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Madden 2003 (Xbox) Review

Background Info
Screens Set 1

Screens Set 2

Screens Set 3

The competition for top spot in the football gaming genre has become fiercer and fiercer every year. On the X-Box, Microsoft released NFL Fever to compete with EA's vaunted Madden series and had a decent amount of success. This year Fever and Madden return, but also welcome Sega Sports' NFL 2k and NCAA 2k series along with EA's NCAA Football series to the Xbox. Competition for top spot is as crowded as ever. We've had Madden for a few weeks now and were able to put in a good amount of time with it.

Presentation/Graphics: 95
The graphics in the game are great as usual. The new animations look good, especially the new gang tackling. I was disappointed to see that there were never more than two guys tackling an offensive player. I hope next year that we will be able to see three or four guys trying to bring down, The Bus.

The stadiums look excellent, although there is a new dyanamic weather model that can cause weather to change during the course of a game, it is hardly noticable. Everything from the degradation of the field, player jerseys getting dirty and the weather effects are all great.

The player's body parts do occasionally go through one another but that is really only visible on close-ups and instant replays. Heck, they even added cheerleaders at the half, but don't get too excited though as it is nothing more than a short 10-second cheerleading routine.

Other than that, I really don't have any complaints. The only real quirk I have is that sometimes the DB and the WR share the same animation. It just looks funny when viewing the replay and you see both guys doing the same thing. Besides that, there isn't much to complain about in this department.

Presentation/Audio: 75
The audio department has always been a mixed bag for Madden 2003. While EA Sports usually does a good job of recreating the sound effects to make a football atmosphere, the commentary has always lacked any excitement. This year is no different.

EA picked up Al Michaels in this past off-season to replace Pat Summerall and they started to hype how great their commentary would be with the new addition. Well, don't get your hopes too high. While EA definitely improved the commentary and play-by-play, Madden 2003 is still way behind Sega Sports' NFL 2K games. You won't hear much of a difference with the addition of Al Michaels. I will admit that the pre-game comments are nice to hear. They usually talk about a couple of the stars on each team and add little comments about how tough it will be to stop them.

On one occasion, it was late in the game with less than a minute left and the CPU was down by 14 points with fourth and long. The computer went for it and failed. Madden then commented on why the computer went for it on 4th down and how the team needs to trust their special teams unit. Hello! The computer needed a touchdown not a punt.

Melissa Stark also joined the team. She is the sideline reporter but they don't even show any pictures of her in the game. The only time she chimes in is in an injury report, at the start of the game or after the half. Maybe next year they will have her chime in with more comments during time outs and other play stoppages (editor's note: and maybe they'll put her beautiful blonde hair, blue-eye chrome in there also).

With that said, EA Sports did a great job implementing football sounds. From the roar of the crowd, having defensive players yell, "RUN! RUN! RUN!" and the sound of players banging and slamming into each other, the game does an excellent job of recreating an authentic NFL football game.

The game no longer features hip-hop music. The game instead has more of a rock/alternative soundtrack, which in my opinion isn't better than before, but fortunately only plays a minor part of the game.

Interface/Options : 93
The button layout works well with the new Xbox Controller S. I can't imagine how tough it would be to play Madden 2003 with the original Xbox controller because of its bulkiness. Anyway, the button layout is pretty much the same as last year, but there are a few changes. The first addition is the inclusion of the swat button, which is the Left Trigger. This helps a lot in defending a pass without having to go all out for the interception. Also, EA got rid of having a separate button for a left and right stiff-arm, and put it into one as the black button. A new addition to Madden 2003 is the ability to see your plays, along with routes, blocking assignments, or coverage assignments and blitzes when you are on defense.

The franchise mode is back again. A new addition is the rookie scouting feature discussed below, but there is not much of anything new besides that. Players now have the team that they played for listed in their player profile along with the year and the stats for that year. These stats are usually accessible from almost any screen by pressing down on the right analog button. Unfortunately, the stats of retired players are not kept. There is also no trophy room or a list of past Super Bowl winners or award winners. I did notice that if one of your players make the Pro Bowl and is underpaid, he will hold out for more money. After year six in my franchise, my starting offensive lineman averaged six million a year in salary because he had become a Pro Bowler and held out. Those guys are damn well worth it though. Also one last note: while there is gang tackling, there are no assisted tackles or half sacks tracked in the game.

Player progression works just as it did in the previous years. Although, it seems that the game factors in performance and merits a lot more than its predecessors. For instance, with an offense that ran 80 percent of the time, four of my five OL made the Pro Bowl, and each of them gained points. I also liked how my young WR and QB lost a few points because their stats suffered as a result of my style of offense.

