Madden NFL 2004
Like a fine wine, this pigskin franchise only improves with age. Last year, Madden took yet another step in the direction of videogame greatness with the addition of online play (only for PS2). There was one small hiccup, though: Typing text messages to your gridiron adversary after you lit up the scoreboard with another touchdown pass was pretty annoying. This season, added voice chat through the SOCOM headset (again, just for PS2 players) lets you truly talk the talk as you try to walk the walk in online tournaments.
We've learned that the GameCube version will utilize the Game Boy Advance connectivity feature. EA, however, is currently tight-lipped about how it will enhance gameplay. All current versions (sorry, PS1 owners) will be treated to a new Owner mode and something EA is calling Playmaker Control, but again, the company is being hush-hush on specifics. All we can ascertain about the latter is that it will attempt to give you a better chance of making the proper play after the snap of the ball. Of course, what would a football game be without Mr. Madden's inane ramblings and somewhat delusional on-the-field observations? Expect the same timeless football anecdotes for which John is (in)famous.
Download Madden NFL 2004
The king of the gridiron returns with several small but oh-so-effective gameplay improvements that once again cement Madden's superiority in the football genre. It all starts with the fantastic new Playmaker Control feature--with a quick flick of the right analog stick, you can move receivers to open spots in the defensive coverage or, on running plays, you can redirect the blocks of your lineman. This gives you an unprecedented amount of control, so you actually feel like you're commanding the whole team, not just the QB. It's a tough maneuver to master, but worth it--no other game offers control like this. Other on-field subtleties include varying camera angles for rollouts and play-action passes; cooler tackles; and the slick new playcalling menu that speeds up gameplay. Put simply, this is the best-playing Madden ever. Want more? The additions to Franchise mode really deepen the experience. Playing as an NFL owner, you can set hot dog prices, renovate your stadium, or even move the team to another city. Sure, this kind of hyper-realism might bore lightweight fans, but serious football nuts like me will love the attention to detail. Furthermore, playing online (PS2 only) is much better this go-around, thanks to voice chat and online tournaments. So, is the game flawless? Not quite. Covering receivers remains too difficult, and listening to John "I state the obvious" Madden makes me wonder why he's still in broadcasting. Minor issues aside, Madden is yet again the game to get.
We are in the midst of a dynasty here, with no end in sight. Madden 2004 looks great, plays quicksilver-smooth, and offers tons of insanely detailed options (especially if you, like Bryan, long to price stadium concessions), but the whole package is more evolution than revolution. If you have 2003, there's really no harm sticking with that for another year. But if the new features and updated rosters sound compelling, 2004 is near perfect. The ol' windbag still delivers.
I think I've finally figured out the secret to Madden's success. It's not the lifelike visuals, massive playbook, or incoherent commentary--it's that there's always hope. Just like in real NFL matchups, a single play or two--that missed field goal, that successful fourth-down conversion, etc.-- often makes all the difference. The bells and whistles Bryan mentioned add a lot to the package, but you just can't beat the core gameplay of Madden.