The "2005" edition of the best-selling Madden NFL sports game series hits the field with another new season's worth of refinements and additions. Attention has been paid to the defensive game in this version, with enhancements intended to give gamers more options and more control when they're playing from the other side of the football. Many of this year's new features involve the NFL players themselves, however, calling upon gamers to maintain and develop their star athletes. Players are now rewarded for their good performances throughout the season, and individuals can be affected by the ebb and flow of morale.<br><br>Madden 2005 offers "hit stick," control, which allows the right analog stick to be used to perform the kind of huge, momentum-shifting hits that fans will hear way up in the nosebleed section. Risks are involved, however, and players who miss tackles under the hit stick system's less rigid controls have only themselves to blame. Gamers can also involve themselves more deeply in defensive strategy than they could in earlier versions of Madden NFL. The new Defensive Playmaker Control system allows them to modify assignments for any player on the field, to set up blitzes, jams, and individual man-to-man coverage, right up until the moment the ball is snapped.<br><br>Madden fans who are in it for the long haul will also find new Franchise mode features in this year's game. As they progress through the seasons, they'll be able to name their team's captain, claim their top stars as franchise players, and allow other players to take free agent status. A virtual Tony Bruno presents a weekly, in-game radio show that discusses all the major events in the league, and may allude to the personalities behind the players. When a player is unhappy, he won't play his best; the gamer can choose to make adjustments or trade him away. Franchise gamers can also read sports page-style announcements and check their in-game email to keep up on all the latest information.<br><br>Once again, John Madden is joined by Al Michaels to provide color commentary and the play-by-play. Jill Arrington reports from the field. Gamers can even customize the fans in the stands of this year's game, choosing from thousands of possible combinations of clothing, headwear, face paint, and unique, team-specific accouterments. Other convincing new elements include pre-game and post-game shows, featuring confetti and fireworks, and environmental effects, with realistic lighting and weather that can change in the middle of a game. Hundreds of new animations have been added for more realistic player movements, both on the field and on the sidelines.<br><br>For the first time in the series' history, the Xbox version of Madden NFL is compatible with EA Sports' online services. Network-connected Madden NFL 2005 gamers can log on to EA Sports Online to find a live challenge from a fellow fan.