It's that time of year again. The time when EA Sports unleash the big gun sports licenses like FIFA, NHL, Tiger Woods and Madden. The Electronic Arts bigwigs will be rubbing their hands with glee knowing that the latest FIFA game will go straight to #1 in the European charts (making wads of cash in the process). Go to North America, and the same thing applies to the latest Madden update. People just can't help but be drawn to the updated player rosters, updated stats and slightly tweaked graphics engines that Electronic Arts churn out year after year. Even in New Zealand, the games always sell reasonably well. On that note, let's take a look at the key features that Madden 2003 has to offer American Football fans this year, and whether or not it is going to be worth opening that wallet.

Offensive Gameplay: Madden is the ultimate judge with over 13 years of tournament tested gameplay. All new features include: interior running that works and that you can see, improved pass blocking which forms the pocket more accurately, new receiver hot routes at the line of scrimmage, and a host of new trick plays that work thanks to "faked out" AI logic.

Defensive Gameplay: The toughest defense ever now includes: defensive strafe move which allows defenders to square up and make the tackle in the proper position, independent pre-play control of your DL and LB plus the ability to modify secondary coverage on the fly, and new defensive formations such as 7 DBs, 46, and variations of many 2-Deep schemes.

Best Graphics Bar None: Whether it’s the more than 300 extremely detailed player faces, the new high-res cheerleaders, all-new technology for crowds, playing fields, and stadiums, or a host of new in-game animations like signature sidearm QBs, new RB stiff-arm moves, gang-tackling, hitting without the ball, and stand-still receiver catches, Madden 2003 sets the standard for graphic quality.

Mini-Camp Mode: The pioneering leader in product innovation, Madden, this year, drops you into NFL mini-camps where you’ll be challenged with 8 addictive mini-games. Dressed in authentic practice gear, you’ll compete in such drills as QB Precision Passing, DL – Trench Fight, and K – Clutch Kicking in an effort to collect unique Madden Cards. New gamers will learn the ropes and experienced gamers will be drawn into this innovative new way to play a football video game.

Audio Advancements: Madden NFL 2003 assembles an “Audio Dream Team” as legendary play-by-play announcer Al Michaels and Melissa Stark join John Madden to form the most dynamic audio team in football gaming history. Complete with dynamic stat and situational based commentary, our new audio engine delivers the most realistic and entertaining audio experience of any football game.

Create-A-Playbook: An example of the depth that other football games lack. Here you’ll be able to customize everything from the formation, the play, the player routes and assignments to create virtually any play imaginable. The best part is that you can take it onto the field immediately to see if it works. Yes, it’s available for both offense and defense and you can take your playbook into Franchise mode.

Franchise Mode: The Deepest Franchise Mode EVER. With over 30 years of full year by year career statistics (not just totals) and the most realistic player progression logic available. Schedule pre-season games, evaluate your full team with player progression and real coaching strategy for the pre-season. The new rookie scouting feature allows you to interactively draft players utilizing key tips from your scouting staff.

EA SPORTS™ Trax: Always the innovator, Madden NFL 2003 features 11 hot new music releases from Andrew W.K., Nappy Roots (featuring Marcos from P.O.D.), (hed)p.e., Quarashi, Good Charlotte, Bon Jovi and many more.

Online Game Play: Quick Tournament -- with 2-minute drill/situation/create-a-scenario (user tournaments) allows tournaments to be played in less than 30 minutes; High Score Chase -- 2-minute drill/situation; Ranked Matchup -- exhibition games with individual player ranking attached; Online Hero Challenge -- mini games for Online Hero with Score Chase element.

It's In The Game: With an estimated 1 million man-hours spent on Madden NFL football and under the careful eye of John Madden himself, this is the most authentic, most fun football experience ever, with a depth of features unmatched by anyone. It’s no wonder that Madden is the game that everyone plays (3 out of every 4 football video gamers played Madden last year).

As you can see from these features, Madden 2003 sounds like it is going to be the best American Football game yet. The game is due for release shortly, so stay tuned for a full review.