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Madden NFL 2004

It's amazing that Madden NFL is in its 14th year of release!! The graphics and gameplay are almost photo-realistic at this point, and you can control EVERYTHING.

First, of course, the graphics. We play this on a 36" TV and even on the big screen the graphics are incredibly sharp. The characters are realistic down to their hair styles and tattoos. The fields each have their own configurations - including the baseball diamonds on some. The lighting, player moves, reflections and more are incredible. You easily get the sense that you're playing a real game and controlling it.

The gameplay builds each year on what came before. So you can create your own team, go through the draft, play it through a season, and get the full satisfaction of getting through the superbowl (if you're good enough). You get to make decisions everywhere from the owner level down through the manager and actual player level.

If you're not into that level of detail, there are of course many ways to just "play". There are training levels to get you learning the basics. There are many training camp features that feature great graphic/gameplay combinations to really help you learn about blocking, throwing and more. Once you understand the game mechanics and keys, you can jump into a wide variety of games under all sorts of conditions to see how well you'd do.

Like any strategy game, this is NOT a game just to pick up and expect to do well in after 5 minutes. If you're looking for an "easy arcade" kind of game, you might do better elsewhere. The strength of this release is with its details. Once you get into the great complexity of really handling a team, you learn real life lessons that help you understand how actual football teams are managed and developed. You can almost consider this game a training system for people who really want to enter the NFL and work there. You learn a great deal about how plays are designed, how managers coordinate the team's efforts and how owners work to make the team the best it can be.

I found the 'background comments' far less annoying than in previous versions of Madden, but on the other hand the choice of music in the background wasn't the best. I'm a big fan of all varieties of music, but what they have playing just isn't enjoyable after the first listen or two. So it might be good to mute that and play your own stereo while you play.

In general I highly recommend this for any football fan. Even if you're not really into "gaming", this becomes an incredibly well done football education tool which will be sure to open your eyes to something new - no matter what your knowledge level.

Buy Madden 2004 from Amazon.com

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