PC gamers have usually been some of the first gamers to get their Madden NFL fix each year, however for Madden 2005 PC, EA decided to delay its release to a month after the console versions. Naturally, this caused some confusion in the fanbase, most people felt this was just another sign that EA were starting to not care about PC gamers for their sporting titles. However, EA claimed it was the exact opposite; it was actually so they could get the game right before releasing it, which wasn't the case with 2003 and 2004, both of which required game changing patches to correct AI and other issues shortly after their August releases. EA have assured the public they'd release a quality title in Madden 2005 PC, and although it seems they were dead on the money for quality, that extra month has seemingly been spent taking stuff out of the game rather than enhancing it.
The reason I say this is because, whilst there have already been two roster updates from EA for the console versions since their release, no roster update has been released for the PC yet, which is something you'd expect after a month's delay. If you're like me, starting a franchise with outdated rosters is very annoying, and since EA haven't released a powerful PC roster editing utility for the community, we will have to wait until EA release an official update to start our franchises. On top of this, after quick glances into community forums and the likes, it appears EA have yet again decided to pull the plug on a few features when porting the game over to the PC. One of these features is position changes during Franchise mode, which is not possible on the PC since editing a player during a franchise doesn't seem to be possible. Lastly, despite the month's delay, a moderately sized patch was released fixing issues found on the console versions. This is great, but seeing as many of these issues were discovered merely days after the console versions were released, you'd expect them to be addressed in the retail PC version without a patch. When it comes down to it, you really have to wonder why exactly the PC game needed to be delayed like it was - Every feature 2005 PC has the 2005 Console versions have, besides a few features that were already exclusive to the PC in last years version, so they weren't adding features exclusive to the PC during that extra month. If anything, they were seemingly taking them out.
With that aside though, the game is out and roster updates will hopefully start flooding in from EA shortly. From what I just said it would appear EA were not exactly being pro-PC with Madden 2005, but credit is certainly due to EA for the job they have done with this year's menu system. Most years the PC version gets a menu system identical to the consoles however this year EA have really focused on menu design, giving Madden 2005 PC almost a 'website' like feel unique from the consoles. Whilst getting to particular parts of the game can involve a lot of guess work jumping from menu to menu, particularly in franchise mode, the design utilises the power of a mouse nicely and once you get use to the layout, navigation will be easier and more powerful than ever. If there is one gripe with the menu's, it is the fact you can't seem to change the menu screen resolution which means gamers with large screen monitors will be subject to some pretty low resolution text and images on the menu, which at times can make the on screen elements blurry and hard to read.
Game modes in Madden 2005 consist of the usual suspects - Exhibition, Franchise, Practice, Mini Camp, 2 Minute Drill, Situation and Online/Network play. Most of these are self explanatory and none are new additions, which is just fine really, as most gamers out there keep their gaming to two modes anyway - franchise and online.
Franchise is Madden 2005's premier offline mode and EA have stepped up and really enhanced this mode to further fulfill the General Manager in all of us. Whilst the mode itself is primarily the same, some new features have been added, including the ability to deal with Restricted Free Agents, and Storyline Central. For the casual gamers out there, RFA's won't be a huge deal, but for us hardcore players of the game, this is a very nice addition that further emulates the real life tasks of an NFL GM. A RFA is a player with an expired contract who signed a 3 year deal as a rookie - atleast that is Madden's definition, in real life there are a few classes of RFA's, but this is a good effort by EA nonetheless. Basically, after those 3 years are up, the player is put on the open market, allowing other teams to bid on his rights. If another team submits an offer, the original team has the chance to match that offer and keep the free agent, however if the original team decides not to match the offer they will be given draft pick compensation depending on the qualifying offer the player first received. Sound confusing? If so, franchise mode may not be for you, as it does seem to be a necessary part of the offseason now.
Storyline Central is EA's new selling point for Madden 2005's franchise mode and up until the game's release, it was hyped considerably. Storyline Central consists of Local and National newspapers, a PDA you use to read emails and Tony Bruno's radio show, all of which will report on real time situations happening in your franchise. Most articles and stories are created thanks to a new emotion aspect to the game, where as player morale will change depending on how you tend to their individual needs (for example, benching Randy Moss would be an instant no-no whilst benching James Thrash probably wouldn't create much of a stir), so if you want to keep a happy team out of the press's spotlight you will have to keep your stars happy.
It was touted 20,000 newspaper stories will be pre-programmed, however honestly, I find this hard to believe when more often than not any given newspaper edition will feature two identical articles atleast - once I even saw the whole paper consisting of the exact same article. The radio show isn't much better either, Tony is a nice distraction to begin with however after enough play he simply becomes repetitive and dull. Certain milestones in the franchise mode will trigger a particular discussion from Tony however it seems every time you start a new franchise the same exact milestones and discussions occur. On one particular occasion, Tony made a speech about the absence of Dynasty teams since the salary cap came in, and when a listener called in to add to the discussion, he said the exact same thing Tony said, word for word! When it comes down to it, Storyline Central is a nice addition but as expected, it loses considerable appeal after any serious play time in franchise mode and can become a bit of a nuisance.
