If you don't like sports games, you'll think this game is full of poo. If you hate cheap or unstoppable computar AI, you'll really think this game is full of poo. If you hate He-Who-Refers-to-Himself-in-the-Third-Person, you are full of poo.
Note to Shafty: Riding the Pine Does Not a Glorious Football Career Make.
Long has Shafty attempted to re-create the "glory days" of his high school football career. Video game career, that is. It was there (and in sleep) that Shafty was a viking. Unfortunately, most football video games fall short, for few match up to the greatest video football game ever: Tecmo Bowl, of course. Tecmo Bowl, while not terribly fundamentally sound, was really easy to get into (even for those who don't like football games). You had four possible plays to run, on offense or defense. If the defense guessed correctly, you got sacked--unless you had Bo Jackson, who was unstoppable. If the defense guessed incorrectly, you marched down the field towards total field domination. And you could throw the length of the entire field! And the game had the REAL NFL players in it, yay!
After the passing of Tecmo Bowl, other would-be challengers to the Tecmo crown fell woefully short. Joe Montana football, for example, featured one play that was completely unstoppable when run by you, your opponent or the computer, thus leading to much controller throwing and cursing. How about NFL Blitz? This game isn't football--it's Mexican wrestling in pads for those with short attention spans:
Blitz designar: Look! It's video game football!
Beta testar kid: As with most of my sorry-ass generation, I don't like football.
Blitz designar: What if we make it so you can bodyslam somebody when you tackle them?
Beta testar kid: *yawns*
Blitz designar: What if we take the "football" part out of it by making it unrealistic and more about combo moves and taunting your opponent than really scoring touchdowns?
Beta testar kid: Yay!
Something like that. Sega made a bad-ass college football game in 1997, but the fight songs were silly and none of the players had names. Kind of hard to taunt your opponent with "My QB No. 7 is going to kick your ass!" Oh, and previous Madden games? Hmm. Okay, I guess. Much bettar when paired with BEER.
Shafty's Brain: That old review of the Madden Drinking Game sucked.
Shafty: Yeah, I know. This one will be much bettar!
Shafty's Brain: Have you read what you've written so far?
Then along came Madden 2003, one of the few PS2 games that was also released for the PSOne. Yay! After Shafty legally "backed up" the copy he rente... err, bought from his local video store, he and Phat-C (Bill, the co-creatar of John Madden Drinking Game) began a complete season, with each playing the part of an AFC and NFC team of his choice. Both of Shafty's teams beat Phat-C's in the conference championships, and he went on to the Super Bowl championship.
Here's one of the cool things: like in baseball games, in which the user gets to play the All-Star game, the computer picks players for the Pro Bowl (which typically takes place a few weeks after the Super Bowl), and the players get to play the Pro Bowl after the Super Bowl. This is an unusual addition to a football game, but one that shows how much attention EA paid to creating a realistic play environment.
Madden 2003 is a football game. As peculiar as that sounds, there are a lot of "football" video games that are nothing of the sort. If you're expecting to see players bodyslam each other or super, hyped-up effects and such... don't rent/buy this game. However, if you love football or are easily addicted to two-player games, this is the game for you.
Gameplay Strengths: EA placed emphasis on making this game realistic. As such, this game is a lot of fun to play, particularly if you like the behind-the-scenes stuff that makes football football. Linemen actually do what they're supposed to do, except when they don't and you get sacked on that crucial fourth-and-goal from the one-yard-line play. Receivers still drop passes, even if they're wide open. And the computar AI is bettar than before, such that the computar bettar responds to plays that worked really well the first few weeks. Receivers that caught a lot of balls at first tend to get double-covered, and so the player has to adapt his offense accordingly.
All in all, though, this is a very realistic football game with a bunch of nuances that you probably won't appreciate until you play it a whole lot.
Gameplay Weaknesses: This is one of the cheapest computar artificial intelligence (AI) you will evar see. After Shafty eked out victories in Week One and lost in Week Two, he learned a very important lesson: the computar gets cheapar as the game goes along. Elect to kick to begin the game so that you can get the ball at the start of the second half. Then hope to score and run the clock out because, if you have anything less than a two touchdown lead going into the fourth quarter, you are likely to lose the game. Even with "CPU Assist" disabled, the computar (especially if it's losing) begins completing passes into triple coverage, bouncing off would-be tacklers, and making your tacklers fall down at inopportune times. The computar will not be denied a cheap touchdown in the fourth quarter, and will even call trick plays to make sure it gets what it wants. Phat-C even saw (and recorded on videotape) a pass that his QB threw that changed directions in mid-air, to turn a certain completion into an interception.
Don't even get Shafty started on the St. Louis Rams, who are UNSTOPPABLE in this game. If you play conservative pass defense, Marshall Faulk will bounce off/spin away from/highstep over/stiffarm through all of your tacklers in route to 20-yard gains every play. If you try to defend the run, the computer will know it and automatically throw downfield to Isaac Bruce, who will streak for a touchdown. Should you stop the Rams twice and they face a third-and-fifteen, Kurt Warner will throw for exactly sixteen yards. They even ran a flea-flicker trick play, dammit! You WILL throw your controllar--this is not in doubt. Phat-C, angered over his team's first loss, threw his PS1 controllar, which yanked free of the console, skipped off the carpet, hit the sheet rock, and left a mark.
