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Old 08-24-2002, 07:24 PM   #1
Black Ace
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Madden 2003 PS2 Review

Score A

Gameplay A

Graphics A

Sound A

Replay Value A +

The Bottom Line
Madden 2003 is more than just last year's title with online play. Aside from numerous subtle gameplay tweaks, there are a number of major additions to the series. The result of these improvements is a game that not only looks and plays better, but also fully realizes the dream of anyone looking to fully manage their own professional team.

A Closer Look
At the time this review was written, the online portion of Madden 2003 was unavailable, as EA opted to close the public servers until the broadband adaptor is officially released. Even without the online support, Madden 2003 has a great deal to offer to both casual and hardcore football fans. In addition to the standard franchise mode, you have the option of starting an instant action game, playing the decisive last two minutes of a scoreless game, or creating a custom game scenario. Even after these have been exhausted, there are still collectable cards to be unlocked and a host of mini-games to exploit. Provided you have an interest in the sport, Madden 2003 should keep you busy for months.

Players will find themselves spending the bulk of their time with the franchise mode. Essentially, this allows you to take an existing NFL team (or one you've created) and play through a number of seasons in an attempt to claim the Super Bowl title. Here, you have total control over your team, ranging from adjusting team aggressiveness to selecting preferred formations. Tweaking these settings with your players' attributes in mind can make a noticeable difference in field performance.

Taking the idea of managing a professional team even further is the create-a-playbook feature. Here, you can borrow plays from other teams throughout the league or create new plays from scratch. This feature provides an amazing amount of freedom in placing offensive and defensive players, provided that the final product complies with the NFL rulebook. Best of all, in creating a passing play, you are actually able to draw a receiver's route, allowing for some very interesting twists. Of course, you still have the option of selecting several pre-drawn routes, such as a curl or a fly. After a play has been honed to your liking, you have the ability to test it out against various field scenarios.

Managing your team's roster is a breeze using Madden's effective interface. When it comes time to scout new talent, you will be given a flood of information about the rookies available to sign. Each recruit has different conditions of employment and demands that usually have to be met. The NFL salary cap is firmly in place, preventing a player from signing only the best in the league.

It would be easy for a newcomer to the series to fear being overwhelmed by the sheer depth of Madden 2003. However, EA has tweaked the game in such a way as to ensure that their fears are unfounded. Inexperienced players may choose to have drafting and signing handled automatically. Also, novice players have the option of enabling Easy Play, which automates many of the advanced passing and running options. The basic difficulty settings are appropriately graded, allowing a rookie to make his or her share of mistakes, with each more advanced skill level being progressively less forgiving. Finally, Madden includes a Football 101 mode, where Madden himself will talk you through each of the game's various plays and formations. Here, novice and veteran alike can glean a great deal of information about their playbook.

While football 101 is handy for learning play basics, you will probably look towards the Mini-Camp to learn how to best control individual players. The Mini-Camp is a series of mini-games designed to polish skills such as passing and breaking past a defensive line. One game has you preventing a pass from being ?caught' by a dummy receiver. Each incomplete pass and interception yields points which can be used to open up a game scenario where the skills taught by the mini-game can be applied to the field.

Graphically, Madden 2003 excels. EA has noticeably improved player animations and texture quality. Animations look realistic, blending fluidly together during abrupt movements. Players will notice team-accurate banners decorating the sidelines and individual fans wearing team colors. In addition to these welcomed touches, Madden 2003 features accurate shadowing, impressive helmet reflections, realistic camera focusing, and a stylized (though not often used) replay sequence for exceptional plays. However, the graphics fall short in regards to the facial models. Many players look nearly identical, pulling you out of an otherwise immersive experience.

As good as this game looks, it sounds even better, due in large part to the addition of commentator Al Michaels. While their banter rarely interacts, the commentary provided by Madden and Michaels is generally accurate and useful. While occasionally scathing, the commentary provides insight weighing play effectiveness and providing subtle hints. Ambient sound is just as strong, with crowd chants and cheers rendered in full Dolby Surround. Finally, this incarnation of the series features a host of licensed music ranging from artists such as Bon Jovi to Good Charlotte, the vast majority of which fits the stadium atmosphere.

Madden 2003 is an easy recommendation to all fans of football games. It's accessible to novices while still providing the degree of customization that veterans demand. The fact that it's the first in the series to bring online play to the table is just icing on the cake.

Pros & Cons
Graphics
+ New animations and smooth transitions
+ High-poly models
- Facial models are only average

Sound
+ Al Michaels is a welcomed improvement
+ Supports Dolby Surround
+ Excellent background effects make the game feel alive

Gameplay
+ Huge degree of flexibility in choosing how you want to play
+ Create-a-playbook adds new dimension to the strategy
+ Noticeably refined AI over last year's title

Replay Value
+ Surprisingly entertaining mini-game mode
+ Remarkably deep Franchise mode will keep fan's enthralled for months
+ Online play with broadband adaptor
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