Ray Lewis is a rather brave man. Not only does he go to work every day facing down the biggest, baddest, hardest hitting guys on the planet, this year he took on perhaps the most dangerous job of them all - posing for the cover of Madden 2005. You may be unaware, but ever since Eddie George replaced the title character on the Madden cover in 2000, he and all who have followed in his footsteps have suffered greatly during their stint on the box. George had a bad season, as did his direct successor Daunte Culpepper, and Marshall Faulk and Mike Vick (2003 and 2004 respectively) suffered injuries that effectively screwed them for the whole season. So we all, especially Baltimore fans, wait with bated breath to see what terrible misfortune Ray Lewis endures. Should you be a Baltimore fan, or should Ray Lewis be the cornerstone of your fantasy football team, however, find solace in the fact that you can always simply make believe, with the aforementioned Madden 2005.
Ever since the Lions had a great draft (picking up top receiver Roy Williams and top running back Kevin Jones in the first round,) and an excellent off-season altogether, I have had a serious jones for football. So, naturally, as soon as it came out, I gobbled it up. Immediately, of course, my forays with the Lions were utter failures, as the control scheme had changed slightly since my last Madden experience - 2000 on the Nintendo 64. But, I have figured it out (mostly,) and am pleased with the result.
Let's start with the obvious: this game is pretty. It's gorgeous even. Not unexpectedly - it's a year better than the last one, two years better than the one before. I wasn't dazzled by the graphics, it didn't consume my experience, and it just made it a good one. Which is, I suppose, the point. The graphics are good. Simple as that. Nothing to get mad or excited about. At a few points my experience is a bit, shall we say, interrupted. The coaches, of all people, look oddly stiff and poorly animated during their meeting sequences before and after the game. That really doesn't bug me, and if you're impatient and hit start or A to skip those sequences, you won't see it anyway. But even more disappointing was the cheerleaders also do not match the caliber of animation in the rest of the game. Couldn't tell you exactly what it is about them, but they just don't look right. Seriously though, nothing to worry about.
Gameplay is of course excellent. You've been hearing it for years: Madden is a good football game. And so it is. It plays very well, and this year things only get better. I especially found that playing on defense is more fun, though it still doesn't compare to offense. In previous games, however, I found myself allowing the other team to score just to get back on O, because D was simply that boring to me. Not this time. Offense is of course the highlight, though there's not much to say about it. Just trust me. It's fun. New abilities and features make defense more interesting, however, the highly touted "Defensive Playmaker" abilities that are supposed to make defense as important as offense to players of this game don't really enter into it - I haven't used a single playmaker ability once. One interesting addition to defense is the "Hit Stick." To use this, one must tap the C-stick just as a player is about to make a tackle. This difficult and you must be precise in your timing, otherwise you'll flat out miss the player. If you do use the Hit Stick successfully, however, you can cause fumbles or injure players. I especially enjoy using the Hit Stick on QBs after they've thrown the football. Not so fast when your knees are broken, eh Vick?
One of the good, but at the same time, not so good, features of Madden is that you can press Y on the play call screen to see what Madden thinks you ought to call. This would perhaps be better if it was not so disconcerting - every time Madden picks a play he'll say something inane like "Heck, this looks like a good play!" or "Try this one." Gives you the impression he doesn't really know what he's talking about. And the results sometimes verify that. On multiple occasions his plays make no sense; though I concede I know nothing of NFL play calling, I do know that "running it up the gut and gaining a few yards" is not what you're supposed to do on 3rd and 10 when you're down by seven in the waning seconds of the game. Call me crazy. Even worse, he has more than once told me to send out the punt return team when the opposing offense is on 1st down. And he kept calling it until they scored a touchdown.
Fortunately, you don't have to listen to him, and you should generally be fine with what he offers you. If what I hope is a glitch occurs while your playing, and Madden calls in the punt returner, you should be able to pick out a decent play yourself. In fact, as time goes on, you get a good sense of what is the right play and you rely less on Madden. Except on defense. Defense is still a total mystery to me. But hey, I'm learning, and you will too.
Madden and Al Michaels, the color and play-by-play, respectively, are expectedly inane and annoying. Their catch phrases get old very quickly (if I have to hear what indeed does result from the meeting of the unstoppable force and the immovable object again, I may hunt down John Madden and kill his dog,) and on top of it they are often completely incoherent and entirely non sequiturs. Again, not a huge issue, especially since you can control volume, but it is something you'd think the guys at EA Sports would have gotten a handle on by now. One positive thing to say on the subject, however, is that the guys at EA have really gotten good at making Madden and Michaels sounds fluid and smooth when they give specific information. Every player's name is recorded by Michaels, as are team names, etc. Instead of "The...RAVENS...beat the...JETS...FORTY. TWO...to...NOTHING," it sounds pretty human.
