By Lucas Croft
The millennium had changed over, and much to some’s embarrassment, computers had not taken over. However, the Madden franchise was soaring higher than it ever had before. What started as a rocky endeavor into the generation 5 hardware ended with the towering success of the franchise. Facing staunch competition from Sony’s NFL Gameday, EA knew their journey into generation 6 needed to be much smoother.
Madden NFL 2001
The first big hurdle was making sure Madden was available on the PS2 before any other NFL game made it, a goal that EA Sports failed to attain in the generation 5. Learning from their mistakes, Madden NFL 2001 was a launch title that released alongside the PS2 in North America on October 26, 2000.
Donning the cover of Madden NFL 2001 was Tennessee Titans’ Halfback Eddie George. While it wasn’t the first time an athlete had been shown on the cover — Erik Williams and Karl Wilson were on the cover of Madden NFL 95 — it was the first time John Madden was not the prominent image of the cover. This is a trend that carries on through today with the cover being considered both a great honor and to some a curse. Through the years, the cover athlete was both an athlete that had succeeded in the previous year and represented a point of emphasis in that year’s iteration.
Visually, Madden 2001 on PS2 was untouched by any other football game — or any other game in some people’s opinions — at the time. From the noticeable increase in polygons used to build the models, accuracy in the lighting, and variety in player sizes, this iteration was able to achieve a realism that was not possible in any of the previous installments.
Along the same vein, the broadcast feel of the game had greatly improved. There was a bit more natural banter between John Madden and Pat Summerall, and even the inclusion of a side-line reporter, Lesley Visser who delivered previews, injury updates, etc.
The most innovative change in this year’s title was the inclusion of Madden Challenges that rewarded a player with cards for accomplishing certain tasks in game. These cards would later be used for performance boosts during the game. One card gave the player 5 downs rather than 4, while another may increase the likelihood of catching a ball. This feature achieved two goals. First, it gave the player something to accomplish outside of just defeating their opponent. Secondly, it paved the way for what would become the most profitable game mode in sports gaming history, Madden Ultimate Team.
Madden NFL 2002
In 2001, EA sports brought its beloved franchise to all 3 generation 6 consoles; PS2, Xbox, and the Nintendo Gamecube. Franchise mode was still king of the modes in the Madden dynasty, and Madden NFL 2002 gave the player an even more in-depth approach to managing their team. The game featured a 30-year franchise mode (up from the previous 15 years) that allowed a user to control 1-31 teams.
The first big feature added was the ability to import draft classes from NCAA Football 2002. Now players were able to continue the careers of their favorite college athletes. While the game did not feature the names of these athletes, with a little effort the user was able to edit their names.
Another highly praised feature was the newly introduced create-a-team. A slew of options were available to players to create their very own NFL franchise complete with logos, team colors, and fully customizable jerseys. These teams could be used across all of the different modes of the game. This coupled with create-a-player, create-a-coach, and create-a-league really made for a fully customizable experience.
Bolstering the customization of the game was the introduction of a feature that would revolutionize the way the player interacted with the AI: sliders. Outside of simple difficulty tweaks, players could adjust various aspects of the way the CPU played the game from success in passing to its reaction on defense. From that point on, sliders have become the main way many sim players have created the experience that they desire.
Madden NFL 2003
For the first time in the franchises history, John Madden was joined in the booth by someone who wasn’t his long-time friend and partner Pat Summerall. Instead, Madden NFL 2003 featured the booth of ABC’s Monday Night Football, John Madden alongside Al Michaels. The change was welcomed as most of the Madden fanbase had grown a bit tired of the stale delivery on Summerall’s play-by-play.
One of the most well-received features in Madden history made its way into the game in Madden 2003, create-a-playbook. Players had been given the opportunity to play NFL-star, NFL GM, and now they were getting the full suite of the NFL coaching experience. If a player wanted to run 20 different shotgun formations, they could. Want to build a power running offense that utilizes multiple tightends? You can. Missing the days of the Bears old 46 Defense? Resurrect it.
But far beyond customizable playbooks, create-a-teams, and franchise modes came the long-awaited online mode. Now players no longer had to be sitting on the same couch as their friends to see who dominated whom in the game. Running off of servers established by EA themselves, players could match up against other Madden fans across the country to battle for supremacy. 2003 was the game that paved the way for online leagues, online franchises, and online team play. It also paved the way for fullback dive cheesing, 4 verts exploits, and rage quitting. But let’s not taint the rose-colored image.
