Review by: Jonathan Hynes
Published: October 27, 2003
While the start of the NFL preseason is enough to make August a blissful month for any fan of the gridiron, video game enthusiasts have even more incentive to hop on the football bandwagon as August also brings us the next installment of Madden NFL. 2004 marks the fourteenth installment of this beloved series, and while there have been a couple of rather unimpressive outings, the franchise consistently delivers hit after hit. EA Sports hopes to continue this trend with their latest upgrade, which relies on the implementation of two very unique new additions.
The recently retooled franchise mode tops the list of features in Madden 2004, and this year’s edition is deeper and more intricate than ever. The first decision that you must make (other than which team to manage) is whether or not to enable the newly implemented owner’s mode, which allows for complete control of the game’s financial aspect. As the proprietor of an NFL franchise, your primary concern is attracting fans to the stadium and subsequently turning a profit. While putting a winning team on the field is the key to success, other factors need to be taken into account. You’ll need to manage the price of tickets, concessions, merchandise and parking, raising or lowering fees based upon the counsel of your advisors. In addition, stadiums can be renovated or even rebuilt to better accommodate fans, while more dire situations can even prompt relocation.
Whereas assuming the position of owner carries the burden of fiscal responsibility, it’s also imperative that you put a successful product on the field. This is when you must take on the roles of coach and general manager; injuries (providing that they are enabled) and poor on-field performance need to be dealt with swiftly. Free agents can always be signed to provide additional depth, though that means releasing other players, not to mention the worry of that pesky salary cap. Sometimes you’ll even have to give up a star player to acquire that missing piece of your running or passing game. I say this because you can’t cheat the AI as you can with many other sports titles; each player is assigned a value based upon his attributes, while draft picks are ranked by round. If the player(s) that you want have a greater value than the ones you’re willing to give up, then the trade will be rejected.
While the franchise mode covers the business side of the sport in great detail, the other game types prove to be much more accessible to the average fan. The quick play option is great for those simply looking for a game of pickup football, while the tournament is geared towards those who want in for the long haul, but have interest in the corporate or managerial process. Other modes include the frantic two-minute drill, the skill-building mini-camp and even “Football 101,” which gives rookies a better grasp on the intricacies of the sport.