Just an FYI read...
By Paul Katcher
Special to Page 3
Expect to see a lot of people getting to school and work on Friday with very little sleep, as Thursday marks the official release date of Madden 2005 -- the latest, greatest iteration of the best-selling sports video game that, for 15 years, has been as detrimental to college GPAs as beer funnels. It's also a Hall of Famer -- a copy is actually on display in Canton.
Madden 2005 -- the reason you'll be taking a personal day.We gave the game an early test run, and here are our thoughts, presented in an FAQ format:
SO, WHAT'S ALL THE HYPE ABOUT?
Last year, more than 5.4 million units of the game were sold across all platforms -- PlayStation 2, Xbox, etc. -- and you had a better chance of finding an Al Davis monument in Denver than you did a bad review. Nearly a million users flocked online to compete against friends and strangers, and home users chose one of four talent levels against the computer's AI (artificial intelligence) that offered competition played somewhere between the 1978 Steelers and any team coached by Rich Kotite. Play single games with current or historic teams, or guide a franchise though several seasons of drafts, mini-camps, free agency, coaching changes and even city relocations. The gameplay was as specialized as anything in a coordinator's playbook: complete audibles and the ability to change individual receiver routes meant most games were won by reads at the line of scrimmage.
WHAT'S NEW IN THIS YEAR'S VERSION?
In general, the 2004 version wasn't broken -- it beat out the likes of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City at the 2003 Video Game Awards -- so there wasn't much need for fixing. But there are some additional goodies in 2005:
Hit Stick: An analog-stick feature designed to deliver a crushing blow and "change the complexion of the game," is the most hyped new feature. It's not easy to master, and so you might have to settle for the real-life version on Halloween, when Baltimore visits Philly and Ray Lewis changes the complexion of Terrell Owens' spleen for refusing to accept an offseason trade to the Ravens.
Defensive Playmaker Controls: Enhanced significantly -- users can assign tasks at the line of scrimmage for individual defenders to blitz, spy the QB, play bump-and-run, drop into a zone or even double up on receivers. These are some of the options the Chiefs had against the Colts in last year's playoffs, but you couldn't really tell.
Player Morale Affects Franchises: Suppose Keyshawn Johnson crabs about not getting the ball enough, even though Ricky Proehl has scored four more touchdowns than him over the last three years, then you can adjust your play-calling or trade him to keep him happy instead of screaming at your Super Bowl-winning coach on national TV like a $56 million baby.
There are some subtle changes like crisper graphics, a field-level view of last-minute field goals, squib kicks, a little easier time getting yardage on kick returns, and supposedly a tougher computer defense. But a lot of stuff is familiar. The referee with the porn-star mustache is back. John Madden will still rip you for going for it on fourth down, even though no player in video game history has ever punted on fourth down with less than four yards to go. And the Chargers still stink.
But the main reasons Madden 2005 is a must-have are obvious: the rosters are updated with offseason player movement and draft picks, and you'll need this one to play online. Which brings us to our next question ...
Whether you miss Ricky Williams or just want revenge, it's reason enough to get Madden.SHOULD I SET UP MY CONSOLE FOR ONLINE PLAY?
If you have friends with similar hook-ups, then yes. It keeps them from coming over and eating your food. If you're interested in downloading updated rosters throughout the season, then yes. (In fact, you'll want to do it soon in order to get Ricky Williams off the Dolphins and Eddie George wearing the Dallas star.) Time will tell, though, if cheaters and quitters will again make hooking up with strangers too frustrating to even bother with.
EA Sports has made some modifications to curtail some of the complaints -- Play Now settings can be adjusted to quickly find someone with a quit rate and overall ranking to your liking. If you do find "straight" players to lock horns with, a couple of new online features include quick tournaments and a Rushing Attack skills competition. Also, there's some bad news for "cheesers" -- players who don't technically cheat but really stretch it. Users can now assign individual defenders to specific receivers, which eliminates the opportunity for people to audible to offensive formations that leave Randy Moss lined up at fullback against a much slower linebacker.
HOW ARE THE TEAMS RANKED THIS YEAR?
