Unfortunately, being 'in the game' doesn't always coincide with what's happening in the real world. I know nobody can predict injuries and horrible seasons to real players, but if I was a betting man in Vegas, I'd certainly put a big chunk of cash up AGAINST whoever appears on the cover of the newest Madden
game. This year's poor recipient was Michael 'On the rise, then I tripped' Vick. Okay, all kidding aside, when is the 'Madden Curse' going to end??? (Sorry about going off on my Madden-esque tangent... now on with the game...)
When it comes to gameplay, the Madden series always seems to one-up itself year after year. Sometimes the changes are subtle, and then there is Madden 2004. New to the series (and consistent with the EA Sports lineup of games) is the Playmaker control. Now every call is at your command with the Right Analog stick, on both Offense and Defense.
With the Playmaker Control, you'll be able to shout out running or passing plays to allow your defense to cheat in one direction or another. Using this method, you'll be able to drop back in the secondary, or sniff out the ball carrier on a run play, putting an abrupt stop to the current drive. On the other side of the line, you'll now be able to fake out the defense by flipping the direction of run plays, as well as have control over two players at once! If you're running the ball, you can control a blocker to help create a path to the end zone. Likewise, while scrambling with the quarterback, you can control a receiver and help him find the open spot on the field. This is a great addition to the amount of control you can have in-game, but when it comes time to actually do it, it feels like walking and chewing bubble gum at the same time... hard to do for some people.
Another new addition to Madden 2004 is the 'improved' Franchise mode. This adds the option to become the owner of your favorite team, which means a lot of executive decisions, like ...ahem... how much to charge for a hot dog. Okay, since when did Sim City and Madden do some breeding? For Sim-heads like me, it can be fun to tinker as an owner, but the novelty wears off fast, and soon it's back to what made the Madden franchise so great... namely football. And once again, Madden offers Internet play for those on either dial-up or broadband, although I wouldn't recommend dial-up because of the lag. It's just too bad that EA Sports has made the poor decision to offer online play ONLY to PS2 users. (Bad, EA, BAD!)
Other than that, Madden 2004 is just the way you remembered it from last year... a very good football simulation, with very good gameplay elements! It's unfortunate, then, that some of the things I didn't like before have returned. The most noticeable is the inability to make a clean tackle on players. For the life of me, I can't seem to understand how countless players (RBs especially) can continually break two, three... even five tackles at a time before finally being brought down. A true simulation should emulate the real players of the NFL. Sure, they will break tackles for extra yards, but even the best of the best can still be brought down by a single player any given Sunday.