Like a kickoff return to the 1 yard line.

PlayStation 2
Released in 2002 by EA Sports
Rating: 4 out of 5

This is as close to a 5 as a game will get while still being a 4. It’s another round of solid video football with an excellent control scheme and even better strategic mechanics than its predecessor, but it still slips up in a couple key areas.

Where it falls in the series

It’s the third on PS2/Xbox. It’s got several improvements over Madden 2002, but some definite flaws that were fixed in 2004 and 2005. The PS2/Xbox versions lasted till Madden 11, but EA’s attention was on the next generation by 07. My recommendation for a Madden game on PS2 is easily 2005.

Praises

The basic recipe of the gameplay established in 2002 is back again. The players move quickly and with strong football logic. Plays develop like real football plays. Quarterbacking is a dynamic challenge in reading the defense, moving in the pocket, and making the right pass at the right time. Rushing plays are powered by offensive linemen trying to make a good path for you and defenders aggressively chasing you down. Defense is instinctive and fun to play.

Some collisions may not look great, but the game is fair. For example, if you run into a crowd of defenders, you’ll be tackled at about the right spot, but it just might not look perfect.

It’s also fair because there’s a balance between offense and defense, and between passing and rushing. It might not be a football simulation, but it’s a well balanced video game for sure. You rarely feel like you got away with cheating or that the opponent cheated you.

The menus, gameplay options, and strategic adjustments are on point, a distinct improvement over 2002. You can now view your playcall at the line of scrimmage and make adjustments more easily. Slants are now available as a hot route to call before the snap. Defensive adjustments are more robust.

Gripes

Passes bounce off players unrealistically. I think EA wanted a realistic ratio of complete and incomplete passes, but they didn’t have animations for all the ways that passes are not caught. There are many dropped passes, a clumsy compensation for the fact that it’s fairly easy to find receivers wide open.

Controlling the quarterback feels looser than in other Maddens. It’s easier to get out of the pocket and throw on the run, but it’s harder to stay in a good throwing stance in tighter spaces.

The running control still feels too stiff — cuts and turns aren’t sharp. Luckily, you’ve got buttons for jukes and spins. The running stiffness is more of a problem on defense than offense.

The graphics are smoothed out compared to 2002, but still kinda choppy and robotic looking.

Top Teams

This came after the Patriots’ first Super Bowl win, an upset over the Rams. The Pats aren’t even one of the top rated teams in Madden 2003 — it’s the Rams, Bucs, Raiders, Jets, Steelers, and Eagles. In 2003, the Bucs whooped the Raiders for their first Super Bowl title.

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