There are of course many different play modes, the most central of which is Franchise. In this mode, you guide your team through the regular season, and if applicable, the playoffs. When the season's done, you enter Owner's Box Offseason, which I find to be an interesting innovation, but not very fun. In it you can adjust ticket and concession prices, renovate your stadium, or even relocate your team. I had, for example, a lot of fun playing as los Leónes de la Cuidad de México. Other than that, however, it doesn't have very much to do with football, even though it does, and I thought it should have been an optional thing. Again, however, minor.
The real fun begins in the Off-Season, when a)older players retire, b)free agents are signed and re-signed, c)and the college draft takes place. I'm a bit of a personnel nut, so I'm pretty excited when that time of year rolls around. You might not be, but if that's so, it's easy to blow through it pretty quickly. Give your free agents exactly what they want, draft the best players available according to the list, and get on with the real game: football.
Tournaments and fantasy drafts are also possible game modes. One of the newer ones (depending on the last Madden game you own) however, is mini-camp. Mini-camp occurs between the off-season and the pre-season in Franchise mode, or it can be played independently. Either way it's a lot of fun. In Franchise mode, you can select one player from your roster and have him go through drills - there are different drills for different positions. Two throwing drills, a running drill, a catching drill, a pass defend drill, two tackling drills, and two kicking drills. They are not only a lot of fun and good practice, but if you achieve certain levels with players from your roster you can actually improve their stats. For example, I selected Dre' Bly to run the pass defend drill (my favorite, by the way.) I get points for every pass I spank down with the L button, and even more for every one I intercept with the Y. There are point plateaus to reach for bronze, silver, and gold. If I reached, say, silver on my first shot, I can either take two points and apply them to certain attributes of Bly's (like speed or jumping,) or I can risk those points trying the next difficulty level, which offers more points per plateau. Might sound confusing, but trust me, it's a lot of fun and adds a lot to what would otherwise be just a plain old football game.
The music on this game is nice. Madden has a decently sized collection of songs by hit artists ranging from rock, to rap, to grunge/alternative/whatever. I couldn't tell you who or what the songs are, since I don't watch much of the MTV or whatever the young kids these days tune into, but suffice to say it's decent background music. Already it's gotten a bit old, and I'm sure it will get much more so, but as it only plays while you're surfing through menus, it shouldn't be too much of a problem. Again, volume control is at your fingertips.
One drawback is that this game is a total memory space hog. I got a deal on a new memory card with Madden 2005, but I would have rather not needed it. Another feature that didn't impress me was Tony Bruno's radio show. It's supposed to be a radio show, I guess, although if I hadn't turned the feature off so soon, it probably wouldn't have been long before I started hearing reruns. The show is composed of "people" calling in to respond to trivia posed by Mr. Bruno or open-ended questions. Which is pretty stupid when it's not real. Bruno also occasionally gives out news from around the league, but it's really not enough.
A new feature that I do mostly enjoy is Storyline Central. Under this menu you can access national or local newspapers (e.g., the Detroit Free Press if you were to play with my Lions,) which give out news. Most of this news is pretty worthless, like player milestones or coverage on the game you yourself just played, but occasionally it comes up with a tidbit like a player on your roster being mad he's not starting. You can also check your e-mail, which again offers mostly fans saying how much you rock, but you can also receive important information. It doesn't come in handy often, but it's a nice tidbit. Occasionally it really screws up, saying things like "Detroit signs QB; They were shocked Harrington was available," after I gave a contract extension to my aforementioned QB. But oh well. It's cute.
Excellent graphics, though not mindblowing.
Just plain good gameplay. As always.
Madden and Michaels actually sound human when they say things.
Innovative playmaking features and an improved defensive gameplay makes for a better well-rounded experience.
Madden and Michaels are incredibly annoying. As always.
Not incredible amounts of innovation from last year's title.
Tony Bruno's radio show sucks.
This is just plain a good game. It's a good football game. Problem is you may own Madden 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001, 2000, or some combination thereof. This game is an improvement, no doubt about it, on the previous title. But it's probably not worth 50 bucks to you to get a few extra features, tweaked graphics and gameplay, and updated rosters if you own 2004. If you're most recent Madden expenditure is 2002 or 2001, it's probably a safe bet. A safe strategy, however, is to rent this one, and see how much you think it's worth.