We had an opportunity to try out the latest version of Madden NFL 2005 on the Xbox at Electronic Arts' press event today. Prior to playing, we were treated to a brief presentation on the game by a pair of NFL stars--All Pro safety Roy Williams of the Dallas Cowboys and All Pro defensive end Michael Strahan of the New York Giants. The two NFC East rivals joshed with each other and regaled the crowd with anecdotes of NFL life with Madden. Strahan recalled an incident where teammate Ike Hilliard challenged a rookie to a game of Madden by pulling a game console out of his bag--right in the middle of practice. Williams noted that NFL stars and other celebrities often place pricey wagers on friendly games of Madden. During the presentation we also got a first glimpse at the cover design of the 15th-anniversary collector's edition of Madden NFL for the PlayStation 2, which was announced a few weeks earlier. The cover features a close-up, black-and-white shot of Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.
The developers at EA Tiburon have included a ton of other new features on the defensive side of the ball in Madden 2005. One of these is the defensive hot route. Select any player on defense, and you can reassign his role on the play. Tapping up on the D pad will put the player into a drop-back zone. Tapping to the near side will put the player into a flat zone, where he'll cover the nearest flat. Tapping the other side will allow the defender to spy the quarterback, while tapping down will initiate a blitz assignment. Since defensive hot routes can be applied to all 11 players, it's technically possible to create your own custom zone blitzes before the snap.
More complex instructions can be given to defensive backs in Madden 2005. Most football games allow you to bring your defensive backs closer to the line, but all of your corners and safeties have to come in, leaving you vulnerable to the deep ball. This year's edition will allow you to individually press receivers with your corners for bump and run, allowing greater flexibility and minimizing risk, because your safeties stay back. Additionally, you can assign specific cornerbacks to a "man lock," meaning that you can have your best cornerback always line up opposite the other team's best receiver. In the past, it was possible for, say, the Indianapolis Colts to have star wideout Marvin Harrison line up in the slot, putting him against your nickelback. Now, if you're the Raiders, you can assign shutdown corner Charles Woodson as a man lock on Harrison, ensuring you have the best possible chance on defense.
Rounding out the list of major changes on defense is the ability to alter the directional push of your defensive line without changing their position. Again, all football games allow you to slide your line left or right, spread them out, or cluster them tight. In Madden NFL 2005, you can still do all those things, or you can opt to have them keep their neutral position but rush in a specified pattern after the snap. They can pinch to stop inside runs, fan to protect the edges (or open the middle for inside blitzes), or push to either side.
Though EA has included a few tweaks on the offensive side of the ball this season, such as option routes for wide receivers, it's clear that much of the development focus has been placed on defense. Stay tuned to GameSpot for further information on Madden NFL 2005 as it becomes available.