(Note: Multi-platform comparison scores are listed at the end of the article)
Welcome to the first edition of MyGamer Sports Showdown! With the release of so many quality sports games over the course of the year, we feel it’s our responsibility to inform the gaming public of the best choice when it comes to spending their hard earned dollars. Using the standard MG formula for scoring – along with other contributing factors – we’ll attempt to provide you with the facts you need to make an informed decision all in one place. Today we debut with our ESPN NFL 2K5 vs. Madden NFL 2005 feature, but look for more upcoming Showdowns as the new sports titles begin to emerge. So, without further ado, let’s get this thing started.
ESPN NFL 2K5 or Madden NFL 2005?
If you like football games, I’m sure you’ve come across this question quite a few times over the last few months. With Sony and Microsoft bowing out early in the race to work on their own products for another year, the competition for the best football game is now truly a two-horse race. In an attempt to best the two-ton juggernaut that is Madden, ESPN Videogames, a.k.a. Visual Concepts decided to adopt a bold marketing strategy, which resulted in a July 20th release date and a budget price of $19.99USD. Madden, on the other hand, chose to go another route and focus on making an already solid game more refined. With added attention given to the defense, combined with numerous other features, Madden 2005 is looking to keep its top spot for yet another year. So, with the set up complete, who really did come out with the better gridiron game this year? That’s what I’m here for folks, so get ready while I lay down the good and bad stuff about both games and settle the feud for good.
Of all the areas I’ll cover during these reviews, this one boils down to personal preference more than any of the others; there are obvious good and bad aspects to both games, so that’s what I’ll focus on. In ESPN, you’ll be able to tell from the beginning of an actual game that much attention has been paid to the overall gameplay feel. One of the big problems with last year’s edition was the running game, or the excessive abuse of it. In 2K4, you could take any no-name running back and sprint for 300 yards per game without breaking a sweat due to the player’s super human ability to break tackles. Thankfully, this has been taken care of in 2K5 and the running game is arguably one of the best I’ve ever come across in a sports game. Even with the highest rated players, you actually have to put effort into gaining yardage, and it comes off as very self-rewarding. Last year’s passing game hasn’t been changed too much, but then, there wasn’t really much problem with it. That said, though, there are still some worries that carry over from 2K4. Slant patterns remain way too easy to complete in the game and, for some people, can wind up coming off as ?cheese’ play. But, besides that small gripe, the offensive elements remain largely unaffected. On the other side of the ball, defensive play is pretty simple once you’ve gotten the hang of it. Defensive linemen happen to play their gaps well, and linebackers don’t seem to possess the sudden burst of speed they had in 2K4. The secondary’s AI is questionable at times if you’re not accustomed to the controls, but they become very easy to adapt to once you’ve grown used to them. In the end, this is an excellent game of football.
Ask any hardcore fan of Madden NFL 2004 about how it played, and they’ll probably tell you, without even pausing for thought, that it was too offense happy. In addition to having an offensive powerhouse in Michael Vick on the cover to reflect the new Playmaker controls, the new feature gave users enough tools to pick apart any defense on the fly – if they knew what they were doing. At times, it almost seemed that picking a defense wasn’t even worth doing because of the famed money plays in addition to the new controls. Thankfully, EA responded to this and focused a good portion of their energy in balancing the game on the other side of the ball. With the new Defensive Playmaker, anything the opposition unexpectedly sets up can be adjusted to on the fly. Are you playing against an opponent who’s abusing the Vick-Finneran connection for yet another year? No problem. Put your linebackers in a spy and shut him down before he gets off the ground. That’s just one example, but many new things have been added to the defense. After taking a few notes from ESPN, Madden has added the option to allow your best defensive back to cover the opposing team’s best receiver for the duration of the entire game. Also, there are coverage audibles in the game that allow you to double-team any player on the offense, as well as the ability to disguise a defense by sneaking your linebackers and secondary into the box to fake a blitz. Very cool stuff. With the already solid gameplay engine being balanced out, it really feels like a chess match amid the more heated contests. Another defensive addition to this year’s Madden is the hit stick control, something that can become very addictive. We’ve all seen the big hits on television, but now you truly have a chance to emulate that sensation of laying someone out during a game. Purists shouldn’t be alarmed, though, because if the hit isn’t properly timed, all you end up doing is giving up a big play, so the benefit is balanced by the risk. While there are nitpickers out there, Madden has always played out as solid and this year’s edition doesn’t change anything in that regard.
