For younger readers, it might seem absurd, but there was a time when Madden wasn’t the end-all, be-all in NFL video games. Yes, somewhere between Tecmo and Madden 18, fans of the NFL had a choice when it came to football video games. However, in 2004, EA Sports acquired the rights to the NFL and the NFLPA, effectively creating a monopoly over NFL video games. ESPN NFL 2k5 was the last non-Madden NFL game to be made, yet 13 years later, it remains one of the best of all-time. What could EA Sports learn from this classic game?
What Madden Could Learn From ESPN NFL 2k5
Before getting into what Madden could learn from a 13 year old video game, you have to break down what’s wrong with the current product. After all, Madden is still one of the most successful video game franchises of all-time. Ever year, they sell millions and millions of copies. Can it really be so bad?
The easy answer is no. The Madden games are consistently solid. IGN almost always grades Madden games around eight or nine out of ten, and the presentation gets slightly better every year. Madden doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it puts out consistently adequate games every year. However, the truth is a little more complicated.
There’s no denying that EA has gotten complacent. They make the smallest of changes, advertise it like they invented the forward pass. One particular sin the series commits is that it takes a feature or game mode away, only to bring it back a couple of years later, sometimes with a new name.
As far as graphics are concerned, it does seem like every year is slightly prettier than the last. Subtle changes like accurate tattoos, facial hairs, and even facial features have been added to the game over the last few years. However, when it comes down to it, Madden releases nothing more than a shiny, $60 roster update ever year, and millions of people buy it.
So assuming they decided to stop robbing the NFL-loving universe, what could they add? What could they improve? Most importantly, what could they learn from ESPN’s NFL 2k5?
What NFL 2k5 Did Well
On paper, 2k5 doesn’t hold a candle to the most recent Madden games. In 2004, they didn’t have the technology that they have now. In the most recent Madden game, Odell Beckham Jr. can make an incredible one handed touchdown catch in the back of the end-zone, and when you watch the replay, he’s making an excited face. Back in 2k5, sometimes the players would catch the ball without it being anywhere near their hands.
However, while Madden has all the sizzle in the world, 2k5 was a juicy steak. Something about the players controlled was so seamless and easy. The timing was perfect, and even though the juking and trucking mechanics weren’t as dynamic, they were more realistic. Holding A just in time to bowl over a linebacker or defensive back felt rewarding and authentic. Even though Madden made great strides, 2k’s passing was ahead of the game too. It all felt properly weighted and it never got old.
But that’s not what Madden needs to learn from NFL 2k5. The gameplay in the new Madden is comparable, if not a little better than ESPN’s game from 13 years ago. However, that’s where the supremacy stops. Because off the field? NFL 2k5 was in a league of it’s own.
Return To Humanity.
At some point, the good people at EA Sports decided they wanted to do away with the cozy, fun feeling of personalized start screens, making the game cold and inhuman. It used to be that you picked your favorite team, and in the background of the start menu, you would see your favorite players or highlights. Now, when you boot up a Madden game, you feel like you’re about to enter a war room.
2k5 felt fun and welcoming every time you turned it on for multiple reasons. The first was that you could add your own music. Yes, instead of hearing the same generic rap song eight thousand times, you could create a playlist of your favorite songs.
But it goes beyond music. Instead of the same, cringe-inducing commentary, you got a real field vibe. The crowd was louder than the commentary, but not distractingly so. You never felt like you were hearing the same god awful story about Charles Davis and his stupid high school coach. Throw in sideline reports from Suzy Kolber, and a half-time show with Chris Berman that nobody ever skipped, and the game was incredibly immersive.
Lesson: Stop taking yourself so seriously.
Congratulations, You Played Yourself
Another really cool thing NFL 2k5 did was create the V.I.P. System. What the V.I.P. System did was keep track or your, or even your friend’s strategy and memorize it so you could play them later. And surprisingly? It worked pretty well. In Madden 17, I have to play with a bad team to get a challenge out of an All-Madden CPU, but if I could play myself? I could play for hours and hours and hours. It’s a little sad that Madden doesn’t have anything like this.
Lesson: Research 13 year old technology.
In modern Madden games, you pretty much have nothing outside of football. They’re adding a “story mode” this year, but it’s hard to imagine that has a ton of replayability. Back in NFL 2k5, however, they seemed to have the right idea with their “My Crib” feature.
In 2k5, there was a game mode called “My Crib”, where you basically get to customize a house. That’s right, by accomplishing certain goals, you would unluck trophies and things to put around your house. You could have entire rooms dedicated to your favorite teams and players.
That might sound lame on the surface, but you know what it did that Madden can’t? It made you want to keep playing. It made you want to try new things. Why would I ever play as the Cardinals? Well maybe I want to unlock the Arizona bobblehead. Maybe there’s an achievement for scoring a touchdown with every team.
Lesson: Reward your players.
Give Up The Monopoly
If the good folks at EA Sports decide they don’t like money, and they just want to make a great NFL video game, then the best thing they could do is give up the monopoly on making NFL game. Competition breeds improvement, and EA’s complacency is just disrespectful. Will this actually happen? No way. Should it? I think I remember learning somewhere that monopolies are illegal. Did I imagine that?
Lesson: Money can’t buy happiness, but it can make consistently mediocre football games.
What do you think? Is nostalgia blinding me? Are Madden games better than I think they are? Let me know in the comment section below, and if you have an Xbox One and want to get smashed on the newest mediocre Madden game, my tag is ChasingSelena. Come catch these hands.