Don’t get me wrong, I love football. And I love games. So naturally, I really, really love football games. And once upon a time, I especially loved the Madden series, which carved itself a special place in my heart thanks to the unparalleled levels of realism and atmosphere it brought to football gaming.
This, however, was over ten years ago. Now, in the 21st century, there’s only so many times you can try and sell me the same football game year after year before I get fed up and won’t do it anymore. And Madden 2004 is the straw that broke this proverbial camels back.
To the Madden initiate (and that most precious of all breeds, the deluded Madden fanboy), everything seems in order. There’s a franchise mode, 2-minute drills, mini camp mini games, quick action, complete 2003 NFL rosters, commentary from Al Michaels and John Madden?.and the list goes on. There are literally more bells and whistles than you could poke a down marker at, and, were this your first foray into the world of football gaming, it would seem mightily comprehensive. And it would be. If you hadn’t played Madden 2003, or 2002, or 2001 for that matter…
You see, Madden 2004 is, for all intents and purposes, Madden 2003 with Michael Vick on the box art. The graphics engine is identical (well, it’s the same engine from 2001, after all…the word lazy comes to mind), the mini camp is identical, the pre-game animations are identical, even half the commentary is re-used from previous games. Sure, the franchise mode offers a little longevity, and the new playmaker feature, which allows you to salvage broken plays by altering them mid-play, is a novel feature; but when you first load up a new game and see the same intro screens and hear the same commentary you heard last time you coughed up the big bucks for a Madden game, you can’t help but feel more than a little cheated…
Many PC gamers wouldn’t accept this as a mere expansion pack, let alone a stand alone title, and it’s time console gamers took a similar stance. This is the epitome of lazy, licensed cash-making. How dare EA try and pass off a game that is, minor features and graphical touches aside, four years old and call it a new product, and expect the gaming public to lap it up; gamers, and especially football fans, deserve better than that. With ESPN Football emerging from the shadows to trump Madden in just about every conceivable way this year, it’s hard to see how anyone would choose this uninspired re-hash over Sega’s vastly superior product.
It pains me to say it, but I really think the partnership between Madden and EA Sports has run its course. Where once his jolly face and knowledge of the game were a guarantee of a superior product, today Maddens incessantly moronic, repetitive commentary and association with a game which seems content to wallow in sales figures rather than genuine improvement mark his endorsement as more of a curse than a blessing, and perhaps both EA and the football gaming community would be better off were a fresh start to be made free from his now-tainted legacy.
There is really is very little with which to recommend Madden 2004 when there is a title on the market which is superior in every facet of the game. Sure, the graphics are OK, the mini camps are fun, and the new playmaker feature adds a little creativity to the game, especially in multiplayer. But these features are both dated and minor, and when placed head-to-head with the stunning presentation and realistic feel of ESPN Football, it leaves the once-mighty champion of football games looking more like a washed-up, punch-drunk old-timer.