As I said before, this category, more than any other, will depend on whichever game you’re most comfortable playing. ESPN’s gameplay has been fine-tuned and it easily shines as one of the best features of the game. Madden, on the other hand, addressed the main problem of last year and is exceptional too. Pick your poison here people, because it’s all good.
I’m sure by this point in time, you’ve read some of the other reviews across the web and seen how they’ve marveled at ESPN’s graphics. Well, that account isn’t changing here, either. Simply put, ESPN NFL 2K5 has the best graphics for any football game to ever grace a console. Because it was developed first for the Xbox, the graphics shine through and, thanks to the Triple Pass Rendering and Normal Mapping techniques, there appears to be no equal here for any other sports game right now. The PlayStation 2 version is no slouch, either, as the port over obviously pushed the system as far as it could possibly go – and with excellent results.
Madden’s graphics have improved a great deal this year. It’s easy to see that developers, Tiburon, took some time to define the player models and increase their overall definition. This year, the most obvious change to the models themselves has been the shoulder pad definition. For most fans it’ll remind them of the NFL Fever models, but I thought those weren’t all that bad to begin with, so it’s a matter of opinion. The weather has also received a nice upgrade, too. During the course of the game, the weather can change over time, so if you start the game at 6:30pm, the sky will slowly fade into evening before the game is over. This is a very realistic touch to the graphics engine.
Winner: ESPN NFL 2K5
Madden may have improved models and some great weather effects, but using the PS2 as its main development platform is starting to limit what the developers can really do with the Xbox’s more powerful hardware. That being said, ESPN wins big here. It’s really no contest.
It seems like this year’s edition is jam packed with new features, and some of them are actually useful. Headlining the list of new features in the game are the new VIP Profiles. After each game you play, either online or off, the game keeps track of your play-calling and control tendencies, and records them. In addition, you can go online and download other players’ profiles. For online or multiplayer buffs this is huge because it allows you to practically scout your opponents and learn their weaknesses. Trust me when I say that this is something that will (or should) be copied in any sports game due for release in the near future. I say that because, in my opinion, one of the more appealing things about competitive sports is that the most talented team doesn’t always win, and with this strategic feature is forced to play a part in multiplayer games. Also being beefed up is The Crib. Whether you loved it or hated it last year, it’s back and it isn’t going anywhere. With a virtual pad three times the size of last year’s, the amount of things you can customize and tinker with are astounding. Hang out for long enough, and you’ll receive phone calls from celebrities challenging you to play a game. Sure, they’re only B-list celebs, but it does show that ESPN is making an attempt to cover their bases by appealing to everyone. If you’re nostalgic, you’ll fall in love with the ESPN 25th Anniversary mode. Taking the best moments from the last 25 years, you can step into a situation and try to do it all over again. Think the Packers should have stopped that deep pass on 4th and 26 last year against the Eagles? Well, now you have a chance to make it happen. First Person Football is also back this year, but it’s largely unaltered, so nothing new there. Last, but not least, the Xbox version of the game supports fully customizable stadium music. That’s right people; whatever song you want to hear, you can pump it through the stadium speakers and rock to it whenever you score a touchdown or make that big stop on defense. Some may not realize it, but this is actually one of the more enjoyable features added this year. Playstation 2 fans have to stick with what they have, but that’s not all bad, either.
For a game so rich in tradition, it’s surprising that not many features have been added to Madden 2005. Back from last year are the Madden Challenges in which you unlock points by accomplishing certain tasks in-game. When the game’s over and you’ve got your points, you can buy packs of Madden Cards that boost player ratings and unlock hidden stadiums. Also being put in this year is the Create-A-Fan feature. Choosing from a plethora of tools at your disposal, you can assemble the perfect fan and have him cheer your team on in games. These features are the biggest ones, and that’s a crying shame after seeing what ESPN has to offer this year. With that said, I’ll move on to the wild card pick of the bunch…
Madden Collector’s Edition:
To celebrate the franchise’s 15th anniversary, EA have released a separate collector’s edition of Madden NFL 2005, and many of the new features come with it. With playable versions of past games, plenty of documentaries, historic playoff teams and trivia games, any extras that you wanted in the original but didn’t find are included in this lineup. The only bummer to this is that it costs ten more bucks than the regular edition and it’s a PS2 exclusive.