The create-a-team feature is pretty much the same thing as it was last year although a bunch of new logos were added. The create-a-player feature is not too different as well. I wasn't big into editing or creating players last year, so I'm not too sure what new arm bands or whatnot have been added.

Minicamp is one of the new features that EA Sports has been touting. Make no doubt about it, this feature is a blast, but I can't think of how much better it could have been if we were able to take individual players from our team in our franchises and have them take part in the drills. The minicamp mode consists of eight drills. There are basically four levels, Rookie, Pro, All Pro and Madden. Over those four levels, you control each of the 32 NFL teams team for a drill. Very addicting feature. The eight drills are: QB Accuracy, QB Pocket Presence, RB Attack, DL, LB, DB, Punting, and Kicking.

After a season concludes your off-season schedule spans over eight different stages as shown in the screen shot. First up, is the list of retired players. Once you advance past that stage, you reach the fun part, the rookie scouting. Initially, all that is known of players is their name, physical attributes, college and position.

The new rookie scouting feature is very addictive! First, you are able to view all the rookies with the predicted draft rounds. Then, you got to select 15 players to scout and go to the next stage. After that, you select 15 more rookies (could be the same players if you choose) to scout for the next part of the rookie scouting stage. This allows you to learn more about each of the 15 players you decide to scout through scouting comments as shown in the screen shots. This process pretty continues for a few more rounds. If you decide to scout the same players again, more comments are added about the player in the rookie report screen. Note that you are also able to import your rookie draft class from NCAA 2003 Xbox.

How well you draft really depends on how good of a job you did in the rookie scouting stage. If you didn't scout any rookies, then the only facts available to you to make your draft choices will just be based on their stats, such as speed in the 40, vertical leap among a few other stats in the player info screen. The CPU AI draft model could use some work. I noticed that too often kickers and punters were being drafted in the first and second rounds. That shouldn't happen often because it rarely happens in real life.

Since I already discussed the create-a-playbook, play and formation in my preview, I'll just copy and paste them here.

Create a playbook play formation
Don't be like me and start sweating when I went into the features option and couldn't find the create-a-play option. You got to hit up the Create-a-Playbook option first. The game allows you to modify any current user created playbooks. When you first start off, you need to select individual plays to be added to your playbook.

hmm, what to choose?

time to make a formation

Most likely you will want to create a formation before you create a play. The game is pretty flexible in allowing you to move guys wherever you want. It will tell you if you have an illegal formation or whatnot. On defense, you are able to stack a bunch of players on one side if you feel like it. On offense, you are able to create formations such as the Wishbone or just create your own wacky formation. The game also allows you choose different personnel for your formations.

can we put guys right behind the QB?

now, I got to load up NCAA 2003 and steal some plays

Create-a-Play: Offense
The game doesn't allow you to create a play using existing formations. You have to create your own formation first, which isn't hard at all. On offense, you first select whether you want a running or passing play. On passing plays, you can have your guys run your own custom route or choose from one of the default routes. There are also a bunch of waypoint options, as shown in the screen shots. The game limits you to the number of waypoints though. I tried making a guy run in a zig-zag route across the field back and forth, but I learned the number of waypoints you have are limited. As far as the offensive line blocking goes in creating passing plays, you can choose from six choices: pass, run, pull left, pull right, screen right and screen left. Running plays allow you to pick from a wide variety for your FB and HB. The OL blocking seems to still be the same as with the passing plays. The running backs also have a number of ways to behave after receiving a hand-off. I don't want to give everything away though.

can I make him do the moon walk?

how about just make room for my RB?

Create-a-Play: Defense
As mention above, you are able to create some crazy defensive formations in Madden 2003. I won't go into detail as to what each player is able to do, but it is pretty flexible although you aren't able to setup waypoints for your guys on defense.

Gameplay : 89
Everything always comes down to the gameplay. Don't expect a complete overhaul in the feel from 2002 to 2003. The game speed feels a tad bit faster than 2002. It still allows you to see the holes open between the tackles. Running outside is a lot tougher this year. This could be partly to blame by sometimes the poor blocking abilities of the WRs. Injuries are portrayed at a much more realistic pace this year. I run into at least 3 or 4 minor injuries a game with an occasional major injury.

Two new hot routes utilizing the black and white button have been added. Both are slant routes, to left and right. I'm not sure why we aren't able to customize our own hot routes, as we were able to in the PC version.

