Year after year EA deliver the fans with top notch, high paced and extremely intense NFL action. However, over the past few years, the Madden series, particularly for the PC, has seen its fair share of problems. The PC versions of Madden NFL had become somewhat of a 'second rate' title, where the features seen in console versions are simply left out. Not only this, but in last year specifically, the PC version lacked severely in the gameplay department out of the box (which was later fixed with a patch).
However all has changed in the world of PC gaming at EA. Now, with Madden 2003, PC gamers can finally rejoice in the fact that they are playing a game equal, if not better, compared to the console versions. PC gamers will be able to share the same fluent gameplay, graphics, features and much more - there is no backing down here, EA are going full force with Madden 2003 PC.
It seems every year we see a new menu system in Madden, with 2003 being no exception. Although the menu design has somewhat improved, some minor confusion still remains including the inability to use the keyboard/controller for any action on the menu. Sometimes, especially when playing with a controller, it is nice to totally forget about having to reach for the mouse, however unfortunately it is the only method present to use menu's.
The game setup is more heavily relied on the players profile this year, where practically every setting is stored in the chosen profile. This means that if you want to use your customised controller settings, you will need to select the profile with these settings at the team selection screen. Not a big problem, but it does get annoying when you realise you forgot to select the correct profile during the game, forcing you to quit and reselect. Perhaps a new menu before the game specifically for profile selection would of helped to prevent this.
The player has the usual choice of exhibition, franchise, season, 2 minute drill, practice and the new mini-camp. Nothing about most of these modes have anything new worth noting, however there are still some nice new additions to a few.
In franchise, one problem last year was the fact rookies were extremely linear, and the pick process was very simple. This year, the player has scouting reports before the pick process, which give an evaluation on the players. This is because in 2003, rookies aren't given definite ratings, so your first round first pick may not be the star he was touted to be, or on the other hand, that 5th round LB could end up as the leagues next Ray Lewis. This adds a much needed element of uncertainty to the draft, and it has been executed nicely here.
Mini Camp allows the player to refine his/her skills in almost every area of the sport. Ranging from QB passing accuracy to defensive back tests, the player must gain a certain amount of points to clear each task. This new game mode is a great way for newer players to get used to the requirements of the ingame action, as well as being a great mode for pro players wanting a challenge. Great fun to be had by all.
All the minor problems experienced in setting up are soon forgotten once you get into the action. Simply put, there is no PC NFL game out there that can match the sheer intensity and steady flowing style of gameplay featured in Madden NFL 2003. Almost everything about the ingame experience has been tweaked to perfection.
On the offense we see a much better running subsystem, where yards don't come in two digit numbers very often. The passing system is also improved, with a much more realistic feel and flow to it.
However, if you ask me, the major improvements come on the defense. To start, you now have the ability to bring up an ingame display of who, exactly, each defender marks along with blitz lines and zone coverage markings. This allows for a greater depth in player controlled defense, because now, unless you are a defensive master, you know who to mark at all times.
Another defensive improvement is the coverage ability. Fully featured in this years PC version is a swat button, which works very well and becomes quite a handy asset defending the pass. Not only this, but player can now strafe, which, again, adds to the coverage and wide run stopping departments.
Last but not least, we now see fully implemented gang tackling on the defense. This is a very nice feature, and has been implemented almost flawlessly. What makes it so good, however, is the fact a gang tackle won't occur every single down, they are spread out nicely within the game for only the exact situations, making them a treat to watch every single time.
Overall, as stated above, the gameplay in Madden NFL 2003 PC is simply superb, which rivals that of any NFL game on any system to date.
Every year Madden NFL gets a make over in the graphics department, with 2003 being no exception. The main improvement here is the texture improvements across the board. Players themselves don't look noticeably better over 2002, besides the fact there are loads more individual faces, but the stadiums and fields do by a long shot.
Animations have been refined and are even more fluent, with new animations mostly in the area of receiver catching, pass knockdowns and tackles. Sometimes animations will conflict and cause the clipping issues to be shown, which have been with the series since it went 3d in 1998, but they are getting less and less every year and with 2003 we see slightly better clipping.
At the moment there seems to be a minor texture resolution bug in the game, which apparently consists of the game not recognising the settings chosen in the system setup. This will be fixed with a small patch according to EA, however personally it didn't seem to bother me. On our system of a GF4 ti4400 and P4 2GHz CPU, it was present with such items as player names on jersey's but nothing overly noticeable - however depending on the system it may vary.
If one area of Madden 2003 is lacking, it is the commentary. John Madden, of course, is still here along with the new addition Al Michaels. Al actually makes some good observations in the game, but it would seem John was unavailable for new audio sessions, because almost everything he says has been in the series since 2001 - I can't recall any new phrase from John at all. Having played Madden NFL since the 95 version, the same commentary remarks from year to year start to lose all meaning.
But what really makes up for the audio department is the ingame sound effects. Rather than making every tackle sound like trucks colliding like in 2002, we see a much more evenly spread sound scope, where only the big hits make big noises. This is like the gang tackling - since it is used conservatively it is effective, and never grows tiresome.
Other than that, a new minor audio feature is the ingame talking from the players, who may anticipate the play and yell out, say, "deep, deep!". This has no effect on the play itself, just a nice little feature which adds to the authenticity.
I'm a big fan of the control pad so I didn't even bother trying to use a keyboard with this - to me the only time for a keyboard is with FPS titles. We used the Microsoft SideWinder USB Pro and the Thrustmaster FireStorm Dual Power USB, both of which provided ample power to fully master the game. The SideWinder pad was short a few buttons, which only appeared to effect the replay, with a few replay features unusable.
Players move, in responding to the users control, with much more realism this year. Momentum was blown out of proportion last year and it is good to see this addressed in 2003. Overall, I was left without any real troubles at all in the control region.
Yes it is true - finally the PC NFL fans out there have a fully featured title ready to make your console gaming friends question their console ways. Madden 2003 PC goes beyond my expectations, with pretty much every area improved to the max. With a few minor setup quirks, and the commentary put aside, you have the basis of the best virtual NFL experience, period. As for the future, EA should class 2003 as the breakthrough version, and simply build on top of this without leaving anything behind.