Other unstoppable offenses who will make you curse: Buffalo Bills, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Oakland Raiders, Denver Broncos, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (which is DUMB because their real-life offense sucks), and San Francisco 49ers.
It's also a shame that Madden still essentially ignores the running game in football. Until you get the hang of it (which can take a while), most of your running plays will result in being hit for a loss or, at best, no gain. Likewise, the computar (unless it plays one of the unstoppable running backs like Faulk, Ricky Williams or Edgerrin James) won't be able to run much either. This de-emphasis on rushing is a common weakness in football video games, where the most blatant violator is Blitz (in which every run--unless it's by the computer--is an automatic loss of yardage). Don't spend much time getting better at rushing because, even if you do, you'll never be able to run against a human opponent.
Kicking is also very hard, and still relies on those antiquated "power bars" that force to you time your button push to align a kick and hit it with just the right amount of force. Otherwise, you end up like Shafty's kicking game did. His kickers had only a 37% and 50% field goal rate, even from short yardage, so Shafty chose to go for it rather than kick or punt. Incidentally, Shafty's Eagles knocked off Phat-C's Saints only because, after the Saints scored the touchdown to tie the game with only seconds remaining, the quirky power bar caused Phat-C to miss the extra point. Controllar got thrown by him.
Creating bigger and better machines for bigger and better graphics can be a mixed curse, at least in sports games. The more you try to make realistic looking humans in football pads who make incredibly complicated physical movements, the more you end up with players with strange polygonal body proportions. The PSOne version boasts very impressive graphics that feature a little less pixelated weirdness. The PS2 version, though... it's a little... off. Check out the screen shots. Although the graphics are advanced beyond belief, EA chose to include in-game photos of the real players such that, when Duce Staley rushes, Duce Staley's real face is inside that helmet. That's what's a little weird. It's hard to describe, but it looks as though they took only one picture for the players, then tried to adapt the same photo to different scenarios by stretching and contorting parts of the photo. Ah well, it's a neat idea--just doesn't really work in practice.
There are those who decry John Madden as a moron who goes through life pointing out supremely obvious truisms. In fact, there's even a guy who's made a living off of imitating Madden. Shafty happens to like Madden, although a lot of what he says is pretty obvious. To wit: "When you lose your best cornerback and your punt returner, I'd say that's a double loss," or "Of course, if he had had control of the ball when he hit the ground, then it would have been a complete pass." If that's the case, this game really makes Madden seem like an idiot. In real life, of course, Madden teams with Al Michaels to call Monday Night Football. Here, Michaels is the play-by-play guy, and doesn't do a very bad job of it. As the color guy, though, Madden's comments make you want to stick a pencil through your eardrums. For reasons unbeknownst to Shafty, your less-than-humble correspondent, EA only recorded Madden saying a few different sayings. Then they get repeated over and over and over and over and over and over.... It's bad enough to hear the same comments in every game, but to hear them multiple times in the same game? Such comments are (without looking at notes):
"Not only was that pass off-target, but it's also a good way to get your receiver decked." "Whoa. He's lucky that pass fell incomplete. A lot of times, these passes get gobbled up by the defense!"
In a game where reality is the key, perhaps the commentator should have a more varied list of things to say? After a few games, just feel free to deactivate the "Madden Commentary." Your sanity will thank Shafty later.
After having run the gamut of an entire season with two different teams, avoiding the cheapness of the Rams (three times, mind you) and utterly mauling Phat-C in the championship and Super Bowl games, what was Shafty's reward? Answarr: A pictarr of the Super Bowl trophy, a very short excerpt of official NFL music, and a "You are Super Bowl Champions!" message. Damn damn damn. I just love truly inspiring video game endings. Really makes me want to run out and play again! Here's the thing, though. If you have a friend who played another team in the season with you, you'll actually want to play again. Besides, to increase replayability, EA tossed in a bunch of other cool crap, like minicamps and such, that Shafty hasn't even looked at yet. In addition, there is always the challenge of taking a truly crappy team to the title, or of attempting to actually lead the NFL in rushing with only five-minute quarters (a truly noble goal). There's also a Madden challenge thing that rewards you for accomplishing a bunch of tasks within one game. And, if you have a PS2, you can also play online. Surprisingly, then, this is actually a sports game that is worth replaying.
|Gameplay||Die, unstoppable cheap computar!||4.5|
|Graphics||In-game player photos might weird you out.||4.5|
|Music/Sound||DIE REPETITIVE MADDEN COMMENTS DIE!||3|
|Replay Value||Must... win... rushing title...||5|
|Originality||Oooh, special modes!||4.5|
|Final Verdict: 4.3|