EA also improved the wide receiver A.I. You will actually see WRs running against a zone sit in a open spot and wait for the ball while the QB sits in the pocket. I also enjoyed the ball physics after a quarterback gets hit. Sometimes the ball floats in the air, while other times the ball short-hops the receiver depending on how and when the QB got hit.

Perhaps one of the biggest improvements in this category is the intelligence of defensive backs. The DBs are a lot quicker in reacting to a pass thrown their way. Don't be surprise when you see a DB step up for the pick on an out pattern by the receiver and take it to the house. That happened to me a number of times after I ran a few successful out patterns when I was testing whether or not I would be able to keep doing the same route. Passes over the middle are a lot more prone for an INT than ever. The LBs and DBs can cover a good amount of ground as well as being able to swat the ball or make a dive for the pick. The DBs are also good at defending the deep passes, although if you have a tall WR alone with a shorter DB, it is possible to exploit that match-up. Half the time the WR holds onto the ball while taking a hit by the DB, and other times the ball will come loose for an incomplete pass. What annoys me the most is having my guys drop a wide open three to five yard pass but able to make sometimes able to make catches in traffic. This doesn't happen too often, maybe only a few times in the game, so it seems to portray the NFL correctly. In addition, EA added a few new defensive formations, the 46 and the Quarter, which features only three DL, and seven DBs.

Last year's problem of the offensive line boasting a death grip on defensive players has also been addressed. Of course you'll still run into problems blowing by an offensive lineman with an overall rating of 96 with a defensive lineman that only is rated a 67. After playing a number of games with the San Diego Chargers, I was ready to label the computer as cheaters because their defensive linemen were able to get into the face of my QB on almost every play. And the defense was sacking my quarterback regardless of how talented and skilled it was. My weaknesses were addressed and I drafted a few guys and within a few years, I had four of my five starting offensive linemen on the Pro Bowl team. So when I took the field, I enjoyed the luxury of not having to hurry my throws on every play and being able to dominate the ground attack with LaDanian Tomlinson following my blockers. The only issue I have is that EA still didn't address the problem of recording pancakes realistically. If I sim a game, my offensive linemen usually were able to get at least three or four pancakes each game. When I actually played the game, I was lucky to record two pancakes the whole game with the entire OL. There are exceptions however. I had a rookie OL rated 66 overall make the Pro Bowl, recording 69 pancakes and only allowing three sacks the whole season. Of course, this is in part to me setting my offense to the ball for almost 80% of the time. The rookie ended up progressing to a 73 overall, with his run and pass block improving by four or five points each.

Now onto the subject of penalties: pass inference was rarely called on the default penalty settings. In fact, with the exception of holding and facemasking, the other penalties were rarely called without moving up the sliders a few notches.

In the preseason mode, the computer will automatically sub in your second string players after half time. Very nice because you don't get your young guys some playing time, their ratings will suffer.

The AI play calling seems a little better than last year. They don't try to run when they are down by two touchdowns with no timeouts and with only a few minutes left.

The challenge feature allows you to know what you are challenging before you go ahead with the actual challenge. Madden and Michaels also chip in with their comments regarding the challenge. Everything is good here except that some plays that should be challengeable are not. I remember a play in the first quarter where my QB was about to throw a pass but he got hit from behind and the ball came loose. It was ruled a fumble. I had no way of challenging whether or not it was a pass or not. I do remember that the 2002 version allowed you to challenge the fumble on some occausions. I would imagine 2003 being the same. Was just my luck it didn't let me challenge the fumble.

There is no way to lateral the ball. So even if you create the wishbone, you would only be able to hand-off.

All in all, the gameplay didn't undergo major reconstructing, but did have some important improvements. What else can be improved for next year? We need to be able to intentionally knock down the ball on offense with a swat button, fix the problem with the stat tracking of pancakes when playing the game, and the ability to complete laterals.

Replay Value : 95
With the new minicamp, rookie scouting, improved DB AI as well as the create-a-play feature, this game is definitely fun in the long term. Add that in with the existing franchise mode from last year and it only gets better. It is a shame that the Xbox version does not support online play though.

Overall : 90
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Just like other games out there, Madden 2003 is not perfect, but definitely still is a blast to play. I would like to note that if you disliked Madden's style of gameplay in the past, you probably should pass on this year's game because it still has the same feel to it. I can't imagine how fun the PS2 version will be with the ability to play online against other Madden ballers across the nation. The Xbox version will not support online play this year. With the improved gameplay, minicamp and the rookie scouting feature, Madden 2003 for the XBox is definitely worth the purchase for any football fan.

By: James Chheng 8/12/02

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