Review by antseezee

Reviewed: 07/16/03 | Updated: 07/16/03

A must have title for any football fan.

Madden games have always been regarded as the king of the universe when it came to football games. It had every single ounce of gameplay, good graphics, solid audio results, and enough to compel the gamer that he was really controlling an official NFL franchise team. Whether it be a deep hail mary pass, or a dashing run by your star halfback, Madden was always known for the memories. This year, EA Sports repelled back with the still dominant football game, and plenty of options to go with it. Basically, Madden 2003 is the ultimate football game for any NFL fan. It has all the teams, franchise mode, create a player, and even a mini camp mode. There's so many options and details that your average gamer will be overwhelmed with activities. Let's get started.

Graphics [8/10]
While Madden was designed primarily for the PS2, the X-BOX version is dazzling. The entire overview is in a 3D view, and played from a third person view. Each player has official jerseys, with their jersey numbers and helmets visible. You can even read the player's last name on the back of his jersey. Each team's stadium is built to an exact replica, and is amazing how detailed EA Sports went into doing so. You can see certain scoreboards, banners, and even fan advertisements that are rarely seen unless you went to a real football game. While fans do look like small pegs on a pegboard, they're animated well waving their hands in the air. The animations in Madden 2003 are simply unbeatable by any of its competition. Every tackle, sack, juke, or move has a unique way of ending, and there has to be tons of animations in this game. Depending on where a player gets hit, it usually determines what type of animation plays. It's great technology that EA Sports implemented into the game.

Unfortunately, while some players do look like their real-life counterparts, many faces in the game are too generic. Often, you'll see fifty Michael Vick faces and start to wonder what the heck is going on. Mostly important players have replica faces, but for the most part, the player models look very similar. Your offensive and defensive linemen are all heavy set players, while your cornerbacks and wide receivers retain that certain crispy frame. For the most part, the graphics in Madden 2003 are eye pleasing. There's no slowdowns in framerate for the X-BOX version (although the PS2 version differs). Menu presentation is very good, and well organized. You don't have to search a million sections to find what you're looking for; everything is where is should be. Plenty of detail also goes onto the field during gameplay. Cleat marks are common, and you can see the marks all the way until a game ends. Grass stains fill a player's uniform. Little things like this really show off in a realistic football game. Some animations tend to glitch over at times, and look a bit awkward. Still, EA Sports continues to do well with their very good graphics engine.

Sound/Music [7/10]
One of the little gimmicks that EA Sports does each year is that they sort of ''buy out'' songs for their soundtrack. Rather than composing their own music, they'll usually add a rap or hip hop song so they can take the easy way out. While it's smart to get authentic soundtracks for a football game, it can also backfire. There were a few good soundtracks in this year's version, but many of the songs become repetitive when you're doing tedious menu navigation. Sometimes you get sick of hearing Bon Jovi chanting ''It's my life, everyday!!!'' - Plus, EA Sports didn't utilize the X-BOX's feature of being able to use custom soundtracks, which is a huge disadvantage in my opinion. Still, each game you play has the nice Madden introduction, and it gets you pumped for gameplay.

The audio and sound effects are MUCH better this year. Beginning with the audio clips, EA did a great job in getting Al Michaels to start commentating for the game. In case you didn't know, Al Michaels is the Monday Night Football commentator, so it fits well with John Madden (now that he commentates on MNF). There's even side line commentary from Melissa Starks, which is neat, because she gives injury reports which almost lures the gamer into thinking he's playing a real football game. For the most part, the audio clips are of supreme quality, although Madden tends to ''loop'' himself with some sayings during one game. Sound effects are a true galore. Just about every grunt, groan, and smashing hit is able to be heard on field. Audibles have unique calling signs, a defensive tackle shifting an offensive lineman also has his muffle, everything is here. Even Instant Replay has all the audio sounds playback in exact order, which is amazing because you can hear every sound if you'd like. Very few sports games offer the interaction of graphics and sounds in such a well-designed manner.