Madden 2005, however, leaves the real impressing until you get into a game. With all these flashy features, one could be forgiven for believing EA would neglect the gameplay this year but nothing could be further from the truth. Whilst there will always be gamers who don't agree, with the introduction of a few key defensive improvements, I think more gamers than ever will be happy with Madden NFL this year. After all, Madden offense gaming has always been fantastic, it was the defensive side of the ball that seemed hopelessly pointless, but this year that has all changed.
The first on the list is the Hit Stick. Ok, at first this sounded like an arcade gamer's dream and I must admit at the close of E3, Madden 2005 was appearing to drift from its simulation roots, however the Hit Stick really is a gamemaker of a feature that does nothing but enhance Madden's gameplay. If there was one complaint I had with last year's tackling, it was no one hit really made you cringe in pain for the poor ball carrier, but thanks to the Hit Stick, this is a thing of the past. As you go to make the hit, you can now flick the right analog stick of your control pad and depending on a few factors including your defender's attributes/size, the ball carrier's attributes and size, and your angle and timing, your defender will pull off a monster hit or miss the tackle and look like a fool. This is a very well balanced feature as cornerbacks like Champ Bailey will have a hard to performing a successful Hit Stick at all whilst big hitters like Roy Williams and Ray Lewis will dominate the middle of the field with bone crunching Hit Stick tackles. This really adds some much needed aggression to the game and can really swing the momentum in the defense's favor.
Another new defensive feature is the Playmaker control. Madden has allowed gamers to change hot routes on offense for years however new in 2005 is the ability to do just that on defense. Using your right analog stick before the snap, you can assign on the fly zone coverage's, blitzes and QB contain/spy routes to individual defenders including defensive lineman on demand. This allows a degree of control never before seen in an NFL game and once again does wonders for the defensive gameplay. The one problem is, if you get stuck assigning defensive routes using the right analog stick to a defender just as the ball is snapped, he will perform a phantom Hit Stick tackle potentially taking him out of the play, so it will take a while to get a feel for how long the defensive playmaker control window is open and when to stop using it.
Finally, one major problem that has plagued Madden for years is the lackluster defensive back AI. For EA to create a defensive experience in Madden 2005, this had to be addressed, and in the most part it has with flying colours. Defensive backs on your team and on the CPU team will now play the pass more intelligently, although at times it seems incredibly athletic leaps are the savior more than smart play, but nevertheless passing is now far more realistic as a result. The best part is, poorly rated defensive back teams like the Steelers and the Saints will still struggle big time against the pass, whilst teams like the Bills and the Dolphins will be very hard to move the ball against. This is, of course, subject to difficulty level and slider settings, although atleast it is now possible to get very challenging passing games, even if it does take a bit of tweaking.
Everyone knows Madden excels in the graphics department year in and year out, and 2005 PC is no exception. With a high end rig this game will look incredible - particular attention has been given to bump mapping on jersey's and other surfaces (even player faces), however the game still looks pretty impressive on lower settings too. New player models have been made that better portray the power of real life NFL players however EA have not escaped without criticism. At first glance with the E3 screenshots I'll admit I did not particularly care for the overly done muscle bound player models, however when you see them in motion they appear far more human like than they do in still shots. I guess it comes down to preference, it is true they are not exactly realistic proportion wise but I consider myself a sim gamer and I've actually grown to like them, they give the game an aggressive appeal that was lacking in previous years and don't really create an arcade feel as I had feared, not to mention most players can be identified just by looking at their body shape now (Does anyone else think Jevon Kearse REALLY looks like himself in this game?)
Control wise Madden 2005 yet again fails to deliver the PC justice. Besides the fact only four control pads are supported (Logitech Dual Action, Wingman Cordless Rumble, Gravis Eliminator Aftershock and the Thrustmaster Firestorm Dual Analog) and any other control pad dual analog or not won't seemingly work, assigning buttons to your liking in this game is near impossible. For example, rather than allowing you to assign Button X to Juke right, you have to assign that same button to Juke Right, Receiver X and Strafe, meaning that as soon as you get Running controls remapped to your liking, chances are the Passing or Defense button maps are all over the place. After brutal negotiations with the game you can convince it to spit out a half decent button map, but the fact remains having such a rigid button mapping system like this is really disappointing. Unfortunately this has been in the series for a while, so it appears to be by design so users of unsupported pads have an even harder time trying to make it work - with only 4 pads "supported", I guess each vendor has a 1/4 chance of making a sale thanks to EA, right?
As it happens, Madden has no serious competitor present on the PC, so we are really quite lucky EA decide to even tend to the PC market as much as they do with their Madden series. Many people hear the word "console port" and start to shudder, but in this case a console port is probably the PC gamer's best scenario - atleast this way we are guaranteed gameplay almost identical to that featured on the consoles, which have huge competition in the form of SEGA's ESPN NFL series, so EA have to be at their best, although with that said unfortunately EA did feel the need to remove some minor yet handy features from the PC version as covered earlier. On the other hand, it is good to see EA actually pay attention to the PC by further enhancing the graphics, and by tailoring the menu's to utilise the power of the mouse, not to mention the fact that a patch has already been released only a few days after its official release suggesting atleast some degree of dedication to the PC audience. With the lackluster control pad support/implementation aside, if you're a PC gamer wanting NFL action, Madden 2005 is the game to get as there literally is no contest, but don't think EA take it easy because of this, as Madden 2005 is the PC's best yet by far.