Winner: ESPN NFL 2K5
ESPN stepped it up in terms of features this year, and after having played both titles for a good length of time now, this one’s easy. Unless you want to play the older games and see the anniversary stuff on the collector’s edition, you really can’t compare. Seriously, would you rather have something that allows you to scout for yourself and gameplan against other people or a feature to dress up your Washington Redskins Hogette?
Thanks to Microsoft allowing companies to run their own servers through the new Live LSP service, ESPN NFL 2K5 now fully supports online leagues for both the Playstation 2 and Xbox systems. While it had its initial bumps and bruises after release, the moderators over at Visual Concepts appear to have fixed all of the previous problems. What do the leagues offer? The better question appears to be what they don’t, because ESPN has one of the best online leagues that I’ve ever come across. With living rosters that allow players to get hurt and traded, this is a complete league system. Once you’ve joined a league, you’ll gain access to the league’s homepage, where it keeps track of games, player stats, schedules, and contact info. They even have message boards and the option to create your own news stories to give your league that authentic feel. Gameplay wise, the early bugs have been worked out and online is smooth as silk on both systems.
Microsoft’s new Live LSP service has also allowed for some good things on Madden’s side too, as it was one of the key factors in EA announcing their support for Xbox Live. NCAA Football 2005 suffered the bumps and bruises of the initial online setup, as it was the first Xbox Live game out the gate, but Madden suffers none of the problems suffered by NCAA. Once you access the main online menu, you’ll notice essentially the same features on both systems as NCAA with the quick game and online lobbies. In addition, the rushing attack mini-game has been added online, and it gets so addictive sometimes that it might cause you to lose a lot of time with other things if you aren’t careful. These are good online features, but the big thing being added this year is the inclusion of online leagues. Thanks to a partnership with Dodge, EA will be offering their Premium Pass subscription service free of charge, with validation via credit card. Not much info has been released on the leagues yet, but it is already known that it won’t support the online injuries, trades, and individual player stat tracking that ESPN has.
Winner: ESPN NFL 2K5
Even though Madden’s leagues aren’t set up yet, there’s enough info available for me to gauge an opinion, and it’s that ESPN’s online play and leagues will still be better. With EA’s leagues not containing living rosters and individual player stat tracking, all it essentially becomes is a big online tournament mode, no matter how many sponsors sign-up and try to make you think otherwise. If you’re just playing online, without the leagues, you can’t go wrong with either game. ESPN and Madden play smooth and lag free on both systems so all the earlier kinks have obviously been worked out.
After hearing so much about how Visual Concepts had improved the game’s franchise mode, I came away extremely disappointed with ESPN in this area. Since this part of the game is so obviously broken, let’s get into a little more detail. For starters, there’s no point in playing the preseason in this game. For the non-informed, I’ll fill you in: the main point of the preseason is to get your starters up to full game shape, and also to see your rookies and new players action, too. Thanks to reasoning, which is beyond me, ESPN (for the millionth year in a row it seems) still does not sub out CPU players in the preseason, and it ruins the experience. So you don’t play preseason games that much anyway? Fine, let’s move along. Another huge problem is that CPU teams are a little too trade happy, and the players involved are astounding. I mean, seriously, do you think that the Falcons would trade Michael Vick to the 49ers for Julian Peterson? That’s just one example, but I’ve seen much worse. Moving on to the actual season, the crazy stuff dies down a little bit and you actually get to see some things well done in franchise mode, the first of which being Weekly Preparation. For the coaching wannabes out there, this feature allows you to control what you want your team to work on during the season. It can get frustrating at times, but once you’ve got it down it can be very involving. When you’re done with each game, you can tune into that week’s Sportscenter broadcast where Chris Berman and the gang fill you in on your game and others in the league. Another nice touch is that if you have the Xbox version, or a hard drive for the PS2, you’ll be able to see actual highlights from your games. This is pretty much the same for the rest of the weeks and the playoffs, so let’s move on to the off-season, where the ugly monsters start to rear their head again. Visual Concepts decided to take a new approach on the rookie draft class this year and include pictures. This is a nice addition and all, but how come some players in draft class have the exact same generic pictures? Not a game killer, but it is annoying. Moving into the draft, I found one of the biggest things that disturbed me (I’ll mention the other one in a little while). In the first round of picks, the CPU only drafts certain positions, no matter how good or bad they are, and it ends up depleting the draft pool at certain positions early on in the draft. As bad as the San Diego Chargers are, they have arguably the best running back in the game today in Ladanian Tomlinson, so WHY are they drafting a running back with the third overall pick when they could address something way more important? Ridiculous, if you ask me. After this is over, you move on to the next season, where my final gripe is to be found: the schedules don’t appear to rotate at all. So take a good look at your schedule in year one, because it’s going to stay that way during the entire time of your franchise. With so many bugs in this part of the game, a part of me really feels they were rushing to get the game out the door on July 20th and not checking up behind themselves. And if they did, they seriously need to find some new testers because stuff like this is simply inexcusable for such a good game.