Gameplay [9/10]
There's one way of describing the world's leading football game - Dominating. The gameplay in Madden 2003 is so in-depth, precise, and to the point that you wish every sports game could be like this. OK, let's start off by saying that this is an official NFL game, so every team is there including the Texans. Secondly, about 98% of the players are named in the game. So you don't have to worry about Duce Staley or Ricky Williams not having a real name. I'm sure you understand how football works, but Madden redefines it. There's tons of modes in Madden ranging from Exhibition, Season, Franchise, Mini-Camp, Football 101, and Practice. You can also create your own player, team, uniforms, and playbook if you'd wish. Franchise mode is the one true mode that takes sports games to a whole new level. You can manage everything from player signings, releases, trades, to draft picks and preseason. You are the General Manager/Coach/Owner of the franchise, and it's up to you to lead the team to the Superbowl. You can play any franchise up to 30 years, which can really hook a player into playing forever.

The actual gameplay is well designed, but some flaws still exist. Passing the ball is still an easy task. All you have to do is hike the ball, and then select a button to pass the ball to that receiver. Thanks to pressure sensitive buttons, you can toss a lob by pressing the button lightly, or a bullet by holding it down. Catching the ball in Madden is still slightly flawed, with receivers dropping easy passes, and catching amazing ones. This happens to be one of the gameplay flaws with Madden. Too many good catches are made. Whether it be the CPU or yourself, some receivers are catching balls that not even Terrell Owens could catch. The running game is still solid, but probably a little overrated. You can rush up the gut for little yard gains, or take a hit behind the lines from an incoming blitz. Outside runs seem to get stuffed too easily this year, negotiating negative yard gains almost 70% of the time. The worst problem this year though was the offensive linemen. For some reason, offensive linemen cannot block correctly, and often the running/passing game can both become useless. A new problem called suction blocking has arrived where linemen tend to suck together, and no holes open up. This is bad because blitzers can't rush, and you can't find a hole as a rusher.

Also, any offensive linemen on your team will rarely get Pancakes because of EA's glitchy blocking schemes. This is one of the mishaps that EA Sports plans to fix in next year's version. Other gameplay issues continue to rise such as defensive backs not correctly covering receivers, and this can be a true pain. Also, the CPU does get speed boosts and little ''cheats'' late in the game if they're trailing a human opponent. Despite all this, Madden still provides a fun experience. Most of the gameplay is balanced, and player ratings reflect this. A 60 overall runningback is not going to rush like Ricky Williams. Other interesting features include the draft, where you can import players from NCAA Football 2003. This means you can get authentic players like Carson Palmer, and Larry Johnson if you have NCAA Football 2003.

Fun [8/10]
Not many people realize how fun football can be. Madden emphasizes this by taking football, and turning it almost into a strategy game. Every play you pick could decide the rest of the game, your team's fate, and their possible destiny. Sometimes a risky play call can lead to a game winning touchdown, a pitch on the outside could lead to a game tieing score. These decisions give the gamer plenty of entertainment in planning on what to do. Madden becomes even more fun when you hook up four players, and get a big game of 2 on 2 going. You can also export your franchise teams, and compete them against friends if you'd like. Madden 2003 continues to provide a thrilling experience for any sports fan alike.

Replayability [10/10]
With so many features, options, and modes, EA Sports has set new depths for how far a sports game can go. Whenever you beat a certain goal in the game, you earn ''Madden Points'' which can be used to buy in-game card packs. It's a neat idea of earning ''cheats'' or unlocking extra players that would normally be retired or long gone. Mini-Camp mode is a neat little feature where you play a position specific training course, and you earn points. If you earn enough points to earn a gold medal, you're usually awarded with special prizes. With an aspiring franchise mode that lasts 30 years, thousands of possibilities from the draft, and the ability to create your own team with custom uniforms, this year's Madden has probably the most depth ever in a sports game.

Difficulty [8/10]
Challenge is something that is almost essential to the success of a gaming franchise. Madden does just that with four difficulty settings. One of the hardest settings, All-Madden has insane gameplay that only the few elite players have managed to master. Computer AI is fairly good in play making decisions, and will run the time out near the end of the game. Franchise moves on deciding whether to resign a big player, or sign a rookie, can truly make the difference in how well your team manages. Mini camp mode challenges the players to get higher scores, and quick reflexes will prove to be the difference between a good and ''better'' player.

Final Factor [9/10]
Madden NFL 2003 Football is the best football game to date. It provides the true sports fan with almost every thing he would want in a football game. EA Sports has produced a real gem in this series, and hopefully will continue to shine this gem as well as every year. Despite some gameplay flaws, Madden 2003 is a game that any sports fan should have. You should buy this at all costs, but if you're not a sports fan, be a little weary of your decision.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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