For many people, Madden NFL 2005 signals the beginning of the NFL football year. Sega and Visual Concepts obviously would like you to think of the recently released ESPN NFL 2K5 (Keith’s Review) as the official start, but a lot of people wait for Madden to come.


This year Madden may have its biggest challenge yet with Sega/Visual Concept’s 3 week jump on it. So far the praises for ESPN NFL 2K5 have been pretty universal, but as regular users (and sports forum goers) got deeper into the game they found that the franchise system was broken. For someone like myself that puts a lot of time into franchise modes, it is always sad to hear a game that has an broken franchise system.


From my standpoint, Madden NFL 2005‘s upgrades this year consist of: more robust defensive options (you can now make a player line up however you want before a play for instance), better defensive AI (no longer will your DB make receiver catches easy), the new hit stick and what seems like faster gameplay over last year. However, can these additions overcome ESPN and its dominance in the graphics section and great gameplay? Let’s see.

The graphics in Madden NFL 2005 are easily better than the ones found in NCAA Football 2005 (My Review). The slowdown that many people were experiencing in NCAA is totally gone here. Madden plays a very fluid game of football. Animations have seen an upgrade this year with the inclusion of the hit stick. With the hit stick your defensive players will now be flying or taking a bigger charge at the offensive players. The offensive players on the other hand, if hit by the use of the hit stick, will be doing a bunch of animations like flipping to the ground, looking like a helicopter and generally getting hit harder than usual.


Madden has also prided itself on its uniform graphics for many years. Each player will see their uniforms get very dirty in this game, especially when playing in rain or on natural grass. Granted, the players and uniforms on their own do not look better here than they do in ESPN NFL 2K5, but the environmental textures on the uniforms and helmets are far better than ESPN. In ESPN you’ll see dirt here and there, but not to the realistic level that the Madden series represents in its game. Obviously EA Tiburon made a decision a long time ago to make things look as real as possible, add in great animations, keep the game speed constant and have above average graphics to round it out. Madden won’t win a straight graphics comparison challenge versus ESPN, but in my mind it does the other graphic abilities (motion, animation, environmental effects) better than ESPN. From a pure aesthetic point of view, ESPN NFL 2K5 wins this battle hands down, but for overall presentation I’d probably give the nod to Madden


Another note I’d like to make is that Madden and EA Sports in general still have some of the best menus in sports games. For some reason Visual Concepts have never been as adept at creating cool and serviceable menus as EA has.

EA makes a big turnaround from last year in its EA Sports Trax offerings this year. It’s not as rap heavy as it used to be, although rap is still well represented. Now it is peppered with modern rock, hard rock, punk and alternative songs as well. The big talent here is Green Day with the theme song from its upcoming album, “American Idiot”. The only problem with the song is that it is censored in order to keep the E rating for the game. Other bands include Alter Bridge with “Open Your Eyes” (3 former Creed members and a new lead singer, CD came out August 10th), Hoobastank with “Same Direction”, Chevelle, The Hives, New Found Glory, Franz Ferdinand, Strata and others. I made a big deal about the rap heavy selections last year, so these choices are far better than last year. Also, you have the option to turn off supplied songs and add your own, making the experience that much better.


The sound inside of the game is much the same as it has been, although I can tell that at least Al Michaels has done some extra voice work for this year. The Michaels/Madden commentary sounds quite a bit better than last year, although obviously they are using the same old Maddenisms from years ago. You’d think since Madden is getting paid so much by EA for use of his name that he’d be a little more up to doing some extra voice recordings so that the game is better from that perspective. This is the last year EA has a contract with Madden, although I am sure they are going to re-up it considering how well this game sells and how much stronger pre-orders have been this year over last year.

Honestly, there is no football game out there that controls as well as Madden does. I know I may be slammed on this, but having played this series over the 15 years it has been out the controls are still very tight and its obvious that EA Tiburon puts a lot of time into making the controls as tight as they can be every year.


This year does add many more things you can do on your controller though. With the new defensive match-up options and the defensive playmaker controls your time on that end of the ball is going to be a lot more time intensive than years past. It’s going to take a bit of time to get used to, but I’m willing to bet you can set up your players like you want (DB hug the line, give a buffer, etc.) and still get to the player you want to control during pre-snap in no time. There are a lot of options on defense now and your defense is much tighter than it was last year, meaning that the offense will no longer be making you its bitch every time down the field.


The other big thing introduced to the controls is the Hit Stick. Basically you use the right analog stick to give a little more power to your tackles. If you do it right you have a good chance of making a player fumble the ball. However if you miss the tackle the player could be going for a long gain. I actually like the Hit Stick quite a bit and you certainly take the chance that you could miss the tackle totally.