For years, Madden has always had the dominant Franchise mode, and this year is no different. The main thing being pushed this year is the addition of Storyline Central, where the happenings of an NFL season are highlighted and listed in the form of newspapers. The player morale system from MVP Baseball 2004 has been implemented into Madden as well, so if you have an unhappy player, then expect him to sound off to the newspapers and make his disgust public. Another big feature of Storyline Central is the EA Sports Radio Show. Hosted by Tony Bruno, it will also keep you informed of the latest news and movement in the NFL. In addition, he also interviews players and coaches and has trivia questions to lift the mood a little bit. Overall, it’s nothing too specific but it’s surprisingly well done for a first year feature. To add to the player morale, EA has added NFL Icons to the mix. You should be able to tell the superstars apart from the rest of the pack, and with the Icons feature you now can. It does, however come with a price. When someone is named an Icon, you have to treat him with more care than you normally would, and it would be best to keep him happy. If you don’t then he can demand to be traded and it will crush team morale and upset the team in the process. This is a nice touch to the game and adds to the overall realism. Another feature added to the preseason are the position battles. Going into the preseason, if you have players similar in rating they will have to battle it out, and whoever has the best stats at the end will win the starting spot. Thankfully, Madden has always subbed out players automatically during the preseason so you play backups vs. backups like it was intended to do. The NFL Draft has also received a facelift. This year, you have the option to slow down the draft and watch the computer make its picks, or you can speed it up and get it over with quickly. CPU teams also make trades to move up now and, thanks to a newly organized menu, you no longer have to move around a lot to make your choices. In addition, if you have NCAA Football 2005, you can import your rookies over to Madden and continue their careers. These features, along with the inclusion of Restricted Free Agents, Franchise Tags, an already solid owner mode from last year, and rotating schedules (are you listening Sega?) make Madden the absolute best when it comes to the franchise mode.
Winner: Madden NFL 2005
Not much else to say here that I haven’t already said. Whether the fanboys want to admit or make excuses for it, ESPN’s franchise mode is broken. To be honest, even it wasn’t, it still probably wouldn’t make much difference. Madden’s franchise is still the best?plain and simple.
When push comes to shove, there can only be one winner in the MyGamer Sports Showdown. If you have enough money, I would recommend you get both games, as they are both excellent. But you didn’t read all this just to have me give you the safe answer, did you? So, with that said, the grand champ of the first MyGamer Sports Showdown is…
ESPN NFL 2K5
The game is $19.99USD, its gameplay is just as involving as Madden, the graphics are better, and the online leagues blow EA’s out of the water. If you don’t play the franchise mode, there really aren’t any problems here that hold it back. Did I mention it’s only 20 bucks? Madden isn’t a slouch either, but, when viewing the bigger picture, ESPN comes out on top. However, if you happen to own a Gamecube or PC, then Madden’s your only choice. If you have opinions or comments, visit the forums to give your insight. See you guys later.
Madden NFL 2005 (PS2 and Xbox):
Graphics: 8 (Xbox: 9)
Madden NFL 2005 Collector’s Edition (PS2):
ESPN NFL 2K5 (PS2):
ESPN NFL 2K5 (Xbox):