Once again, EA Sports' MADDEN 2005 sold millions of copies before many gamers even had the chance to read a review. But it doesn't really matter, as MADDEN 2005 is just as solid as many of the other entries in the series and will likely hold off ESPN FOOTBALL once again with some great additions to defense, a new storyline feature, and a couple offensive tweaks.
The defense is the key in this year's edition of the game and there are tons of changes. The first thing is the hit stick, which allows you to use the right stick to determine what kind of hit you put on someone. Useful for causing more fumbles, it can also cause you to miss badly and get out of position, allowing the ball carrier to make a big play. This isn't hard to get used to, but it's best in moderation. There is also the edition of re-assigning coverage to a player once the offense comes out. It's sort of the equivalent of a hot route for the defense, and it works really well in multiplayer games.
All in all, the defensive changes make it easier to play defense against the computer and add a lot more strategy to that element of the game when you're playing against a human. The offensive side of the ball has picked up a couple new tricks as well.
First of all there is the ability to move your formations around to create some mis-matches or put blockers where they need to be. This is my meat and potatoes as I'm all about setting up my offense, moving my players around and then going for a big play on a big mismatch. When your opponent begins to key on how you move players, you then go the other way with a play. It works beautifully to make the offensive game that much more difficult to predict.
All that said, the AI is better this year, but I can't say it's a challenge. I still blow through teams, even when I'm not using Michael Vick or Donovan McNabb to scramble around the pocket. Using Ken Dorsey (backup 49ers QB) and the West Coast offense and timing the receivers perfectly allows you to move the ball down the field at will. With the defense getting more of advantage, you can exploit this and make it even harder for the AI to beat you on the higher difficulty levels. All in all I think this game might be a bit easier.
The addition of online play is also a huge benefit for Xbox owners and the new online league system is the icing on the cake. You can find people who want to play the game to completion and there are some serious Madden players in the world that will give you much more of a challenge than the computer. Yet another reason to get online with your console is right here.
The graphics and sound are one area where MADDEN definitely doesn't measure up to ESPN. ESPN is much prettier and the sound is better as well. This isn't make or break though, as both games look and sound good enough.
The key in the end is which style of gameplay appeals to you more. In an ideal world, you could buy both. Otherwise, it depends on your preference and how important lots of franchise features are. ESPN and MADDEN are very close this year in terms of comparability.
MADDEN is fantastic, and worth checking out though, even if you have already bought ESPN. The defensive improvements and online leagues are a huge step in the right direction. Check it out.