Thunderbolt logo

Madden NFL 2002

Madden

The John Madden NFL franchise has come a long way in a relatively short time. The first iteration of the much-loved pigskin series hit the Sega Genesis in 1990 with a paltry 16 teams, no NFL or players license and three very basic modes of play (Season, Playoff and Sudden Death). Yet, despite the severe lack of features, its gameplay was light years ahead of anything that had come before it. The series promptly became a best-seller and was followed by 11 consecutive yearly updates, leading us to the current game in the series – Madden NFL 2002.

Having come a long way since its early genesis days, this year’s iteration of Madden features a comprehensive Franchise mode, Two Minute Drill minigame, the likeness’ of real NFL coaches, collectable Madden Cards and all NFL teams (including plenty of throwback and All-Madden clubs) with up-to-date rosters. As is expected from Madden, there is easily enough here to keep pigskin fans busy until next year’s update. Especially addicting is the collecting of Madden Cards. As you play games and achieve various goals, such as rushing for over 100 yards, intercepting three passes, kicking a 50+ yard field goal, etc, you earn points which can be used to purchase cards. Once acquired, Madden Cards will unlock teams, players, stadiums, cheats and other goodies that enhance the gameplay experience. In a smart move by EA, the higher the difficulty level, the more points you earn, so trying to beat up the computer on the Rookie level is not a viable way to go about unlocking cards.

Tiburon, Electronic Arts’ in-house developer that handles the next generation versions of the Madden franchise, delivers the best-playing football simulations on the market. The momentum-based player movement, exquisite AI, difficulty sliders, spot-on play selection and oodles of details will floor even the most died-in-the-wool gridiron fan. Even while scrutinizing instant replays, you’ll be surprised to see both the offensive and defensive lines battle for position, receivers leap for mistimed passes and running backs dance through the holes with perfect realism. The gameplay of titles like Microsoft’s NFL Fever 2002 and Sega’s NFL 2K2 is solid, but much more arcade oriented – Madden just feels more like a game of real football.

One of the coolest gameplay features of Madden NFL 2002 is the ability to challenge plays. Just like in real life, if you see a questionable play you can choose to toss out the red flag and force the referees to have a look. One time I was playing with my buddy and broke free for a 20-yard touchdown run. At about the ten-yard line he had tried to tackle me, but I danced to the side and reached the endzone untouched. The only problem was, I had clearly stepped out of bounds during my juke move. My friend promptly paused the game, chose ‘Challenge a play’ and kicked back with a smug grin on his face. Sure enough, the head zebra stuck his head underneath the hood of the replay monitor, watched the play, then came out and called my running back out of bounds at the ten-yard line. Though I was denied a score, I was thrilled to see the game handle the issue of instant replay so realistically (and I ended up scoring on the next play anyway…heh, heh).

The only flaw I can find with the gameplay of this year’s Madden involves the passing game. It just seems a bit too easy to completely abandon running the ball and win games on the arm of your quarterback alone. Though toned down from Madden NFL 2001 on the PlayStation 2, receivers still have a tendency to make crazy one-handed grabs for big yardage gains. It would be more tolerable if the defensive backs played with more awareness, but they often let themselves get burned, even when the ‘interceptions’ and ‘defensive awareness’ difficulty sliders are cranked up via the options menu. In the game’s defense, the only reason this flaw is so noticeable is because the rest of the gameplay is so incredibly polished. Fiddling with the sliders can lessen the issue, but games always seem to get too pass-heavy no matter how much you try to correct it.

Graphically, this is the best looking Madden yet. Players animate fluidly, helmets feature real time reflections and stadiums look damn near identical to their real life counterparts. Other details like grass fields getting torn up over the course of a game and realistic weather effects help strengthen the title’s visual presentation. Exclusive to the Xbox version of the game are helmets that get scuffed up during the course of a match. Though not much, but it’s nice to see something additional added to the Xbox iteration.

The textures are much crisper here than on the PS2 or GameCube, but they aren’t nearly as detailed as in NFL Fever. Though the character models are all excellent, the actual faces of the players are totally unrealistic. The only way you’ll be able to recognize your favorite players is by looking at their jersey number and position on the field. Hopefully EA will learn from Sega’s attention to detail (in their 2K football series) and add better faces and individual hairstyles, like Ricky Williams and Edgerrin James’ dreadlocks.

Madden NFL 2002’s weakest area is undoubtedly its audio. Sure, all the crunches, grunts, player chatter and other field sound effects are well done and accurate, but the commentary by John Madden and Pat Summerall is just plain lackluster. Where’s the excitement? Where’s the passion? It sounds like these two are just going through the motions when calling a game and really detracts from the overall game experience. Another sticking point with the aural presentation is the crowd – it’s just not dynamic enough. In real life, when a player breaks free and looks like he’s off for a huge gain, the crowd goes insane. But, in Madden they don’t cheer loudly until you cross the endzone line and actually score a touchdown. Here’s to hoping EA raises the audio quality in next year’s release to the same high level that permeates all other aspects of the game.

Another year, another iteration of John Madden NFL Football. Personally, I believe this to be a good thing. Electronic Arts’ gridiron franchise has proved itself to be cream of the crop, even if some slightly lifeless commentary is dragging this version down. The fabulous gameplay, uber-deep franchise mode, myriad of options and overall polish and attention to detail make this a no-brainer for all fans of NFL football. Is it better than NFL 2K2 or NFL Fever 2002? Well, that’s debatable…all you really need to know is that it is one of the best pigskin titles around and will certainly not disappoint.

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in May 2003. Get in touch on Twitter @Joshua_Luke.

Gentle persuasion

Think you can do better? Write for us.