Are you ready for some football? With the NFL regular season currently underway, there’s no better time than now to fire up the latest instalment in EA Sports’ long-running football franchise, Madden NFL 2002. If you’re a regular reader here at Game Over, you may recall my analysis of last year’s edition, Madden NFL 2001, as summarized in this quote:
“Madden NFL 2001 is a lot like Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Shawn King; not a spectacular starter, but more than capable of handling the ball when called upon.”
A lot can happen in a year’s time. Shawn King is no longer the starting quarterback for the Bucs, replaced by veteran QB Brad Johnson, and Madden NFL 2002 is no longer an authentic football experience.
Madden NFL 2002 sports the usual game modes that we’ve become accustomed to: Practice, Exhibition, Season, Franchise and Great Games. The Franchise mode continues to be the bread and butter of the package, offering aspiring gridiron GMs the opportunity to guide their favourite club over the span of a career. Options such as college drafts, salary cap, trades, free agency and career stats help make the experience all the more genuine. With NFL and NFLPA licenses, all 31 teams and their respective players are well represented, as are the soon-to-be expansion Houston Texans. Madden NFL 2002 even includes all clubs from NFL Europe, for those who follow the league. Last but not least, the multiplayer component has been tweaked to help eliminate some of the lag players were experiencing last season. As usual, you can compete in a single game or use the franchise mode to create an online league.
Ok, let’s cut right to the chase. Visually, Madden NFL 2002 is easily the best in the series to date. Described as the graphical equivalent of Madden NFL 2001 for the PlayStation 2, Madden NFL 2002 certainly doesn’t disappoint in the production department. A variety of camera angles are at your disposal, creating an impressive TV-like presentation. Each player has been carefully crafted so you’ll have no problem recognizing your favourite players not only by their body type, but also in their facial features and mannerisms. Player animation is top notch. The way backs cut, wide outs juke and quarterbacks drop back in the pocket to pass is right on the money. Plays, such as deep passes, are much more precise, so you won’t see receivers catching balls with their knees anymore. One of the few remaining glitches in the physics model is shoddy collision detection, as you’ll occasionally see defenders make phantom tackles.
Some of the other highlights of the visual department include real-time lighting effects. Player’s helmets reflect light and as you make your way to the later quarters of a game, shadows will cross the field as the sun begins to set. Weather effects continue to be strong, as you’ll actually see footprints on the field when it’s covered in snow or mud. Everything from sideline players to fans in the stands has been upgraded, but it does come at a price. Unless you’re running a monster machine, you’ll likely experience slowdowns at inopportune times. If you’re one of the lucky ones that can crank up your resolution without problem, you’ll be privy to a visual experience like never before in a football game on the PC.
As solid as the visuals are, the audio department continues to be a weak link in the Madden series. The commentary work by the tandem of Pat Summerall and John Madden is uninspiring. Besides their tendency to repeat comments and state the obvious, neither of the two men say a word when it really counts. Touchdowns go unnoticed and you’ll have to wait for the referee to make the call before knowing whether you managed to regain possession on a fumble. Did these guys spend any time in the recording studio this year? As for the sound of the game, you’ll hear the usual assortment of generic yet appropriate effects as well as a new assortment of sound tracks.
Enough about the cosmetics, though, what about the gameplay? Well, I’m afraid Madden NFL 2002 doesn’t fair too well this year. The running game remains sound but the passing game is absolutely abysmal. Hitting receivers and tight ends for 20+ yard receptions is far too simple a task. The secondary pays absolutely no attention to the ball once receivers get 20 yards down the field, so you’ll be able to rack up 400+ yard passing games with even the worst of quarterbacks. The only element keeping you from racking up even more yardage is the fact that receivers often drop passes they have no business dropping.
One way to compensate for the terrible secondary is by adjusting the sliders. Of course, by moving one or two sliders, you’re often substituting one ailment for another. You can also help the passing situation by increasing the game’s difficulty level to All-Pro or Madden. At this point though, establishing a running game is a near impossible task as defensive linemen suddenly attack the line like there’s no tomorrow. You’ll be lucky to get out of the backfield with your ball carrier, but at least you won’t be able to complete as many long bombs. Sound reasonable? Yeah, I didn’t think so either.
There are other gameplay issues to speak of as well. The computer has questionable play calling skills when it comes down to the wire. They won’t run out the clock when they’ve got a lead, yet they’ll call running plays when they’re down and need to move up the field quickly. As well, receivers don’t seem to adjust their pass patterns well when they get near the sidelines, making catches out of bounds when they could have stopped short of the line. Little things like this really detract from the experience as a whole. Multiplayer, while much more stable this year, is plagued by the same gameplay inconsistencies that are found in solo play.
In short, PC owners aren’t getting a copy of Madden NFL 2002, they’re getting a copy of Madden NFL 2001 for the PlayStation 2, ported to the PC with a simple roster upgrade. The same gameplay issues that plagued last year’s PlayStation 2 version remain untouched. EA Sports has clearly turned their sights to next-generation consoles when it comes to their football franchise, leaving the PC version to be gang-tackled by flaws and inconsistencies that mar an otherwise beautiful looking football game. If you’re looking for an authentic football experience, Madden NFL 2002 for the PC is sure to disappoint. Considering the lack of competition on the PC, this is going to be a rather forgettable football season.