No matter how many times we see the same style gameplay year after year, the average American football fan who games will always be atleast interested to see what turns out with the new Madden. Some years we see Madden NFL with more innovative steps than others, like the transition to 3D in Madden 99 for the first time (If I recall correctly), but other years we see Madden take a step back, which could be considered true for the 2002 PC version in many aspects when compared to the 2001 version. Being based on the 2001 PS2 engine primarily meant that PC gamers were always going to be 2nd rate in the development offices of EASports, however the next installment, Madden NFL 2003, promises to go against tradition and offer PC gamers an identical, if not better, experience offered on any console. Is it finally time for PC NFL fans to rejoice?
To start off this somewhat brief preview, I will make it clear I am Australian, and although I follow the NFL quite closely, my knowledge of the sport isn't the best so bear with me. I will also, from this point on, refer to the sport as football, just so you know I am not talking about rugby or soccer.
Each year EA impress with their graphics, and Madden 2003 will be no exception. Although one could argue that last years version had graphics that were ample to express realism to a great extent, there are always a few bells and whistles that can be added to the already very visually pleasant engine. Again we see with 2003 that EA are touting new and improved animations on both the offensive and defensive sides. The animations from 2001 to 2002 were similar in actual execution, however the smoothness and realism had been tweaked and we expect the same for 2003. If one area of the animations could be significantly improved over last years version, it would have to be the defensive tackles. The bone crunching effect wore off rather quick as the same tackles and hits became replayed within the game continuously, with such new aspects as Gang Tackling in 2003, we can expect a much broader range of realistic hits. Gang tackling, which was originally expressed by a representative of EA's as "to difficult to implement", will make its very first appearance in the Madden series for 2003 - something which is a major step for the realism of the series. Hopefully it won't do more harm than good and make 2003 yet another 'building block' to improve on in the series.
The offline franchise has been enhanced greatly from the last years version. This may be because we will see no online franchise for the PC this year, something which has sparked some conflict in the community, and EA are trying to regain the audience with attractive offline features. Such features include a full rookie scouting system, where the player will not be guaranteed a terrific draft pick from looking at hard ratings but rather outcomes and predictions that are likely. This means a bad pick may end up being a surprise star, while a top pick may bust out. This is going to add a new much needed dimension to the GM gameplay in Madden, and it is certainly welcome.
With the real life departure of old time friends John Madden and Pat Summerall in the commentary box, we will see a new team for this year's Madden also. Joining Madden is Al Michaels, who should add some detail to the audio this year. Although, with all due respect, Pat was great, it was certainly time for a change. Along with the new team, we will see much smarter calls during gameplay which will actually refer to the current in-game stats of the player. For example, if a player is having a poor season and the current game reflects this, we may hear some references to their poor all-round season performance. Hopefully, this will lead to less repetitiveness regarding the commentary - something which could have drove anyone nuts in last years version.
Along with the usual Coach mode of gameplay, where the player selects the play and watches the PC perform it, we will see a pure player mode. This basically means the player will have no power too chose the play itself, rather the computer simulated coach will. This is a new option and probably will take some time to pick up in the community, however if you want the best real life experience from a player's perspective, it's the closest you will currently get. Of course, neither the coach or player mode are required to chose, the normal style of play where you have full control of play selection and execution will also be available.
So with yet another Madden ready to launch in the coming months, what is an NFL fan to do. The console versions look good, as always, but for the first time we may be seeing some real console competitive gameplay for the PC. No rundown old engine, no sub-par 'improvements', but a promising version to match any other. With the continuous expense of PC hardware put aside, we may see the crown of football gaming on the PC gamer's shoulders, and I for one can't wait. Oh, and go the Eagles, wooo hoo, etc etc (I left the shameless team chant to the end so you wouldn't lose respect and quit reading, sneaky, eh?).
For the best Madden community, which is one that I personally actively participate in, check out the Madden Planet forums. If you have a comment you would like to share with me regarding this preview, please don't hesitate in contacting me.