EA Sports finally decided to take advantage of an Xbox specific feature by supporting custom soundtracks that play while browsing through menus or playing Mini-Camp drills. The sound effects for all the tackles, catches, and grunts are the same as the previous games, and the game still has those sweet arena-only special effects for specific venues like the cannons going off in Tampa Bay after big plays.
Usually I always find myself saying something along the lines of “there will be enough content to satisfy you until next year’s game.” In all actuality, there’s enough stuff to do to last you a good three of four years until you get the next Madden upgrade. Just look at what all there is to do. From wasting days of your life away in the Franchise mode, to playing all the extra modes like Two-minute Drill, Football 101, Mini-Camp, and Situation for hard earned tokens used to earn Madden cards, the reward system that gives you rating boosts, cheats, and unlocks hidden players, teams, and stadiums. Also, there is so much that you can add to the game by creating your own dream plays and adding them in your own customized playbook. Then you can live out your life in the NFL by creating your own player, or even create your very own team which also allows the option of creating the stadium they play in. Another thing that could’ve extended the life of this year’s game is that if EA would’ve decided to make this game online, but they skimped out on it the second year in a row. EA should just get over the fact that they got to run their game on Microsoft’s servers on the Xbox so they can give the fans what they want!
Another set of extras they added in that I briefly mentioned above is the tutorial videos. I highly recommend watching all of these as they give you the complete rundown on what’s new in the game, how to play smart offense and defense and take advantage of advanced techniques like hot routes and Playmaker control. And the last extra they added is a second reward system in the form of the “EA Sports Bio.” This unique feature keeps tabs of all your EA Sports game saves from the 2004 line of games, and you gain extra Madden cards by compiling more game playing time, and having other 2004 EA Sports game saves.
Replay Value: 9.8
Madden NFL 2004 is another solid addition to the series. In its 14th season, the series continues to amaze me by the amount of new bells and whistles they can add in each game. If it has been a couple years since the last Madden game you bought, than I recommend you upgrade to 2004 today. But if you’re like me and place this game and Sega’s football series neck and neck each year, then I’m going to have to give the nod this year to Sega.
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