After such a long time being at the top Madden is now very much synonymous with the sport of American football but it is not without its competitors. It's just that EA have managed to improve the game so much that people have chosen to remain loyal and continue Madden at the top of the heap. With titles like NFL Fever from Microsoft giving up in awe of the giant franchise EA has built, this year seemed like it would be easy. Not so, but once again EA have proven that they have the mettle to produce one of the best sports games released every year and that is exactly what Madden 2005 is.
The sport of American football is an interesting topic for those outside America. Some people may wonder just where exactly the strategy is in men belting each other for up to four hours while passing a ball forward. We tend to liken it to a real time strategy game, you choose your units, you try to guess what the opposition is going to do and then you attack. However even though it may not be understood by a lot of people outside the United States, it still makes a superb sport franchise to play.
EA really have left no stone unturned this year and have added so much that even those who may only have played the 2004 iteration in a casual fashion, should still consider Madden 2005 as an upgrade. The basic modes have returned such as exhibition and tournament which are fairly self explanatory but other options such as training and mini camp are also back. Training again is fairly self explanatory but for those who aren't familiar with the play books or how exactly the sport works then this is a great starting point. You can also now train your players during the franchise mode between matches. The mini camps are designed to teach you skills. You practice a particular skill such as run blocking in a training format and are then thrown into a game situation to prove you can adjust.
However the meat of the game, franchise mode returns and has had a few major additions to make it even more enjoyable to play through multiple seasons. Franchise tasks you with taking full control of a team across a number of seasons and building them up to be a dynasty who wins multiple Superbowls. Throughout this you have to deal with player retirements, injuries, draft picks and new for this year is players emotions. Players are affected by how they are treated by you the coach. If they are getting no game time or on a lengthy losing streak then they won't be happy at the club. This adds another level of decision making to the franchise mode and sometimes it may not be easy to keep a veteran player happy when a new draft pick is showing signs of surpassing that veterans skill level.
In terms of the actual gameplay the big word for this year is defense and this is very much a welcome addition to the franchise. Defense is no longer a boring chore which players only endured so they could get the ball back and pull off the big play for victory. No longer is this the case, defense is actually fun. The main reason for this is the hit stick which has been implemented into the game seamlessly and its hard to imagine playing Madden without it now. It basically turns the right analogue stick into a pile of bricks, savage enough to bring even the toughest player down. However there is a risk associated. If you don't pull the hit off correctly the player will escape and possibly away for a touchdown. When the hits come off they are brutal, when they don't, the team is in trouble. One problem we found while playing was we began to rely on the hit stick more then the normal defense and obviously sometimes got smacked around the park. Everything in moderation as the saying goes.
The other major addition is Storyline Central which adds a great deal of authenticity to the franchise mode. Throughout the season your matches will be chronicled via the national or local newspaper and you will be able to read short insight into how your team is playing. A weekly radio show is also included although we found this a little disappointing. It is not often that Tony Bruno, the host, talks about your team and it seems pre-determined via the week in the season rather than mixing samples together to really talk about recent happenings in the league. However, It is still a fantastic addition to the franchise mode, and listening to it offers a nice break between matches. You also now receive email from your players and coaches about how the team is going and how they feel about their performance and game time.
As expected the presentation is of a high level and you will find tutorial videos narrated by Tony about the new features and how to play the game as well as quick tutorials known as Madden 101. Being officially licensed means EA has official stadiums, teams and just about anything else officially to do with the league. The owner mode has also returned from 2004 which gives you a lot more control over how the franchise is run such as ticket prices and this year you can even create fans to be used during some in game cinematics. This is done with a system much like the create a player except you choose what clothing etc for the fan.
Visually the game is superb and EA have again improved on last years effort. Players are more detailed and look even more like their real life counterparts. You can really see the textures on the jerseys this year and the shoulder pads bulk out of the shoulders of the linemen. There is a variety of hit animations and none of them are pre-determined, it all depends on how the defenders or attacker hits the line. The stadiums have had an improvement as well, and afternoon games drift into night time under lights. Commentary is again provided by John Madden and Al Michaels but this year a new person is on the sideline job, Jill Arrington. Some of the commentary has been retained from last year, and even Jill seems to have only re-recorded last years audio which is a shame.
Although its cliche, it really is in the game as EA puts it. This is the greatest representation of the National Football League to hit the market thus far and the 2005 additions make the game even more value for money and interesting to play. Although after a while you may find yourself ignoring the radio and papers, the fact they are there gives a more realistic experience. It may be a sport not well known outside the United States but its worth a game or two, if only to experience something different.