reviews\ Aug 28, 2002 at 8:00 pm

Madden NFL 2003 - PS2 - Review

For most of the sports loving public, the launch of the NFL season means preparing Sunday barbeques, trying not to let bookies break their legs, and drinking copious amounts of cheap beer.  For the more domicile sports video game player, the month of August yields different results: looking through bloodshot eyes after the midnight hour, massaging sore thumbs after marathons of gaming, and drinking copious amounts of cheap beer.  The cause?  The annual release of Electronic Arts’ long time Madden football franchise.  This year’s release, Madden 2003, has a lot of weight to shoulder as it follows video football’s consummate product, Madden 2002, and the excellent NCAA Football 2003, also from EA.


Madden 2003 is basically a tune-up of Madden 2002 with a few extra features thrown in.  The addition of new tackling and receiving animations, mini-camp mode, and create-a-playbook are nice, but do they add enough to a game that’s little more than a re-hash of an older game? 


The Madden series has gained its popularity through its gameplay and has always been one of the best sports simulations throughout its multi-decade existence.  The complexity and authenticity can sometimes be daunting, but to the football purist they are sheer delight.  Madden 2003 continues the tradition, but plays almost exactly like Madden 2002, which is actually a good thing.  Basic gameplay can be picked up quite easily, and with a few hours of practice the more difficult actions such as calling audibles and hot routes will become second nature.  Madden veterans won’t be disappointed with the small additions the developers at Tiburon have made.  A new defensive coach’s cam takes away some of the chaos that playing defense can cause.  More in-depth audibles are available for linebackers, linemen, and the secondary to adjust to pesky shifting offenses.  No other sports game allows you to do as much as Madden 2003.


Most of the game modes have been carried over from 2003, and the two new game modes, mini-camp and on-line modes, add even more depth.  Football 101 is an incredibly helpful how-to session taught by the girthy guru himself.  First, each play is broken down to layman’s terms, then Madden runs the play as an example pointing out the key elements and appropriate timing, and finally, players try repetitions of the play with the chance to earn tokens and perfect gridiron strategy.  Two Minute Drill pits players against the clock by throwing them on their own 20 yard and giving them two minutes to score as many times as they can.  Franchise mode is still the backbone of Madden.  Taking a team through pre-seasons, regular seasons, and off seasons is the next best thing to playing in the NFL.  The managerial side of the Franchise mode can be just as important as the play on the field.  Recruiting the right players or creating your own and giving them the appropriate playing time will pay off in the future as these football fledglings can develop into hall-of-famers.  You can even import a draft class from EA’s NCAA Football 2003 and continue the professional career of your college star. 


Of the new features, mini-camp mode boasts the most reasons football fanatics should immediately run out and buy Madden 2003.  Mini-camp provides plenty of entertainment for the hardened Madden pro and the green-thumbed novice.  Almost all of the primary football positions, offense and defense, are featured in one of eight drills designed to improve players’ skills through simple repetitions.  Some of the highlights include the defensive back ball-swatting drill and the precision passing quarterback drill where QBs must throw passes through floating rings to receivers running various patterns.  Players are garbed in their appropriate off-season apparel, and the mini-camp locations look great.  All eight mini-camp drills have four difficulty levels for a total of 32 drills.  Each of the 32 NFL teams is represented in one of the drills and credit is given where credit is due.  For example, Kurt Warner of the Rams helms the All-Madden difficulty precision passing drill, Michael Strahan of the Giants gets the All-Madden nod for the defensive tackle drill, and the expansion team Texans’ punter launches punts in the Rookie level punting drill.  Completing a drill successfully will unlock higher difficulty level drills and opportunities to test out newly honed skills in specially set up game situations.


Madden 2003 retains much of the great look Madden 2002 had.  The graphics and animations are slightly upgraded from 2002 with the addition of gang tackles and other animations.  One of the main complaints of Madden 2002 was the mannequin-esque appearance of the players.  This year, the faces of players look a bit more realistic and less like the Lego men of Madden 2002.  The only time the graphics have problems is when players occasionally morph into each other after the completion of a play.  Luckily this doesn’t effect the actual play on the field and only blemishes replays. 


The first thing you’ll want to do when you get a copy of Madden 2003 is head straight for the settings and turn off the pathetic excuse for a soundtrack.  Gone are the days of Mos Def, Black Eyed Peas, and any hip-hop that’s good.  The new lineup consists of Coors Light rockers Andrew W.K. and Bon Jovi.  Yes, Bon Jovi.  It was a terrible choice for EA to stray down the path of Top 40, and commercializes the game a bit too much. 


Fortunately, the audio portion of Madden 2003 isn’t confined just to the soundtrack.  The commentary team of Al Michaels and John Madden, this year’s Monday Night Football team, is stellar.  The commentary engine continues to improve each year, and this year’s version is so lifelike, it’s frightening.  Crowd reactions have also been revamped.  Bad calls are booed, bad playing is booed by home fans, and even stadium specific chants such as Cleveland’s Dog Pound can be heard.  While the game looks amazing, it’s really the sound that solidifies Madden 2003 as more of an experience than a game. 


Madden 2003 is rated E for everyone.



Gameplay: 9.5

Madden continues to live up to its hype.  Nearly flawless gameplay in one of the most complex sports means ultra-realism and endless fun.  The Playstation 2 version is the only version that allows online play. 


Graphics: 9

The players move almost like their real counterparts, the field and stadiums look fantastic, and the overall presentation is exceptional.  Not quite as vibrant and crisp as its Xbox and Gamecube counterparts.


Sound: 8

Should be a perfect 10 because of commentary and stadium sounds.  Should be a lowly zero for the soundtrack. 


Difficulty: Hard

The game is overwhelming without any video football experience, but once you become a football phenom, Madden 2003 becomes a game of chess with overgrown pawns. 


Concept: 8

Mini-camp mode and practice mode are wonderful features that help Pee-Wee pigskinners become gridiron greats.


Multiplayer: 9

The bragging rights involved in Madden are epic.  And some of the contests are so legendary, you may be able to give your grandkids an earful.  Up to eight players are supported with two multitaps.  The Online feature was not ready at time of review.


Overall: 9

While there seems to be some intangible lacking that Madden 2002 possessed, the addition of online play and Mini-camp are simply awesome.  This game is a must for Madden fanatics.   


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