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October 22, 2002
Madden NFL 2003 - Review
Release Date Distributor Developer Players Rating Difficulty
20/9/2002EA SportsEA Sports1-8G8+Variable
Save Size Sound Format Vibration 60Hz Mode 50Hz Border Widescreen
1290KBDolby Pro LogicNoYesNoneNo

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Check out the helmet detail.
Regular as clockwork, Electronic Arts have released yet another yearly game in their impressive Madden series. But while Madden NFL 2003 includes online gameplay in America, this option has understandably been dropped for the PAL release due to lack of network gaming. As you would expect from the third game in the series on PS2, and the 13th game in total, the developers have really become accustomed to the awkward Playstation 2 hardware. The game itself has many improvements over last year's version, making a brilliant game even better.

Anyone who has played a Madden NFL game in the past will be right at home with this title, little has changed with the gameplay. I won't even start to get into the rules, but for those unaware the sport is played on a rectangular field with two end zones which must be reached to score a touchdown, and then a conversion. Unlike Rugby as we know it in Australia, NFL allows players to throw the ball forwards, and every 10 yards made allows the team another 5 attempts to reach the next 10 yards. Well, it's a pretty crappy explanation, but this game will only appeal to fans of the sport anyway.

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About to take the catch.
As with previous years Madden NFL 2003 includes a wide variety of game modes including exhibition, playoffs, and franchise modes (which lasts for up to 30 game years and this year includes injuries carried from the 2002 into the 2003 season). Returning this year, and expanded from last year is the very cool 2-minute drill which is very much like a challenge mode where you must complete as many touchdowns are possible within a 2-minute period. During this time you can't allow the opposition to take posession of the ball. Also included is a situation mode where you can set up a situation to try and complete it. Madden NFL 2003 includes a great training mode where John Madden will help you learn the rules of the game and the different types of plays. This years game also includes a mini-camp where you join John Madden's Cruiser Tour Bus travelling to all NFL cities to complete a variety of skill drills. After completing a drill you can then try it in a real game situation.

One big change to the game is that by pressing right button you can force your defensive back players to turn around before attempting to catch the ball rather then running in the same direction with arms in the air with the ball then hitting you in the back of the head. Other changes include reduced player momentum and players following through and making hits on players without the ball. The development has also improved the spin moves, stiff arm moves and inside running. All these modifications are small, perhaps hardly noticable to most, but they all add up the make the game all that more realistic and complete.

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Just avoided the tackle.
And now we come to the section in the review where I spell out my complaints about the game. This year I have two complaints, neither of which is significant enough to detract from the overall score. Firstly, I have to still mention the difficulty. Even on the easiest levels those unaccustomed to the NFL rules will almost certainly be soundly beaten. Fortunately, Electronic Arts have included some fantastic game modes such as the mini-camp to learn the rules, and general skills of the game. Secondly, Madden NFL 2003 lacks the online gameplay as with the American release, but given there is still no word on the online adapter for PAL territories it's not a surprise, nor is its exclusion from this years release something that we can blame on Electronic Arts.

What surprises me every single year is the way in which EA Sports manage to squeeze out more graphical power from the Playstation 2. The 2003 incarnation of the game is no exception as the interface, in-game graphics and TV styled presentation once again sets new benchmarks. If there is one sports game to show off the Playstation 2, then this is it. Animation on the players is better then ever with even the most subtle movements being captured while the players now have individual fingers which now move realistically during replays and close ups. Perhaps the biggest change is that the entire speed of the game seems to have been bumped up a notch or two, while the field textures have also been beefed up to almost TV quality. When it's snowing, the fielda aren't just a white sheet, but includes mud patches and light and dark spots. To top it all off the game includes reflections on helmets, facial animations and stunning TV style presentations. Finally, the game runs at a silky smooth 50fps, which has been optimised for full screen for PAL gamers.

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There are a couple of niggles with the graphics. At times the player clipping doesn't seem to work as well as it should with players bodies passing through each other, most notably during the replay modes. The other niggle with the graphics is that the crowds are still a little on the disappointing side. I'm sure I've seen a lot more colour and excitement on TV broadcasts of NFL.

Listen very carefully, I shall say this only once. (Sorry, just thinking of some of the great lines in 'Allo 'Allo - which really has nothing to do with this game.) But speaking of great lines the commentary in Madden NFL 2003 is the best I've ever heard in a video game by far. Al Michaels now does the majority of the commentary and while it can be a little dry at times you can play a full match and not hear more then a couple of repeated lines, and these are usually the most common phrases you would hear in a real broadcast in any case. Melissa Stark is the new sideline reporter who lets you know the injuries to players and if they will be available to come back to the game. The sound effects including banter between the players, and crowds cheering are also superb while the music tracks are upbeat and suit the game very well indeed. The only way this game could have been improved in the sound department would be the inclusion of DTS sound as in many other Electronic Arts PS2 titles.

Yet another yearly update, and Electronic Arts have included enough improvements that fans of last years game should consider the upgrade. The removal of online gameplay from the American game is a little disappointing but understandable given the current lack of online plans from Sony Europe. If you want to pick a sports game to show off your console then this is the pick of the bunch and well worth a purchase. Madden NFL 2003 pushes the boundaries further. What's next EA?

GRAPHICSAnimations are improved further, TV presentation is stunning.
SOUNDThe best commentary ever heard in a sports game, good effects.
GAMEPLAYIt's Madden. Almost perfect gameplay with more refinements.
VALUENo online gameplay is a downer, but so much more to complete.
OVERALLMadden NFL 2003 is yet another game that manages to improve on last years version. If you have any interest in NFL at all then you would do well to pick up this title. I can only hope that next years version... and you know there will be one... will include online gameplay here in Australia. Get this title now.

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