I admit that my football favorite the last few years was Visual Concepts' NFL2K and NFL2K1. But that all changed once EA's Madden 2002 hit the PlayStation 2. The game set a new standard for football and provided a major upgrade to an average Madden 2001. Now on the Xbox, EA takes the same winning formula to produce a game identical in gameplay to the PS2 version but with enhanced graphics.
That means you can take charge of any NFL team including the not-yet-formed Houston Texans. Or you can control a variety of historic and fictitious teams. The game ships with all the game modes of the PS2 version, which means you can play single games, a season, a multi-year franchise, and more. To butter up the deal, EA dumps some refined graphics on us making the game easy on the eyes.
Presentation/Graphics : 93
One of the aspects of the Xbox that I really appreciate is that the graphics are soothing to the eyes. The texturing qualities of the Xbox means that the overall look of the game is presented neatly. After a dozen or so games with the Xbox version, I went back to the PS2 version and was shocked at the difference. The Xbox version clearly looks the better of the two. The grainy detail of the PS2 is absent in the Xbox, which simply has those smooth textures much like a Dreamcast game. Player faces are more lifelike, and some players look like their real-life counterparts. The player numbers are easier to read because of this, and you can almost make out player names when playing with the default camera. In addition, uniforms and helmets are some of the best you'll find. The sheen of the helmet is apparent, and as a bonus helmets get scratched up in the game - an extra feature compared to the PS2 version. And as players continue to get rough on the field, some pick up dirt stains on their uniforms.
The best aspect of the graphics, however, is the set of animations in the game. For the passing game, receivers catch the ball with several different techniques. There are few one-handed grabs, and most catches are traditional two-handed catches. Defensive backs make swat attempts at the ball when out of position, flat out knock the ball down, or make stunning interceptions. To round out the passing game, QBs throw the ball per your input, though if you stand in the pocket too long you risk getting smacked as you release the ball. Doing so makes the ball tumble realistically through the air.
The collision detection is normally right on. There are situations, though, where players vacuum up the ball. There hasn't been a football game yet in the modern era where I haven't seen a ball magically shift in an unnatural way. Fortunately the amount of ball sucks are limited. Instead you get a balanced collision detection system. This is especially true with tackling.
Presentation/Audio : 85
I don't know if EA tweaked the audio in the game or not, but it's not as annoying as other versions of Madden. John Madden seems to interject fewer comments, which is a good thing. Often his commentary is repetitive, but Pat Summerall does a good job at the play-by-play. One area that is still lacking is the onfield chatter. Madden just doesn't have the atmosphere of the NFL2K series where players trash talk on the field.
Interface/Options : 88
Compared to the PS2 version of the game, the Xbox version is a near duplicate. The exceptions are a slightly different control scheme due to the Xbox controller and the lack of an import feature for NCAA Football 2002 (since there's no NCAA game on the Xbox). Even though the import feature is missing, the rest of the game is feature rich. The franchise mode continues to be the best around. The front office decisions are a game in itself. The best comes at season's end where you can negotiate player contracts and evaluate incoming college talent.
Regarding the control of the game, I have mixed feelings for the Xbox controller. On the one hand, the controller is great for some aspects of the running game. The left and right analog triggers are effective for juke moves, and I find them easier to use than the shoulder buttons on the Dual Shock controller for the PS2. However, one area where the controller takes a nosedive is in the passing game. The black and white buttons are in an awkward location and are too small. On many pass plays these buttons map directly to a receiver. When the defense is bearing down finding these buttons is overly difficult.
One of the areas where Madden excels over the competition is the AI options. Besides selecting one of four difficulty levels, you can tune the AI almost exactly to your liking. You can adjust the human and CPU tendencies for both sides of the ball and the kicking game. The CPU teams always tend to have outrageously tough pass blocking, and to make sacks easier you can set the sliders to a minimum. Likewise, you can adjust run blocking, running back strength, quarterback accuracy, and wide receiver catching ability. You can also adjust the AI of the secondary, which is already strong. The default settings for penalties give a game lacking in a realistic number of calls. I was pleased with the referee's calls once I adjusted the penalties upwards.
Gameplay : 96
After playing so much Madden 2002 on the PS2, the Xbox version was nothing more than a prettied up version. All the gameplay elements of the PS2 version are intact in the Xbox version. Thus, I won't go into as much detail on the gameplay since the two are virtually identical. If you want more detail, check out the PS2 review. Needless to say, I was a big fan of the gameplay of the PS2 version, and the Xbox version is no different.
For a first rendition of Madden on the Xbox, the game is nearly perfect. The major tune-up that occurred from 2001 to 2002 was a true blessing, as the secondary play was rather pitiful. But in Madden 2002 the secondary is very good. In a man coverage defenders stick to their man but can certainly get beat. The defense closes in on the ball effectively, and the variety of pass breakups is balanced. In zone defenses, the secondary plays smart. Passing over the middle can be tough if a linebacker sets up shop in the middle of the field. If there is a fault with the secondary, though, it's that some patterns can be exploited for easy gains. Out patterns have a decent success rate, though the AI begins to adjust and the milking lasts only so long. Likewise, hooks and sharp in patterns are easy to complete, but the momentum bringing the receiver back to the line of scrimmage makes picking up yardage tough.
On offense, the passing game gets tough. You get the sense of a real NFL game when standing in the pocket. Playing as the Broncos, my offensive line just couldn't hold a decent pass block for long. This makes reading defenses a key element in the game. I really appreciate the thought that must go into each pass play. Just like a real NFL QB, I've mentally tapped my first, second, and third option in the pass game. And I've got all of about 2 or 3 seconds to decide who is open or has single coverage. The running game is a bit more straightforward. Learning to hit the holes and follow your blockers are key elements. Further, reading the defense will increase your chances in the running game. When running to the outside, you can try to pull a corner in by setting a receiver in motion, or you can bring a tight end from the strong side to the weak side for runs to the strong side. The extra blocker may be all that's needed to pick up the outside linebacker.
The AI of the computer controlled team is another highlight of the game. Gone are the days of a team giving up the running game and solely going into a pass offense. Throughout the game the AI offense calls a balanced game. In fact, in many games the AI has exploited my run defense and continued to pound the ball. Only when the CPU gets a few touchdowns behind does it move heavily to the pass game.
The only significant negative in my opinion is the momentum engine for the players. Players have too much inertia which makes for difficult direction changes. In the receiving game, if you throw an out pattern you can't simply cut back or push the receiver up field. He invariably takes several steps along his original path (and heads out of bounds) before he changes direction. Likewise, pass patterns where receivers cut back towards the line results in a receiver who nearly runs into the backfield before heading up field. Even on run plays backs fail to have pinpoint control.
Replay Value : 95
Even though I played Madden 2002 to death on the PS2, I'm enjoying Madden all over again on the Xbox. Playing in the dynasty mode is surely to keep your interest. If you like a football game which requires both skill and thought, Madden is it. The AI is the best I've encountered in console football which makes each game a challenge. Besides the great gameplay, the offseason moves are a game in a game. I get almost as much enjoyment simming an entire season just to get to the offseason as I do playing the game.
Overall : 95
If you want the best football game on the Xbox, Madden 2002 is it. Even though the momentum-based physics seem exaggerated and detract somewhat from the game, the good far outweighs the bad. The great AI, realistic QB decisions, incredible off season, and improved graphics makes this the football game of choice.