Final Glimpse: This year's question is, what's bigger ? Madden the video game, or Madden's waistline?
For the first time since the days when Sony's NFL Gameday franchise was the surprising juggernaut of the PlayStation, John Madden Football is on the defensive. Thanks to the continued efforts of Sega and ESPN Videogames, ESPN NFL 2K5 not only is the best football game ever to come from camp Sega, but it released three weeks early, at a price ($20) that is nearly unbeatable. Tack on lavish praise (9.5 from yours truly for both the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions) from gamers and game writers, and you can see why EA is in a situation where a step backwards could lead to defections to the ?other' side of the football wars. Thankfully, EA Sports is rising to that challenge, as Madden NFL 2005 looks like it will at the least compete with ESPN NFL 2K5 for pigskin supremacy this fall. Coming in both regular and Collector's Edition flavors, Madden NFL 2005 has a lot to lose with Sega on its tail, but EA has come out victorious many times that it's difficult to doubt their prowess ? and with a fanbase in the millions, the game is practically guaranteed to be a monster hit. On August 10th, however?we'll know for sure.
As mentioned, Madden NFL 2005 will be available in two different forms. There's the normal, stand-alone edition, which will be the basic game that you know and love, and there's the Collector's Edition celebrating 15 years of Madden football. The Collector's Edition is completely loaded up with stuff ? for an extra $10, you get the basic Madden '05 game, and three classic Madden games, with fully updated rosters and team sets. One version is based on the old John Madden 16-bit Sega Genesis games, one is based on Madden NFL '97/98 for PlayStation (the last of the sprite-based Madden games), and one based on the Madden '99-'01 polygonal games that brought the franchise back to life after the disastrous Madden NFL '98 season. Unfortunately these cannot be played online like the current Madden game, but the combination of old-school play and the current NFL scene will really bring smiles to the faces of old-time Madden players (one could only wish for an NHL 2005 Collector's Edition with a version based on the incredible NHL '94 for Genesis, but alas, that won't be happening). There's also a bunch of extra bonus content like ?making of' features and a Madden trivia game as well. For those who are willing to spend the $60 price tag for the Collector's Edition of Madden, it will be money well spent.
Alas, we're here to discuss the main Madden 2005 game, so let's get to that. Madden '05 will come with all the trimmings that EA is known for, from EA Sports BIO support (which carries over, so those who've leveled their BIO extensively will have a ton to unlock the instant they boot the game up), Online play via EA Sports Nation, and of course, the incredibly deep Franchice/Owner mode. Unfortunately, there's no word as to whether Madden will take advantage of the Sony Hard Disk Drive like ESPN NFL 2K5 does ? it would be a wonderful addition as the elimination of the need for a memory card is a huge plus of NFL 2K5. Madden does have an enhanced version of the ?Create-A-Sign' from NCAA Football 2005 in the invention of Create-A-Fan which lets you customize your own freaky follower, even if you're not playing as the Raiders. It's a bit gimmicky, but why not have something fun like that to compliment what's already a well-polished game?
The Franchise has undergone even more changes, though definitely a different direction than its competition. Much of the Franchise revolves around ?Storyline Central', which is your news outlet for what's going on not only with the rest of the NFL, but also around the league. If some players are complaining about a lack of playing time, or being underpaid, or maybe they don't get enough of a discount at the team shop (well, all right, that's not in here), it'll show up here, and it actually affects the chemistry of your team, and much of the time players will hold-out more often and leave for free-agency if they feel disrespected. The idea is to make sure even role players get a shot at playing, as it's those people that are the glue that makes a team championship-caliber in the real NFL. You'll even hear info about your team through voice, as Sporting News Radio personality Tony Bruno will discuss the NFL news between games, including your own. It might be a bit gimmicky compared to Sega's cumbersome Weekly Prep, but it promises to at least be more immersive for armchair GM's around the country.
On the field, Madden NFL 2005 is promising more defense, which has always been a weak spot. This is accented by enhanced Playmaker controls for defensive players, and the Hit Stick. The Playmaker stuff lets you simply have the same kind of control over routes and such for your defensive schemes, which is a great compliment to the offensive version. The Hit Stick, which is mapped to the right analog stick, lets you pummel a player and try to force the ball out of the hands of your opponents. This also was in NCAA Football 2005, but was mapped to the L2 button due to the Matchup Stick (which apparently isn't as useful in the pro game, though it would be a cool addition). However, one must wonder after the steps backward with NCAA Football 2005, whether or not Madden NFL 2005 will fall into the same trap of being unbalanced and too simplistic because of this defensive ramping up. Hopefully not?it would really help ESPN's cause if the opposite were true.