Though Electronic Arts' Madden NFL video games have always set the standard for how the game is played on the virtual field, this year's edition makes its biggest strides by incorporating what teams go through off it.

Madden NFL 2005 ($50 for PlayStation2, Xbox, GameCube and PC) forces users to deal with off-field issues to prevent them from hindering the team's performance on the field in the game's Storyline Central mode.

Now, if you enter the preseason with two quarterbacks, there's a good chance you'll read a virtual newspaper article about a brewing quarterback controversy, as well as stories about other team's quarterbacks who are unhappy, which can increase your chances of acquiring them.

During the regular season, the media coverage continues with a radio show that centers on the week's matchups and news from around the league.

In past Madden NFL games, if you ignored a player, there was no consequence. Now, if your running back feels he's not getting enough carries, his agent will send an e-mail to inform you the player is not happy and wants to be traded.

Users must try keep everyone happy if they want their team to play to its optimum level because a decrease in morale will affect the team on the field.

Graphically, Madden NFL 2005 appears to be nearly identical to last year's version, which was arguably the smoothest looking game on the market.

Madden NFL 2005's gameplay is seamless and fluid, but with one addition: the Hit Stick. The right joystick on the controller allows users to choose how hard their defenders tackle: They can simply wrap up or go for the big hit, in which perfect timing separates forcing a fumble and giving up a big play.

-- Jon Gallo