EA Sports demonstrated the latest build of its newest NFL football game, Madden 2005 from the show floor at E3. The biggest gameplay changes to the series will happen on the defensive side of the ball. One of these changes is the addition of the hit stick. Instead of just running into a player to bring him down, Madden 2005 will give you the opportunity to lay a hard hit on the ball carrier if you tap the right analog stick as you make contact. Functionally, it's much like attempting a power tackle, except that a successful hit-stick tackle will result in an even greater variety of tackle animations. Tackles made with the hit stick also have a better chance to cause a fumble or force a receiver to drop a pass. You'll need to be careful about attempting hit-stick maneuvers too often, because mistimed attempts will result in broken tackles, so the ball carrier will most likely gain additional yardage. In our brief playtime on the PlayStation 2 version of the game, we noticed that getting the proper timing on hit-stick tackles was a little bit tricky, but EA representatives noted that these issues are still being ironed out.
Another significant change to defense will be the ability to change the defensive assignments of individual players. Instead of just having a few audibles at your hands, you can now order specific linebackers, linemen, or defensive backs to blitz, stunt, or drop back into zone coverage. This new feature promises to give even greater flexibility for you to react to the offense if they line up in an unexpected formation. You'll even have the ability to call press coverage or a double team on specific receivers as they line up, which can help neutralize the offense when they put a receiver in motion.
The developers at Tiburon have put in a great deal of effort in upgrading the visuals in Madden 2005. Player models have been rebuilt, and you'll notice new details, such as wrinkles in jerseys, as well as new light and reflection mapping on helmets. Under the glare of the domed stadium in Indianapolis, we easily noticed individual lights reflected on the helmets of players during the game intro sequences. More detail has also been put into texture mapping, with the outline of pads more starkly visible underneath tight uniforms. There's also been some work done on animation, as shoulder pads have been separated from arms on the models to give the players a less robotic look in their motions. Dynamic skies have also been added to the game, with a real day/night cycle. Games that start at dusk, for example, will have shadows stretching as the sun sets. As the game wears on into the second half, the stadium lights will come on, and the moon will even rise into the night sky.
On the franchise side of things, EA is also planning some upgrades. The most significant change here is the addition of "storyline central." As in real life, off-the-field issues and the morale of specific players can play a role in how your team performs. Using the news stories printed in storyline central, you can read from a number of different national and regional newspapers, like the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the San Francisco Chronicle, to learn about your star wide receiver who is unhappy with his contract. You might even hear about your offensive tackle who is out five weeks with a groin strain. From there, you can easily access a convenient menu to take action, so renegotiating that contract with your pass catcher is just a button press away. Or you can press another button to put your gimpy lineman on injured reserve, and you can press yet another button to sign a free agent tackle to bolster your depleted offensive line. Aside from newspapers, you'll also receive e-mail from internal team staff, such as your trainer, when an injured player is ready to come back, or your marketing director may whine if you trade away a popular player.
Madden 2005 will also integrate an EA Sports Radio feature, hosted by national sports talk radio host Tony Bruno. EA is promising that Tony can talk about almost 20,000 different stories--since there are 35 hours' worth of recordings--to ensure that his schtick doesn't get old. Tony will even "take calls" from actual coaches and players who comment on these various stories--to add even greater depth and realism to the feature.
Rounding out the list of major new additions to the game is the create-a-fan feature. Now, instead of staring at the same old, generic-looking fans over and over again in the cutscenes, you will be able to customize them. We actually took a scary Raider fan from the infamous Black Hole--complete with spiked helmet, face paint, shield in hand, and spiky shoulder pads--and turned him into a preppy corporate shill who waved a hot dog around while decked in a clean Raider polo shirt, khaki pants, and a close, cropped haircut.
As they say in the NFL, defense wins championships, and from what we've seen at E3, it appears that the developers at EA Sports have taken that to heart with the Madden series. You'll have more control than ever before on the defensive side of the ball, thanks to the hit stick and the new on-the-fly defensive assignments. Upgrades to both the franchise mode and the game's presentation round out Madden 2005's myriad new features. Best of all for Xbox owners, Madden 2005 will finally be playable over Xbox Live for two players. The PlayStation 2, of course, retains its online functionality, leaving the GameCube as the only platform without online play. Madden 2005 is also in development on the PC and is expected to ship this August.