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Madden NFL 2003
Score: 96%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Games
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 2 (1 - 8 Multitap/1 - 2 Online)
Genre: Sports

Graphics & Sound:
Goodbye, Pat. HELLO, AL! That's right, for the first time since John Madden's name has been associated with Electronic Arts, the Madden-Summerall team has been split up. In it's place is the new Monday Night Football crew of Madden, Al Michaels, and (oh, baby!) Melissa Stark. And just like their real-life counterparts, this new team delivers a much-needed makeover for this football franchise. Even still, Al Michaels is a rookie when it comes to voicing over a video game, and it is definitely evident here. Along with this much-improved (yet, far from perfect) commentary, Madden NFL 2003 also includes a killer soundtrack. Eleven rockin' songs back up the menu system, including tracks from hot groups like Andrew W.K., Nappy Roots (featuring Marcos from P.O.D.), Bon Jovi, and many more!

In the graphics department, Madden 2003 once again has some of the best player models on the market. Not only do the models look extremely realistic, but player animations are equally impressive, making for the total football experience. Sure, there will be a bit of clipping present (player clipping, not the penalty 'clipping'), but overall the collision detection in Madden is outstanding.

Let's start with the all-new Game Mode that everybody's talking about. No, I'm not talking about Football 101. Nope, not even the sweet Mini-Camp Mode. That's right football fans, for the first time in the series' history, Madden has gone by way of the Internet in the Online Mode***. This opens up a whole new world of possibilities! For starters, now players have immediate access to News and downloadable Roster Updates straight from the folks at EA Sports. However, questions and concerns have obviously been raised about the quality of online gameplay considering that broadband users are mixed with users of the slower dial-up connection.

For anyone that may have played the demo that came with the PS2 Network Adapter, you may have noticed a terrible connection rate to your server. Well, at least I did. In fact, I had to quit because it was so horrible. This made me skeptical, and I began to question the 40 bucks that I spent on the Internet add-on. I'm here to tell you that I am now playing the retail version of Madden NFL 2003 via dial-up, and have rarely suffered any slowdown or choppiness within the many battles that I have so far played. In fact, for the most part, it was very hard to tell that I was even playing online! Of course, there is a downside to online gaming this year. First off, you are restricted to one-on-one match-ups only. Secondly (and more importantly), match-ups are restricted to exhibition games only... this means no Online Franchise Mode. Let's all hope that this is one of the first additions on the list for next year's Madden.

As mentioned earlier, Madden 2003 also contains a new Mini-Camp Mode of gameplay. Just as the name suggests, you get the opportunity to run, pass, and kick your way to earning Madden Cards, as well as bragging rights with your buds. These mini-drills have varying difficulty, so the challenge (and level of fun) gets higher as you progress through the camp. After completing the drills, you then have the opportunity to practice similar real-life situations on the field. Maybe one of the greatest offerings is that, like Football 101, you are learning new skillz and techniques in the Mini-Camp that will help improve your overall game performance.

The heart of the Madden series has always been the Franchise Mode, and 2003 is no exception. This year boasts the deepest stats ever created with over 30 years compiled into progression logic. What this means in plain English is that your players will develop over time, hit their peek, and gradually have their performance tail off until they retire... just like real life, eh? Another great feature is that you can now export your franchise team for use in all game modes.

Now that all of the technical mumbo-jumbo is out of the way, I should mention that this year's game feels like it has more control than ever. Yet, strangely enough, I have one major gripe with the gameplay. Playing defense has always been tough, but playing great defense seems next to impossible. Whether on the ground or in the air, it feels like you're not fully in control of the outcome of the play. The defense's pass coverage doesn't feel as tight as it should be, and tackling a runner is sometimes like trying to catch a greased pig! Breaking tackles is waaaaaayyyyyy too easy in Madden NFL 2003, so you can almost always expect a fairly high-scoring affair (especially when playing online, it seems).

As always, there are four difficulty options in Madden: Rookie, Pro, All-Pro, and All-Madden. Increasing the difficulty increases your chance of getting worked by the computer players. And although there is no true way to tell who's who while online, there are also four designated sections of rooms to find gamers of similar experience for playing against.

Game Mechanics:
This year's Madden game offers unprecedented gamepad control on both offense and defense. Menu systems are easy to navigate, and gameplay is made simple enough for rookies, yet advanced enough for seasoned veterans. Also included in Madden 2003 is the ability to draw up your own plays in the Create-A-Playbook feature. This adds another dimension to the coaching aspect of the game, but could stand to be tweaked just a bit (like allowing more plays to be saved, and giving the ability to send people in motion at the line).

On a personal note, online gaming in Madden is outstanding for the most part. But be aware that there are some jerks out there that are such sore losers that they will do things (which I won't mention here) to prevent the game from ending, just so that they don't end up with an 'L' in the Wins/Losses column. Instead, the idiots out there will continue to piss you off until you quit, so that you get the loss and not them. Sure, things like this can get overlooked when programming a game, but if you're out there EA, something needs to be done to prevent this. Let us legit players enjoy ourselves without having to worry about players like 'MyNUTS' (this is an official boycott on him/her) manipulating the system with their sore-loser antics. Thank you... I'll get off my soapbox now. 8-)

That aside, Madden 2003 is a kick-ass football game that has very few faults in it. Load times can often be frustrating (especially between Mini-Camp events), but overall aren't terrible. If the defense were cleaned up a bit so that it didn't feel like you're throwing darts blindfolded, Madden 2003 would be a near-perfect game. Still, the number of options present in the game and the unprecedented online play make buying Madden NFL 2003 a sure thing for any football fan out there.

*** NOTE: Online play is ONLY available in the PS2 version of Madden NFL 2003 this year. Also, in order to play via the Internet, you will need to purchase separately the PS2 Network Adapter (MSRP 40 U.S. Dollars), have your own ISP (Internet Service Provider) account to get on the 'Net, and have at least 256KB of free space on a memory card.

-Woody, GameVortex Communications
AKA Shane Wodele

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