Madden NFL 2003 Review
With another football season around the corner, we are once again bombarded with NFL titles that attempt to recreate the beauty and excitement of professional football. The Madden series has been around since the beginning of time, it seems, and continually delivers a quality football simulation that entertains fans of the sport. While seemingly leading a one-man race in the past, Sega has made it a point to offer heavy competition in the way of EA Sports, and has in turn given gamers an almost impossible choice for the superior game. I'll make this apparent now, as I'm sure it's what you're hoping to gather from this review; Madden 2003 and NFL 2K3 are two games that are hard to compare. Sega bestows a slightly more arcade feeling in its representation and gameplay, while Madden enjoys a very simulated atmosphere that truly emulates the Monday Night Football atmosphere. The two franchises appeal to different people, and while one person will absolutely rant and rave about how good the Madden series is, you'll still have an equal amount of people saying NFL 2K3 is the best football game they've ever played. It's your responsibility to decide what type of game best suits you; I'm here to announce that Madden 2003 is one of the best sports games you'll play this year.
Graphically, EA Sports has continued to improve the models and designs of its characters in Madden 2003 every year. The textures of each player are crafted beautifully and serve as excellent eye-candy for anyone playing the game. The reflections off the helmets are superb, with the stadium lights illuminating magnificently over the field. Speaking of the playing surface, the ground-whether grass or Astroturf-is extremely parallel in color and texture, and gives no sign of inconsistencies. There's never a point where it seems the players are distanced from their playing area; the models and environments all mold nicely into a tremendous onslaught of realism. The player's faces-which seem to be an ongoing conversation point-are also more developed and genuine this year. Although still heralding some strange models, close-ups of your favorite stars are now exciting to watch, instead of slightly uncomfortable. The coaches have been revamped, as well, and offer a nice variety of motion when viewed.
In terms of player animations, the game delivers without fail. Running and passing exercises are achieved with ease, all while presenting an incredible visual for you to experience. There is little sign of slow-down, although I did notice slight occurrences when switching quarters and at the end of replays. However, the frame rate is much smoother compared to last year's title and playing the game feels exceptionally fluent throughout. Tackling animations are perfected upon in 2003 and defensive moves are electrifying at points. Overall, the mechanics of Madden 2003 are detailed and realistic, easily challenging the peak performance of other sports titles.
Madden 2003 stays true to the series with stellar gameplay and offers players an amazing portrayal of professional football. The game is packed with modes and features that add depth, but it's simply Tiburon's game engine that deliver the goods once again. At a glance, the game physics are identical to last year's game, but underneath there are slight variances that will appeal to fans of the series. The game speed is much faster than versions in the past, and provides a very upbeat tempo to strive upon. The tackles and player hits are more energetic and intense, while still maintaining practicality throughout the game. There are specific signature moves performed by star players and absolutely gorgeous replays that cover numerous angles. If you've thrown a wicked hit on your opponent, the EA camera will go in and examine it from three different areas, showing just how explosive and effective your tackle was. The same goes for extraordinary catches and long runs, as it'll catch every facet and detail of your productive play.
The Create features in Madden 2003 are some of the most intuitive to date. From Create-a-Playbook to Create-a-Player to Create-a-Team, Tiburon has delivered a setup that entices the hardcore football fan. Personally, I loved the Create-a-Playbook feature. The ability to draw out your own play and watch it work with success is unbelievable. It makes you wonder why the heck the play or formation wasn't in the playbook already. What's even better is that making your custom play is easier than you'd think. Simply choose a formation, select run or pass, and choose the routes you wish your players to follow. Along with that there is preview play option that allows you to see how well your play will work against an actual defense. Tiburon has thought of everything in this category, and shows it off beautifully with ease and simplicity. Create-a-Player and Create-a-Team are about what you'd expect, but are still extremely fun to play around with. I always liked putting star players on a created team over an actual professional squad; it seemed more personal that way. Also, when creating a team you have to get rid of one of the NFL counterparts, which actually comes in handy if you don't want to beat up on your hometown players.
The Franchise mode has become extremely important in sports titles over the past few years, and Madden 2003 contends with the sharpest of competitors. While NFL 2K3 posts slightly more details in their portrayal of a franchise, Tiburon's representation is extremely in tune and hits on about every area there imaginable. The Franchise mode features a fantasy draft, pre-season games, trade deadlines, a salary cap, and extensive coaching options. Progressing through multiple seasons is a feature that benefits the most intense of players, and this will definitely keep you busy. Along with the franchise mode there is also a plethora of other game modes. These include mini-camp, online play, tournament, two-minute drill, football 101, practice, and situation. As you can see, each format has its own special way of preparing you for the gridiron of actual season play. And whether you need the practice or not, these additions sure are fun to explore. Also, as I'm sure you are aware, Madden 2003 is completely online compatible. All you need is a network adapter and an Internet connection and you're set. Simply get signed on at one of the many EA online forums and prepare to take on opponents from around the country.
Whether your taking full part in the action on field, or preparing to line up for a play on an offense or defense, the sound elements in Madden 2003 are spectacular. The generic "Go Team Go!" cheers have been replaced with "Watch for the Deep Pass!" and "Keep an Eye on the End!" Also, the game sounds are as loud and sharp as you'd expect from standing on the sidelines yourself. From the shoulder pads cracking together to the ball being knocked from the air, the game is full of true-game sounds and won't disappoint a critic of the sport. The commentary is pretty stellar with an excellent addition of Al Michaels. He seems to cover most of the play-by-play with John Madden chiming in with his special blend of insight and color (even if it doesn't always make sense). Melissa Stark will deliver analysis from the sidelines, mostly involving coach interviews and injury reports. The new Monday Night Football feel is well appreciated and offers a better production and layout for the game. The soundtrack is something that we've been anxiously waiting to change, now tracks by Audiovent, Nappy Roots, Andrew W.K., among others. Surely, if you hated Madden 2002's soundtrack, expect a change this time around. Thank god.
With the gameplay scoring as high as it did, it's no wonder the game controls fluently and easily. Players respond perfectly and switch directions instantly with movement of the joystick or selection with the D-Pad. Learning the controls is a breeze and is quite self-explanatory. What I especially enjoyed about Madden's control scheme is the fact that there is no hesitation when deciding how to move your character. The feeling isn't loose and you're always in perfect control of your players. Whether you have to weave a lineman around an opponent to get that vital sack or simply running a sweep around the corner with your halfback, Madden 2003 is seamless in control.
In the end, if you're still stuck on whether to purchase Madden 2003 or NFL 2K3, it's simply a matter of preference. I really liked Madden's simulated football experience and the extensive franchise features. NFL 2K3 posts slightly better graphics and offers a little faster, arcade atmosphere of football. The gameplay of Madden 2003 is what should eventually help you make your decision, and if you love the EA Sports/Tiburon game engine, Madden 2003 is an obvious choice. The game physics are revamped and the overall structure is genuine, offering technical aspects with exciting gameplay. Overall, this is one of the best sports titles to hit your PS2 period; consider yourself lucky if you're a football fan.
8/15/2002 Matthew Stensrud