Xbox 360 Review: Madden NFL 06

Not satisfied with the current Madden, the team has created something new for this generation. The changes are subtle, though enough to be noticeable. It's obvious most of the work went towards the new graphics engine, and while that's expected, people may be surprised about the play changes.

It's not a full-featured game of course. Cuts and trims are abound, including a lack of create-a-player. A limited franchise mode makes up the bulk of single player (it's more of a multi-season mode with drafts), and basic online play is only enough to hold people off until next year. The time spent developing this addition has gone elsewhere, sometimes for the better, and other times they went entirely in the wrong direction.

You'll immediately notice the running game has been redesigned, offering more power and a tighter feel. It's more responsive because of it. However, most of the time, it's too strong, and barreling down multiple defenders before hitting the field is common. The statistical and scoring problems take off from there. There seems to be little focus on accurate physics, as turning happens immediately without a delay regardless of speed.

The "truck stick" is the biggest problem. These moves, performed with the right analog stick. cause balance problems even with weaker running backs. The defensive "hit stick" offers the only counter, and even this seems ineffective.

Passing remains roughly the same, changed only by the tweaks to the running game. There seems to be little improvements in AI, and linemen only block when they're programmed to do so. The number of obvious and simple missteps by the frontline can be aggravating. QB Vision, the latest feature to be heavily hyped by EA, is also an option though turned off by default. It doesn't add to the game in the least other than making it too complicated.

There's a major playbook issue too. While it's great to see so many different options for selection (including formations and play type), it ruins multi-player games. Anyone can see what play is being picked since you select with a single cursor. You'll point right to the heart of your strategy before every play. It's inexcusable, and without another option, it's enough to rule the game unplayable with someone else in the same room.

It's the graphics engine that will sell Madden on the 360, and it's deserving. Don't judge this game by screenshots. The plethora of animation, weather effects, and a fully polygonal crowd creates a stunning football atmosphere. Tiny details, such as helmet scuff and water collecting on the field in the rain (complete with reflections if there's enough sitting in a puddle) are noticeable too.

What's not acceptable is the presentation, easily the most rushed aspect of the game. While the post-play animations are plentiful, they're buried behind the play call menu. Before the play, there are only a few stock animation routines to follow, like a close up of the quarterbacks face (which reveals eyes far too small for their heads).

This is also a historical Madden, the first not to feature, well, Madden. Taking over the commentary is an enthusiastic "home team" announcer who sounds like he's coming right from a radio. It's a unique touch, though one that doesn't mesh at all with a TV-style presentation (even with as little as there is). The only thing Madden adds to the game aside from his name is a play-calling feature, "Ask Madden." If you've ever played the game before, you won't use this.

It's a tough start for the series on the first next gen console. The changes to the gameplay may be enough to turn off longtime fans, and casual players will find the lack of presentation to be a sharp downturn. Not surprisingly, it's going to be at least a year before the series can gain its footing. Unless the graphics update is that important, just wait for 07.

(*** out of *****)

Comments (2)

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Madden 06 XBOX360 Missing Features and Glitches

This list was featured on Ars Technica. The whole football gaming community deserves better than this monopoly.

-Santoro
monopolion

"If it's in the game, you're hallucinating."

Now that is funny. Great post.

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