Teams are rated on a scale from 1-100 in the following categories: Overall, Offense, Defense. Here are the best:
Overall: Patriots 99, Eagles 95, Colts 94, Panthers 93, Titans 92
Offense: Colts 98, Chiefs 96, Eagles 93, Packers 91, Seahawks 91
Defense: Panthers 99, Patriots 99, Cowboys 94, Bills 93, Ravens 90
And the worst:
Overall: Chargers 62, Browns 65, Cardinals 66, 49ers 66
Offense: Cowboys 66, Giants 67, Browns 69, Raiders 69, 49ers 69
Defense: Chargers 65, Cardinals 67, Browns 68
Can't argue with those ratings too much. Maybe a point here and there. Should the Pats be a 99 after winning their three postseason games by a total of 16 points? Doesn't conjure up memories of the 1985 Bears or the 1989 49ers to me, but hard to knock a team that's been in the winning locker room for 15 straight games.
Might wanna hold off on betting the Browns to win the Super Bowl. Third-worst defense and third-worst offense does not a successful season make.
Don't forget, too, that these team rankings will change during the season as player rosters are updated for online download. Last year, the Giants and Raiders were hot out of the box, at least in terms of Madden, but were later adjusted to represent the dogs they played like in the regular season.
Ray Lewis agrees to take on the Madden Curse and he only gets a 99? That's stingier than the Ravens defense.... AND THE PLAYERS?
Same deal. From 1-100, taking into account different categories for different players. Everyone gets a score for speed, acceleration and agility. And many categories are proprietary to position: throwing power and accuracy for quarterbacks, tackling for defenders, run and pass blocking of offensive linemen, etc.
Here are the very best in the game:
Champ Bailey, 99
Ray Lewis, 99
Jonathan Ogden, 99
Mike Vanderjagt, 99
LaVar Arrington, 98
Derrick Brooks, 98
Tony Gonzalez, 98
Marvin Harrison, 98
Priest Holmes, 98
Kris Jenkins, 98
Olin Kreutz, 98
Ty Law, 98
Randy Moss, 98
Orlando Pace, 98
Todd Sauerbrun, 98
Will Shields, 98
Michael Strahan, 98
Jason Taylor, 98
LaDainian Tomlinson, 98
Alan Faneca, 97
Rodney Harrison, 97
Jamal Lewis, 97
Peyton Manning, 97
Terrell Owens, 97
La'Roi Glover, 97
Julian Peterson, 97
Simeon Rice, 97
Darren Sharper, 97
Brian Urlacher, 97
The most glaring omission is Brett Favre. Not because he deserves higher than the 94 he received, but because this is a John Madden game and I'm still waiting for him to give his favorite player the first-ever 120 in a rating up to 100.
Looking at Tomlinson's rightful 98 rating, it's still hard to believe he didn't get voted to the Pro Bowl with an NFL-leading 2,011 yards from scrimmage last year. Hard to argue against the three that made it for the AFC -- Holmes, Lewis and Clinton Portis -- but c'mon. He might be the one player, besides Peyton Manning, that GMs would start a franchise with if given the choice to draft from scratch.
The Chiefs and Colts lead with three stars from that elite group of 97s and higher, all on offense, which reminds us of how amazing their playoff game was last year. Indy returns to Kansas City on Sunday, Oct. 31 for what could be another scoreboard-buster.
Jake Delhomme's gonna have a tougher time this season now that he's on the radar.Keep in mind, too, that these are overall ratings, and the attribute that's typically most important, at least in Madden, is speed. Redskins receiver Laveranues Coles is only 91 overall, but his Speed, Acceleration and Agility ratings are 99, 98 and 95, respectively. He'll torch people in this game. Dante Hall is third on the Chiefs' depth chart at receiver, a paltry 79 overall, but you'd be nuts to not get him the ball every time Priest Holmes and Tony Gonzalez don't touch it.
Emmitt Smith is a 79, one point higher than Seahawks back-up QB Trent Dilfer. If that's not a sign to retire I don't know what is.
Michael Vick is only a 92. Still a stellar number, but last year there was discussion that the Madden 2004 Vick might have surpassed "Tecmo Bo" Jackson as the greatest video game player ever. Put Bo in this game, though, and you'd have to give him a 175 and add a couple of buttons to the controller.
Jeremy Shockey is a 95, with all of four touchdowns in two years, while Browns rookie tight end and fellow University of Miami alum Kellen Winslow II debuts at 85.
