Life, if we're being facetious, contains certain inalienable truths, most of which are equatable to sport. You always get taxed. You die. You begin to smell in your "special place" if you don't give yourself a good scrub down in the shower after hockey practice. And Madden games are always good. Always. They should be: if EA spent its Madden budget on soap for the locker room, the entire solar system would be a maze of suds. Madden, like sport in general, is very serious fun indeed.
As with past incarnations, Madden 2005 takes "pick up and play" to an obscene level, allowing novice "sports fans" easy entry (and we're not talking about soap in the showers now) into what is ostensibly a baffling sport. If you keep pressing A, you find yourself playing a game as the Chicago Bears in one of the most professionally presented spectacles in games. You're making plays, hustling quarterbacks and quite possibly scoring touchdowns within minutes of turning Madden on. Considering you're unlikely to understand anything but the bare rudiments of American football, that's a feat indeed. And you can leave the "wide receiver" gags at the door, bucko. The frat house comedy stops right there.
Updating the roster
Everything you can possibly imagine being in an American football game exists in Madden 2005. Everything. Every player, every team: everything. The Franchise mode is enormous, allowing you to build your team via a likeable PDA interface. FIFA aficionados will be right at home in here, and in the game in general. Essentially, Madden is FIFA with American football in it, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the Franchise mode. Obviously, there's Tournament play (as with any sports games, it's essentially all about multiplayer), and the parallels between the ubiquitous soccer title and America's finest are blatant and, frankly, welcome. "Slick" doesn't really begin to describe the overall experience.
In-game, Madden subscribes solidly to the EA mantra that player reward is key to player enjoyment. American football can be complex at the best of times, but the core ideas (get the ball 10 yards with passes and rushes, kick field goals, make fat men chew astroturf) are presented in beautiful simplicity. Madden's real success is the sheer depth of its play, allowing experienced users sublime freedom with its combination of Hot Routes rushes and Playmaker passing and showboating, all wrapped up with the now familiar method of selecting formations followed by set plays.
Madden never stops giving. It makes you feel brilliant about making the right choices with some highly refined commentary. "Everything had to work on that one: and everything did," bleats John. "That was a heck of a throw." If you're being inept (usually through the fact that you really don't have much of an idea why taking a field goal three yards away from your only end zone is a bad idea) the commentary will politely ask what in Sam hell's name the coach was thinking to try a play like that, and that he must really trust his defence to go for so outlandish a move. The words "trust" and "coach" instantly comfort. The player is constantly made to feel good about the situation even when acting like the NFL equivalent of Paula Radcliffe's training mentor. It's a joy to play, even for a beginner.
But it's still American football. And if you don't like American football - like the rest of a large part of the European population - Madden's fairly pointless, really. The stop-start play may well bore many, and defending is nowhere near as much fun as attacking. Obviously. And actual online play is replaced with Live leagues. For shame.
They're small gripes, but valid ones. But you should see past them, because ultimately, Madden is a sensational game in the literal sense, delivering unparalleled replayability for those with open minds. Americans do sport well, and this is the multi-million dollar spawn of that absolute truism. Don't care about American football? Your loss. Madden 2005 is worth every cent of admission.
8 / 10