Matt Keller
24 Feb, 2003

Madden NFL 2003 Review

Xbox Review | Another year, another Madden.
EA Sports’ Madden games have been at the top of American Football games since the series first started. After playing the current day iterations of the series, it might boggle one’s mind to know that the Madden games had absolutely no NFL license until Madden 94, and no official player names until Madden 95, yet nowadays you see John Madden simulating the NFL season on the game that carries his name to see if they can work who will win the Superbowl. Madden NFL 2003 is the 13th game in the long running series, and as per usual, it adds just enough material to be considered a different game to the previous year’s update.

Features! Features! Get your new features!

As with every other yearly update EA Sports do, Madden 2003 includes a variety of features which improve or update aspects of its predecessor. This year sees the addition of Al Michaels and Melissa Stark to the commentary team, due to the retirement of Pat Summerall, and Madden’s change of networks. Next up is the mini-camp mode, in which you take the Madden Cruiser around to various destinations in the USA, and complete challenges, such as passing through a hoop to earn special Madden cards. A create-a-playbook option has been added to the already vast selection of user-created bits and pieces in Madden. This mode allows you to create your own defensive and offensive plays, formations and receiver routes from scratch. Franchise mode has also seen some tweaking; it now contains stat-tracking for 30 years, as well as tips from your scouts when drafting plays, and the ability to port your franchise team to any other game mode. The final major addition to the game is the EA Sports Trax, a variety of music from some well known artists, such as Bon Jovi, Andrew W.K. and Good Charlotte.

Madden is American football; two teams on the field at a time, one offense, one defense, with the offensive team trying to get the ball in the other team’s end zone, while the other team tries to prevent this from happening. The offensive team has 4 “downs” or attempts to make an advancement of 10 yards, which will net them a First down, or another set of 4 downs. If the team is in range, but doesn’t have enough downs to make it to the end zone, they can attempt a field goal. The game is split up over four equal quarters and the team with the most points at the end of the fourth quarter wins the game. Of course, this is just a simple rundown of the actual game, but you get the idea.

Madden 2003 has more teams than you can shake a stick at; all the teams from the 2001-2002 NFL season, as well as historical teams, All madden teams, and a variety of special teams which are unlockable via Madden cards. Madden cards are unlocked by collecting challenge points, which you earn by completing special tasks throughout a match, such as a 20 yard run with the halfback, or a 30 yard pass with your QB. A pack of Madden cards can be bought for 100 points in the main menu; provided you have a profile for saving your points to. Other than unlocking secret teams, Madden cards also unlock secret players, power up current players, cheat (by causing the opposition to fumble, or halving their goal size) and more. You can also compete for special Madden cards in the Mini-camp mode, by completing special set tasks using your favourite team.

The bulk of Madden’s playtime will be spent in the franchise mode. Franchise mode allows you to choose any current NFL team, or one of your own creation, and play in the NFL season for a number of years. You have complete control over your team, rosters, draft picks, signings, sackings, playbooks and so on. Your performance is also rated by the fans and the management of the club, so you must do your best, or you’ll be out of the job. Madden 2003 allows for up to 30 years of stat-tracking, if you wish to play for that long. Each season involves 3 pre-season games, 16 regular season games, the playoffs, the Superbowl, and the post season. Pre season is purely for tweaking your lineups to get them to their utmost best before the regular season. The regular season is the main chunk of the franchise mode, where you need to defeat the other teams to make your way to the playoffs. Everything is on the line in the playoffs, lose and it will be a long plane flight home, win and you’ll continue into the next round. The final match-up is the Superbowl, the main show of the NFL, the big dance. Win the Superbowl, and you’ll please the fans and the management, as well as the team. Post season is for team management – re-signing contracts, retirements, the NFL draft, and so on. You also will see how your existing players’ skills and improved or diminished over the course of the season. After Post season, the process starts all over again, with your new lineup.

Madden isn’t all fun, games and free popcorn, as there are still many issues to be worked out in the gameplay. Unfortunately, EA Sports and Tiburon still haven’t figured out what pass defence is, and this has a most detrimental effect on the overall experience. Defensive AI is still pitiful in its attempts to stop the passing play, both before and after the catch, even with the top defensive backs in the NFL. The running game has also been rendered useless in any difficulty higher than Pro, even with the best running back in the league, you’ll be making about 50 yards at best (in a game with 4 minute quarters), as you’ll no doubt be switching to the passing game due to frustration. The final and most devastating problem with Madden 2003 is the fact that EA Sports released a batch of bad Xbox discs out onto an unsuspecting public, which will claim to have a dirty disc error out of the blue, when the disc is dirty. It may just be me, but this dirty disc error always seemed to occur just as I was barely leading the computer going into the final quarter. If you’ve received a bad disc, contact EA immediately.

He’s looking better than we’ve ever seen him

Madden 2003 is the best looking Madden game yet. The player’s facial constructions share scary resemblance with their real life counterparts, looking more realistic than ever before. The player’s physical forms, running styles and dancing (post touchdown) also share resemblance to the real thing. Jersey’s will become stained with dirt, grass and snow after rough play, depending on the conditions. Animation of the players is almost flawless, and thumbs up must go to Tiburon for putting a lot of working into synchronisation on tackles, and the way players fall after being hit or driven into the ground.

All the arenas and stadiums used in the NFL have been painstakingly recreated to look exactly like their real world equivalents. Jumbotrons, quality of the pitch, be it Astroturf or grass, arena capacity and overall design are all exactly like the real thing. There are also a few hidden arenas available via Madden Cards.

The all new commentary team for Madden 2003 freshen up the overall experience, as well as providing more accurate and interesting commentary. Though Pat Summerall may be missed, Al Michaels is far less wooden than his previous year’s equivalent. Madden himself still seems as dull as ever, providing stupid colour commentary. Melissa Stark is a good replacement to Leslie Visser, and provides a good analysis from the sidelines. I am a little miffed that the player specific commentary seems to have taken a back seat from the previous two years – hopefully something that can be fixed in the future. 2003 also sees the introduction of the EA Sports Trax, music from a few famous artists for the menus and during parts of the game. The music will please fans of the specific genres, though the only act I had even heard of was Bon Jovi (yes, I know jack all about music).

That’s all she wrote, the final score is…

Madden still seems to be as strong as ever, though it still repeats the same mistakes that have plagued the latest entries to the series, those being the lack of pass defence AI and the lack of an effective running game. The game features enough content to hold Madden fans over to the next entry in the series, though casual fans may even be able to live off this entry for a little longer than a year.
The Score
The Madden series are falling behind the NFL 2k series in terms of gameplay, but fans will still be pleased, and its even good enough for casual fans to have a bit of a shot at. 8
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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