Kurt Warner gets an 84. Eli Manning gets an 81. Even in the virtual world it's a tough choice.
Most overrated? Probably Warren Sapp and Mike Alstott, both at 93. Can't really see them better at their positions than Vick, ya know?
WHERE DO I GET ADVICE ON OFFENSE AND DEFENSE?
Hit online message boards. You're not the first to wonder how to beat the Cover 2 or how to put some heat on the quarterback. Every respectable gaming site has a forum filled with people seeking tips. You'll have to weed through some junk like, "practice and figure it out for yourself," but the Madden strategy discussion board at vgsportsinc.com exists specifically for players to share tips.
Fully disclosing that I'm only about a .500 player online, I like to put a man in motion on almost every play to detect man or zone defense, run up the middle, quick hit receivers along the sideline or an unguarded tight end two steps off the line -- especially if you have a guy like Tony Gonzalez who catches everything in traffic. If your opponent stays in man coverage, motion a receiver to one side, drawing a defender. Then run a toss to the vacated area. Stay away from play-action against guys who like to blitz from the corners -- you'll likely not have enough time -- and completely avoid the two plays that have never worked in the history of video game football: the end around and the fake field goal run.
As for defense, you just have to mix it up. Man-to-man, zone, pressure. It's always been easier to master offense than vice-versa, but maybe the new defensive playmaker controls will make a difference. It's too early to tell what the best players will come up with, though you can imagine some combo of zone and man will be successful.
Good luck scoring on the vaunted Pats defense.If you don't mind taking some lumps in order to get better, play a highly ranked opponent online and just watch what he does. Also, learn the strengths and weaknesses of the respective teams. If you blitz against Jonathan Ogden, you're basically taking a defender out of the play. Don't go vertical against Darren Sharper's side. And you'd be nuts to even try to run anywhere near Ray Lewis. It's as simple as this: the plays that work against one team might not work on another, but there are no scenarios in which you can't be successful. The top players don't all run the same teams or use the same playbooks. You'll find people who run a 3-4 like the 1986 Giants and others who can't cover the flats with it to save their lives.
IS RAY LEWIS HEADED FOR A BAD SEASON?
A lot has been made about the Madden Jinx, the propensity of Madden cover boys to suffer through injury-plagued seasons. From Eddie George to Daunte Culpepper to Marshall Faulk to Michael Vick, they've gone down one-by-one, year-by year. But that's the nature of both football and being so high there's only one way to go. Rich Gannon was horrible last year, a season after being named NFL MVP, yet he wasn't a Madden cover boy. Jamal Anderson, Terrell Davis and Chad Pennington are some others who've run fantasy football teams into the ground by following up spectacular seasons with disastrous ones. It's not just the Madden cover boys who take their licks.
I'M REALLY, REALLY, REALLY, REALLY, REALLY GOOD IN MADDEN. WHERE CAN I CASH IN?
Starting this weekend, in Minneapolis and Green Bay, EA Sports is hosting a four-month, 32-city Madden Challenge tournament that culminates December 11 in Las Vegas, with $50,000 going to the winner. Registration for the regional events is only $10, and you'll probably learn a thing or two just by watching. Just don't expect to find a lot of supermodels trolling for boyfriends.
CAN MADDEN OFFER ANY INSIGHTS INTO THE 2005 SEASON?
It doesn't hurt to ask, and so I simulated the entire 2005 season, letting the computer do the work, all the way through the Super Bowl, which had the defending-champion Patriots over the Buccaneers, 24-13.
Some notables from the simulated season:
New Redskins RB Clinton Portis was the NFL MVP, with 1,598 yards rushing and 12 TDs for Washington, which went 12-4 in the regular season.
The Eagles missed the playoffs, but the Giants -- they of the 70 overall rating -- went 10-6, earning a wild-card berth before getting slaughtered, 56-14, by the Bucs. Kurt Warner threw 16 TDs, while Eli Manning threw for just five. So you see where the computer stands on the debate.
The Raiders -- another of the worst-rated teams in the game -- advanced to the AFC championship game behind Kerry Collins' NFL-leading 34 regular-season touchdown passes. That has as much chance of happening as finding $1 million in cash in your refrigerator.
Paul Katcher is a freelance writer based in New York City. He welcomes questions, comments and web links to interesting sites and news items at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.