I’ve played ESPN NFL 2K5 and its franchise mode still doesn’t hold a candle to Madden NFL 2005 in my mind. Some people may argue with that statement, but the Madden franchise is a lot easier for any player to get into and most likely understand. For example the Training Camp mini-games (basically Mini-Camp in Franchise mode) are what you use to give your players some progression in their talent set. I find immense fun in doing the Mini-Camp sections of the game. In fact, it was the first thing I started to play with as soon as I got this game.


EA Tiburon has added quite a bit to the game this year. There is the EA Sports Radio Show with Tony Bruno, the addition of USA Today and actual local newspapers to go deeper into what’s going on with the NFL as a whole and your own team, an expanded draft engine, more streamlined GM options, etc. The Tony Bruno radio show is a pretty good addition, although I know many out there are wishing it was a bit more dynamic than it is. The cool thing about it in my mind is that if there are any big trades that happen Bruno will talk about it on his show. I think it’s amazing to fathom how many avenues they thought of when creating these sound sections for Bruno.


The addition of the USA Today and local newspapers (Minneapolis Star Tribune for me) is much like the addition of Sports Illustrated in the NCAA Football series, but it is used for a much closer to home look at your team. In the local papers you will find out such things as how your players are feeling, what the overall morale of the team is, etc. You click on a headline, read the news story and then you have the option of doing something about it in a simple menu. Just brings an extra level of interactivity to the game.


The NFL draft has also been given a bit of a boost. You can keep tabs on 15 players that you are interested in pursuing and the draft plays out a lot more like the regular NFL draft. Each team is put on the clock and the wheeling and dealing begins. You even get crowd reactions from choices made by the teams. It’s all very well put together and gives you the atmosphere of actually being at the draft.


Owner mode is also toned down a bit from last year. The only time I saw it in effect was the end of the season when you could raise the prices of tickets, condiments, etc. The option to build a new stadium and move your team is still there though. Owner mode was cool last year for at least a little while, but I like this year that it is more connected with the overall Franchise section of the game.


Then there is the overall gameplay itself. I’ve played all the NFL football games this year and I’m still standing on my principle that Madden is simply the better game from a gameplay perspective than ESPN NFL 2K5 is. I don’t think anyone can argue that Madden is the smoother game in action and it’s obvious that EA Tiburon made the choice long ago to bring graphics that are on a lower level than Sega in order to have a fast and well animated game. I know many will argue with me on this, but Sega’s game is the better looking game while EA’s game is the better playing game. I feel I have more control over my players here than I do in ESPN. The addition of the Playmaker plays last year also helped a lot in giving you the feel of actually being a football player. As your RB runs you can have the blockers in front of him block certain oncoming opponents with the Playmaker ability. There is no such option in ESPN.


The addition of the defensive options also gives this game a nod over ESPN. EA Tiburon seems to have finally figured out how to beat the curse of the horrendous DB AI that has plagued this series for many years. Now the defense is a lot smarter and you get the addition options of choosing to send a player wherever you want before the ball snaps. You want a DB to meet a WR up at the line or give him a little buffer? You can do it by selecting the player and pushing the right analog stick down (to hug the WR) or back (to give the WR a buffer). You can also do the same kind of thing with your linebackers and defensive lineman. Along with the Hit Stick, your defense will no longer be letting the offense run all over them, a problem that has been around for many years.


For the first time ever, Madden is on Xbox Live this year as well. EA Sports had a little sputter when NCAA Football 2004 came out, but they seem to have smoothed out the rough edges in anticipation of Madden coming out. The game runs very smoothly online, although I have only played one game so far. There is pretty much no difference between playing against the computer and playing someone online in regards to speed of the game.


EA Sports also plans to start online leagues right before the start of the NFL season. This gives them about a month to get it set up and ready. You will have to subscribe to their EA Sports Premium Pass in order to use the online league option though. Dodge was nice enough to sponsor every Madden NFL 2005 owner for this year, but I would not be surprised if EA starts charging when other 2005 sports games start coming out and then people will have to decide whether it is worth it or not.


Simply put, Madden NFL 2005 is the best playing game out there. It may not win on graphics, but it wins in the overall battle.

As I say every year, the replay value of a sports game is entirely up to you. In my world, if a game doesn’t have a good Franchise mode it probably isn’t going to get much of my time. Madden NFL 2005 is simply an extension of an already great Franchise mode. You still have the ability to import draft classes from NCAA Football 2005 and this year that section of the game is not broken. Added this year on the Xbox is online games and soon on the PS2 and Xbox you will be able to play in online leagues and tournaments.


If you’re a football fanatic that enjoys a great Franchise mode and have hours to sit in front of the television and be a general manager, there is no game out there that gives you a better feel of the NFL experience than this game.

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