Game Review - by James Allen
Finally, we don't have to subject ourselves to the horrors of baseball. That's right, sports fans, it's football season! And you know that when the leaves turn colors (from green to a lighter green), another version of the tyrannical Madden NFL series rears its head. Every year, we come to expect EA Sports to have hammered out the disappointments and shortcomings of last year's version, and give us, the gaming public, the perfect football simulation. Have we finally found the wonderful bounty of pigskin goodness, or are we left with another XFL-caliber offering?
As you can expect from Madden, the features are numerous and extensive. Honestly, it's a carbon copy of last year's version (because it uses portions from the 2001 PS2 version (read: port)) with one or two additions. The most glaring addition is the ability to import bitmaps of your favorite fictitious teams, and use your own helmet and logo designs in the game. This is really cool, and works fairly well. Everything else is the same. Even the front end is completely unchanged from last year, save a crisp Madden NFL 2002 logo. You can play exhibition, season, and franchise games. The wonderfully comprehensive franchise mode appears unchanged from last year, and incorporates all the details that makes it so special.
Another standard of EA is the use of AI sliders. I've come to believe that EA now includes these so that they can't be blamed for making an inaccurate arcade game. "Just change the sliders," they would say, and laugh as they sleep upon piles of crisp American currency. As you'll see when you traverse down to the gameplay section, the sliders work, but the realism limits of the game makes it impossible to create a realistic game, no matter how much you fiddle with the various settings. Features are good, for sure.
Apparently, John Madden and Pat "Not John Madden" Summerall haven't been in the recording booth in several eons, because they keep using the same tired commentary from last year. For example, whenever you pass to a running back, they chime in with the fact that it MUST have been a screen pass. Brilliant! Also, Pat will comment that the defense shows blitz, even if they aren't showing blitz and they just have selected a blitz play: this gives a large unfair advantage to human offensive players. I've found it's easier to just tune out the commentary, as doctors worn that extended exposure to John and Pat results in violent seizures and death. Did you know that when one player hits another with just his hands, it sounds like a helmet hit? Well, the developers of Madden 2002 certainly think so. The bright spot of the sound is that "when you talk about precision passing, that's what you mean" is almost non-existent. Bravo!
Let me start by saying that the gameplay in Madden NFL 2002 is leaps and bounds beyond that found a year ago. With that said, let's delve into the game, and see where the problems lie. First, EA still hasn't gotten an accurate representation of the clock after all these years. Am I the only one that would like 15 minutes quarters to result in accurate time of possession? Like I've said several years in a row, Madden should adopt the stance that NFL Fever took: except for the last two minutes of each half, decrease the play clock (and game clock, if appropriate) to fifteen seconds after each side has chosen their plays. Once you get into the flow of the game and you're used to the plays, you'll routinely leave the huddle with thirty seconds left to hike the ball. When the heck was the last time any team got set that quickly (not including no huddle situation)? The other peripheral to gameplay are the penalties. There are far too few penalties in Madden 2002. I have the sliders to 100% for all the penalties except for clipping, holding, and facemask, and nothing else ever, EVER gets called. Ever. Never ever. Which is just as well, since there is a bug that a facemask penalty sometimes gives the ball to the defense! Let the pain begin.
Now, let's address the advancing of the ball. The kicking is good, and if you raise the kicking sliders, you can get accurate lengths of punts and kicks. Again, if you raise the sliders from their initial values, you can run the ball more than half a yard a carry. Those are the two things that the sliders and actually change the pitiable initial setting for. The passing game is another matter. If you set accuracy and catching ability to 0%, and defensive awareness and pass deflection to 100%, QBs will complete around 70% of their passes. Huh? I believe the reason for this must lie in one of two reasons: (a) I stink at pass defense, or (b) the QBs are way too accurate (remember, 0% of anything is zero) and the defense does not react. I have observed (b) in each game on almost every play. Unless he is under immense pressure (which is almost impossible, as the offensive lines pick up blitzes like they have the oppositions playbook), your QB will throw the ball directly to the receiver every time; the only hope for an incompletion is that the recipient drops it or it somehow gets deflected. You certainly can't rely on your secondary. On almost every play, the secondary stands perfectly still, and only advances on a receiver after the ball is thrown (if you're lucky) and doesn't even go for the ball unless it's preprogrammed that said DB is to get an interception. This is with defensive awareness at 100%. This irks me the most, since it really is the only thing that holds the game back, and it totally alters the gameplay into a long-range passing game, where the only way to win is to air out the ball, not to use a balanced run-pass attack. I'm sick and tired of EA neglecting the running game, thinking the gaming public wants a fast paced passing extravaganza. I'm sure that some people like playing arcade shootouts, but can't the only PC football game satisfy the simulation fans too? I suppose the answer is an emphatic no.
By far, the best aspect of Madden 2002 is the graphics. Now, those found in last year's version were also very good, and if you put screenshots side by side, you'll be hard pressed to differentiate one from the other. In the 2002 version, they added dynamic scoreboards, a revolving sun, truthful lighting, and more player detail. Only from close up views (which occur after each play) will you notice the change in the player detail, but it's still neat-o. In addition, the herky-jerky player animations we are used to are a thing of the past. All of the movements of each player are so realistic; it really does look like football on FOX or CBS. It's such an improvement over 2001; it's likely the most noticeable difference between the two (but you can't capture that in screenshots, can you?). It appears that we have a new, faster graphics engine (read: port), and it does deliver the goods, but it's not the leaps and bound over the 2001 version that EA is saying.
When you get down to the basics, Madden NFL 2002 comes with a superb graphics and physics model, good features, poor sound, and unbalanced gameplay. The lack of a pass defense and the inhuman accuracy of quarterbacks, even when the AI sliders are slanted to eliminate these traits, taint a football game that could truly be the best ever. Here's hoping that EA patches these small deficiencies, and we can finally use a balanced attack to win the Super Bowl (virtually, of course).