Electronic Arts was kind enough to send us the most recent versions of Madden NFL 2005, and we also got our hands on an early copy of the 15th anniversary collector's edition of the new Madden for the first time. We didn't waste any time taking our two Xbox copies onto Xbox Live so that we could try the games out. EA Sports' first foray onto Xbox Live with NCAA Football 2005 was a rocky one, but our play-testing with Madden revealed no issues at all with lag or disconnection (which were two problems that plagued the recently released NCAA Football 2005). Granted, two editors in the same room hopping onto completely empty servers via the same fast connection doesn't necessarily prove much, but the fact that our test game proceeded without incident is heartening nonetheless.
It's a well-known fact that EA Tiburon has been striving to increase the defensive nature of Madden 2005 by giving the D more ability to adjust--before the snap--and by improving its artificial intelligence. If our test game on Xbox Live was any indication, then EA Tiburon may have succeeded in its goal. The final score was 7-0, with the Green Bay Packers narrowly edging out the New England Patriots. All told, there were about 200 yards of total offense between the two teams for the entire game. Defensive backs in zones seem to be very adept at reading quarterbacks and at getting great jumps on balls so that they can swat them away just before they reach their intended receivers' hands. Both defensive front-sevens in our test game were also able to put tremendous pressure on the opposite team's quarterback, thus preventing him from establishing any sort of a passing-game rhythm.
After the game, we were also able to examine each other's tracked "career" in the online lobby. Every play you call online is tracked, so other players can scout you to discover your tendencies. You'll be able to see a wide array of stats on any opponent, such as preferred offensive and defensive formations, propensity to audible or blitz, run-pass ratios, and more.
We also tried out the new minigames included in Madden NFL 2005. One of these is called the two-minute drill. As the name suggests, you're given two minutes with your offense to attempt to score as many touchdowns and field goals as possible. You can earn points not only by getting in the end zone but also by gaining yards through the air or on the ground. Bonus points are available for big gainers.
The other new minigame included this year is called "rushing attack." This mode pits a quarterback, a halfback, and a fullback up against a pair of linebackers and a defensive back. Other obstacles, in the form of columns, move about after the snap to simulate the action between the offensive and defensive lines. Playing on offense, you'll have 60 seconds to execute a series of quick-hitting running plays to try to score as many touchdowns as possible. (You can gain bonus points for breaking tackles as well.) Once that's done, you'll switch over to defense, and the computer or human opponent will take over on offense. Your job will be to keep the offense from scoring, of course, but you can also gain bonus points for user tackles, forced fumbles, and "hit-stick" tackles. Rushing attack provides a great way to both learn how to use the new "hit-stick" feature and practice using blockers while playing as the ball carrier.
Finally, we were able to try out some of the Madden games of yesteryear on the 15th anniversary collector's edition of the game. There are three games in total, and they're labeled "Madden Classic," "Madden Vintage," and "Madden Retro." The former appears to be from the early 16-bit console era, while the latter two appear to be from the PlayStation era. These aren't just lazy emulations of old Madden games, because each includes fully up-to-date rosters and all of today's teams, such as the Houston Texans, who didn't even exist at the time these games were created.
EA has just announced that Madden NFL 2005 has gone gold today, and from what we've played, this year's competition between Madden and ESPN should be as heated as ever. Stay tuned to GameSpot for more updates on Madden as it heads for its release on August 10.