Madden NFL 2003 Review

Another year, another Madden NFL game.  If you own a prior version, should you upgrade?  If not, then the question is whether or not Madden NFL 2003 is a game worth buying.  The answers are maybe and yes, respectively; Madden NFL is certainly a good football game, but whether a few new modes and roster updates justify a new purchase is up to you.

First things first, the most important part of a football game is not the graphics or options, it's whether or not it does a good job of playing football.  Madden NFL 2003 delivers on this count, starting from the building block of a good gameplan, the playbook.  Madden delivers extensive playbooks, complete with plenty of formations and variations on those formations (two tight ends, big, etc.).  You'll also have five different audibles for each formation, you can change the pass route for any receiver or the blocking route for your backs from the line of scrimmage, and send men into motion.  If your favorite play is missing, you can edit any play in the playbook, and even create your own plays from scratch - the only constraint is that the formation be legal under NFL rules.  Build an entire wishbone or run and gun playbook if you'd like.

ScreenshotsThe play itself tends toward realism and away from arcade-style football.  Your offense will go nowhere if you just try to fling bombs on every play; short routes result in higher completion percentages than the long ball.  The AI DBs do a good job of covering receivers and converging on the ball when it is in the air.  The running game is also executed nicely, as blockers follow their assignments and work to open up holes.  Games play out like you see in the NFL - you'll get some big plays, but sound play-calling strategy is the key to staying competitive.

I use the term "staying competitive" since the CPU is no pushover.  Once you get the hang of some football games, you'll rarely, if ever, lose.  Try playing through a season as a middle or lower tier team in Madden NFL 2003, and you'll have your work cut out for you. 

While the AI and gameplay is good, it is not perfect.  The computer does have a propensity for pulling off big plays that look like it gave itself a little help completing, and AI controlled ball carriers tend to break more tackles than you'll ever be able to do yourself.  You'll also occasionally have a defender removed from a play through a block in the back - an offensive player will catch your defender from behind and they will then lock into a block, taking your player out of the play.

When you make a big play in the game, you will be awarded Madden points.  For example, sacking the opponent's quarterback will earn you four points, while breaking ten tackles with a single player during the course of a game will earn you ten.  These points can then be traded in for Madden Cards, which provide in-game cheats and unlock historical teams and new stadiums.  You are awarded the cards at random, as if you were opening a pack of trading cards.  These cards are then stored in a virtual folder for you to browse or to trade with friends.  It's a nice system for unlocking things and adding cheats that works well with the sport card motif.