Ryan Chartrand

There was once a time when the Madden NFL video game series was the best on the market by its own merits.

Now it is the best simply by default.

The Madden series used to stand proudly above rivals such as the NFL Quarterback Club, NFL GameDay and NFL Xtreme series.

Then, something happened that the “Madden” series’ publisher – EA Sports – and nobody else could have predicted.

A game was better.

Any unbiased eye can see that ESPN NFL 2K5 was superior to Madden NFL 2005 in nearly every way possible. In fact, its graphics and gameplay are in many ways still better than even Madden NFL 2007.

Now, don’t get it twisted.

The Madden series has always been a quality game. Its explosion in popularity in the 1990s is a testament to that fact. Madden ’96 on Sega Genesis might be the finest 16-bit football game ever created.

So you won’t find EA Sports bashing without reason here.

However, it was decidedly unfair for EA Sports to sign an exclusive agreement with the NFL in December 2004 – shortly after ESPN NFL 2K5’s release – in order to block publisher Sega Sports and developer Visual Concepts from continuing the NFL 2K series.

That’s called a monopoly.

Simply put, EA Sports whimped out. The company knew it was beat, on more fronts than one.

For starters, ESPN NFL 2K5 only cost $20 for the PlayStation2 and Xbox platforms. Madden NFL 2005 costed $50.

As soon as the gamer boots up ESPN NFL 2K5, they feel as if they are immersed in SportsCenter, with authentic music and personalities everywhere they look. Chris Berman greets gamers with his enjoyable quips prior to kickoff, Suzy Kolber reports from the sidelines and you actually get halftime and week-by-week clips and highlights of games throughout the league.

The commentary was smoother, too.

Whereas the ESPN NFL 2K5 commentators have provocative discussions and mild-mannered arguments during the game – like a real broadcast – the Madden series’ commentary is plain, uninspired and choppy.

While the gamer might hear something like, “New York has struggled to control the line of scrimmage, as evidenced by these time of possession stats” on ESPN NFL 2K5, the Madden counterpart might go something like, “Cincinnati…has two timeouts remaining…down by 14…in the…third quarter.”

The Madden games are like McDonald’s food; it is popular and might taste good, but is prepackaged, lacks attention to detail and you know there’s probably something better.

As soon as EA Sports threw the lasso around NFL exclusivity, it began to mail it in.

And why not?

It has no current competition.

There is no real reason for EA Sports to strive to improve the quality of its Madden games for the time being because they know die-hard football fans and gamers alike will shell out hard-earned money to get the most recent NFL game.

And there is only one per year.

The one thing that the NFL Quarterback Club, NFL GameDay and NFL Xtreme series can be credited with – while they were inferior competitors to both the Madden and NFL 2K series – was giving EA Sports and Sega Sports reason to push the envelope.

The Madden series hit rock bottom with this past fall’s release of Madden NFL 2007 on the Xbox 360.

If you own an Xbox 360 and have not decided what NFL game to buy, don’t pick up Madden NFL 2007.

The reason?

You can get the same game – Madden NFL 2006 – for roughly $30 cheaper used.

Madden NFL 2007 is inexplicably absent of certain features even EA Sports had been able to staple down in the past.

But for some reason, gamers can no longer create players without going through a rigorous training combine.

Why can’t the gamer edit player attributes? There is no way, for instance, to improve Dallas quarterback Tony Romo’s preseason rating of a journeyman to Pro Bowl status. It’s unrealistic.

And where the hell are the historic rosters?

Folks, these are features that the Madden series had implemented more than a half decade ago on the original PlayStation!

Why are they suddenly missing on Xbox 360, a console that dwarfs the original PlayStation in every capability imaginable?

2K Sports announced Jan. 31 that the wheels are in motion for a next-generation game called All-Pro Football 2K8, which will not feature any NFL teams, players, stadiums and so on.

It’s nice to see 2K Sports getting back into the ring, but sad to see them forced to resort to making a non-NFL title simply because EA Sports is too chicken to man up and put out a better game than its chief competitor.

Yes, the Madden series is here to stay and does excel in aspects such as franchise mode and practice play.

But when it comes to simple gameplay, Madden NFL 2007 on Xbox 360 can’t even hold a candle to 1991’s Tecmo Super Bowl on the Nintendo Entertainment System.

Let alone ESPN NFL 2K5.

Tristan Aird is a journalism senior and Mustang Daily sports editor.

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