Madden NFL 2004
Mike Vick. Before you read, just watch.
There was a time before his infamous arrest and incarceration due to his involvement. A time before his career seemingly was resurrected in Philly only to come crashing down just as quickly. A time before he backed up quarterbacks with faster rising stars than him.
The Madden NFL 2004 cover athlete is undeniably the most dominant player to ever be crafted in the Madden franchise and probably in all of sports games in general. With a speed rating of 95, players dazzled as they effortlessly scrambled outside the pocket for huge gains. The Atlanta Falcons’ Quarterback became a feature in and of himself. And we can all admit at this point, our hatred never burned more fiercely than in the moments we were playing online and our opponent selected the Falcons. Though Vick’s actual season was cut short due to a broken leg suffered in the preseason, his virtual counterpart racked up yard after yard both passing and rushing.
Outside of the dominance of Michael Vick was the inclusion of an all new Owner Mode. While players maintained their GM responsibilities of trading players, signing free agents, and setting depth charts; Madden NFL 2004 also gave players the ability to set ticket pricing, parking pricing, and even the cost of an in-stadium hot dog. The Owner could also dictate the amount of money used for radio and television advertising and schedule fan appreciation days. At the end of the year you could choose to relocate your team or rebuild a stadium.
However, moving your team wasn’t so simple. You had to design the stadium down to the scoreboards and field type, draw up a proposal, secure the funds, and submit your offer for approval. If the plan was not approved your hometown fans would find out about your attempts to move the team and distance themselves from your franchise. The mode added even more depth to a game mode that was already incredibly feature rich.
Playmaker control also found its way into Madden NFL 2004 allowing the player to flip plays, hot route receivers, and even control lead-blockers midplay. These inclusions were appropriate seeing as the cover athlete that year was one of the single greatest playmakers in NFL history in his prime. On the other side of the ball, the playmaker control allowed you to change coverage pre-play and crash runs or drop back to defend the pass after the snap. This title gave the player more control in both gameplay and game mode.
Madden NFL 2005
Madden NFL 2005 was the last iteration of the title before making the leap to generation 7 consoles. Facing its stiffest competition in what many people still consider the greatest NFL game ever created, ESPN NFL 2k5, the Madden franchise introduced perhaps the most well-implemented fundamental changes ever in its history.
Baltimore Raven’s linebacker Ray Lewis became the first defensive player to be featured on the cover of the game — up until this point it had been quarterbacks and running backs. It was clear that EA was going to focus more heavily on the other side of the ball after Madden 2004’s dominant playmaker made offense a wide-open scoring affair. Thus was born, The Hit Stick.
At first use, when a player would flick the stick it would often be an ill-timed attempt that resulted in a stumble in front of the ball carrier leaving him to run by unabated. However, when timed correctly, the hit stick became one of the most satisfying experiences in sports gaming. A well-timed flick could result in the ball carrier being completely leveled, fumbling the ball, or dropping a pass that seemed to be inevitably complete. Gone were the days of suffering through defensive play to get the ball back. The hit stick gave players the authoritative feeling of being Ray Lewis anchoring the middle of a defense. It was pure fun.
Beyond the hit stick, players received an unparalleled amount of control when on the defensive side of the ball. Defensive hot routes gave the gamer the ability to counter any money play that the offense might throw at him. By scrolling through the players and bringing up the hot-route menu, players were able to change defensive assignments on the fly; shift a linebackers blitz instruction to a zone coverage, bring an extemporaneous blitz from the outside edge, or ask your defensive ends to play contend defense to counter Vick’s running ability. The cat and mouse game of offense and defense was far more prevalent in this year’s Madden than any other.
The 6th generation era of the Madden franchise was ultimately a success. It faced staunch competition from NFL Gameday, NFL 2k, and NFL Fever but always seemed to take the competition as an opportunity to improve. As the even more powerful generation 7 stepped up to the plate, expectation for what the series could become were at a fever pitch. Unfortunately, the Xbox 360/PS3 era was not as kind as the previous ones for EA Sports.