In terms of sales, the Madden NFL franchise has ruled the console roost seemingly since time immemorial. A lot of gamers may have forgotten that the PC version of the popular football series is still alive and kicking. We recently had a chance to take a spin with the latest in the series, Madden 2005. While the PC version is very reminiscent of its console brethren, it actually has an entirely separate set of strengths and weaknesses.
First off, the good news. Fans of the PS2, Xbox, and GameCube versions of Madden 2005 will be pleased to know that the same solid gameplay and football smarts reside in the PC version of the game. Players react well on the field, and we actually liked the default tempo of the PC game more than the tempo in the console versions. The game moves at a comfortable enough pace to find open receivers when passing or an open hole in the defensive line when running, but not so slow as to appear sluggish. It may take experienced console Madden fans some time to readjust to the slower pace, but, in the end, it seems a bit more realistic.
The same defensive improvements found in the console versions appear here, including the hit stick option. Players using a PC gamepad can use the right thumbstick to lay devastating hits on opponents with the ball, in the hopes of jarring the pigskin loose. Madden gamers using only a keyboard to play the game (all three of you) should know there is no keyboard equivalent to the hit stick. (Note to EA Sports: Include "hit semicolon key" next year.)
Another improvement in the PC version can be found in the roster management screens, which are well organized and intuitive, with tons of statistical breakdowns on all players. This lets you easily access the information you need to make vital roster decisions. Of course, the PC traditionally has an advantage in this area anyway--rather than scrolling through screen after screen looking for the stat you need as you would on a console, a simple mouse click is all you'll need in the PC version.
Madden 2005 PC also offers you a more detailed breakdown of your weekly regular-season opponent. The advice is still fairly generic in tone, but a few strategic gems can still be found if you pay close attention. However, you'll need a good computer to make the most of the details--one midrange test machine with 1GB of RAM (but unimpressive onboard video) we tried the game on just couldn't handle the game at the highest settings.
Lacking a network partnership like Sega's deal with ESPN, EA Sports has done its best to improve on the series' presentation. Of particular note this year is the inclusion of the PDA, which lets you can check e-mail from your coaches, players, and their agents, among others, in the game's single-player "storyline central" mode. Expect to find more than one player whining about riding the bench each week. Other storyline central features, such as national and local newspaper coverage and the radio show featuring Tony Bruno, also make an appearance in the PC version of Madden, but with no discernable additional content. John Madden and his Monday Night Football partner, Al Michaels, return for another year in the booth and, while their play-calling is a bit lackluster in tone (especially on Michaels' part), the accuracy of their commentary is usually dead-on.
Madden 2005 for the PC is shaping up to be another worthy installment in the franchise. It harnesses some of the inherent advantages of the PC environment and, more importantly, plays a solid brand of football. Look for our full review of Madden 2005 for the PC next week.