To give credit where credit's due, Tiburon annually manages to find ways to creatively invoke refreshing new substance into the Madden franchise -- when all it really needs to do is update rosters to sell, and sell big. It's a commendable stance that EA Sports has taken with regards to it meal ticket, as there has never been new stuff just for the sake of throwing it in. These improvements have been significant ones too, albeit sometimes very small. Rarely, in its 16 years of life, has the series stuttered or stepped back due to a faulty new feature or detrimental gameplay implementation... and in the last few years Madden has been nothing less than immersive and fun.
A quick reminisce into historic sports videogame land immediately triggers the catch and tackle brilliance of Tecmo Bowl, the end zone-to-end zone camera work of Joe Montana Football '94, and obviously, the older Maddens. Where the latter has succeeded, above all else, is its said ability to feel fresh and new even though you've been playing the same title for almost two decades now. Since debuting on personal computer in 1989, John Madden Football has gone from niche product to pop culture phenomenon, and has made the legendary "only travels by bus" former Raiders coach more famous than any one of his well-deserved colleagues. The one-headed Madden Gila Monster has claimed the most diehard, diverse, and possibly largest, fan base of any videogame franchise running, and it's no coincidence that some of the first footage we saw of anything next-gen was Madden during the super bowl.
That said, it was only a matter of time before the streak had to end. Madden NFL 06 could very well be remembered as the game that didn't improve enough over its counterpart -- and for the first time in years, became a little less fun to play.
QB Vision & Precision Passing
Now don't misunderstand, no game can sell 5 million copies without providing substantial appeal to the casual and diehard gamer alike, which is exactly what the franchise has always done (and still does). Despite its increasingly less simplistic evolution each successive year, EA seems to cater more and more to the hardcore faithful -- the group who participates in the Madden challenge (EA's annual tournament between the best players in the country) every year. To some extent that's a good idea, those gamers understand the mechanics and intricacies of Madden more than the average Joe, but it leaves the remainder of its audience having to adhere to a much more confined and less free flowing experience.
What I don't like to hear in regards to anything I consider being a good product or in this case, an outstanding game, is any of its aspects being "revolutionized". The passing engine of Madden football has been left untouched and has stayed relatively the same for 10 years. Why? Because it's fine the way it is. Why take a sublime series like this one and try something so drastically different that it can make or break Bobby Consumer's opinion of the game as soon as he begins playing it? The QB Vision and Precision Passing concepts, the biggest change of 2006, are hit or miss in this way. Some players will love it, and some will loathe it. But what these two features do is require the offensive user to utilize a cone representing the quarterback's vision, or line of sight, when throwing to a receiver. After the snap, players must then pick out the receiver/back and surround them with the vision cone before releasing the ball or the pass is off-target... way off target. I'm talking ten yards short and out of bounds.
It sounds like a good idea, I mean hell, it is realistic. After all, this year if you keep your vision in one receiver's pattern too long, the defense will read the QB's eyes and commit more towards the guy he's focused on -- making them more likely to make a play on the ball (especially if you have a linebacker or anyone in a QB spy). Once again, good idea: Realism equals a good thing. The only problem with the new passing system, though, is that there are some pretty obvious flaws. First off, using the cone only makes passing more difficult, not more efficient. It would be fine if it added a little twist or modification to your passing philosophies, but instead, it's too much of a hindrance.
The easiest way to execute PP is to select your primary receiver before the snap so that you're already looking towards him immediately after the ball is hiked. But then what happens? The defense is reading the QB's eyes and gets ready to break on the ball if you throw it in that direction. Another example: during passing plays, as soon as the ball is snapped, the quarterback will drop back in the pocket with his eyes immediately set on a receiver on all plays, except draws. Therefore, anytime the CPU runs a draw play to the running back, his cone will always be focused directly down the center of the field making a draw or delay immediately recognizable, and players can crash the middle of the line. This type of oversight would never have found its way into past Madden installments. In addition, just as in Madden's little brother NCAA Football 2006, the control schemes have been changed. Assuming you don't choose your receiver pre-snap, the button string needed to execute the precision passing/QB vision is sequenced something like this (let's use the PS2 controller layout for example purposes):
Step one: (X button) Hikes the ball.
Step two: Hold the R1 trigger and press corresponding receiver button to lock on QB Vision.
Step three: Direct the pass behind/above/ahead of receiver (precision passing) and press same button to throw the ball.
Calculate if you will, the time that takes, and how simple it is to complete while Ed Reed is flying toward you on a safety blitz. Not Easy. Play on All-Pro or All-Madden difficulty, and you'll only have time to make one or two reads before your QB is lying facedown in the dirt with six sweaty linemen on top of him. It's a lot to ask of the casual Madden player to get used to, but I doubt QB vision was integrated with this faction of players in mind. Don't bet on QB vision to be on Madden 2007 for PS3, 360, or Revolution come next summer, either. The fact is you can turn the QB Vision system off via the settings menu but this effectively erases one of the biggest new features of this year's Madden.
The offense has the truck stick now, leveling out the big hit potential for both sides of the ball. Identical to the hit stick, the truck stick is based on timing and it takes nimble thumb work to execute a Jerome Betis straight-up-the-gut plowing through everyone style run. As fun to use as the truck stick can be, it's not very functional in the open field so it's best to limit it's use (which is tough) to short yardage plays or goal line situations. Moreover, trucking over someone slows down the ball carrier more so than the average broken tackle (making the decision to flick that analog stick an important one). Nevertheless, it's a nice little treat for the offense that got left out last year, even though the hit stick is still the more useful and beneficial of the two.
Apparently, EA's crew at the motion capture studio must have been given the year off, because no noticeable new tackle animations found their way into 2006. One sweet little number I did come across, though, was the receiver's new ability to duck under oncoming tackles from safeties or defensive backs when running routes across the middle. Yeah, how sweet is that. With the new Head-tracking, players will now watch the ball travel around the field, meaning no more blind catches by receivers.
For Madden 2005 we saw significant improvements made on the defensive side of the ball. Hot routes for DB's and linebackers made defensive play significantly more versatile and adaptive, and fortunately, helped prevent the opponent from continually working you over with those money plays that are somehow effective every time. No significant changes were made on D for 2006 so expect the same options available for this year's model. Another big improvement that was made in 2005 was the AI, especially on All-Madden difficulty. For this year, the only noticeable AI improvement is the smart route system, meaning that if you're in a 3rd-and-12 situation, and you have a solid 10-yard pass play to the tight end in your arsenal, when you run it the TE will extend his route those extra 2 yards to pick up the first. These are the types of implementations that have made Madden such a technically excellent game, and always kept it on top of the virtual football heap.
Like NCAA Football before it, online play has been improved this year, allowing for the sharing of files between gamers plus more and comparative matchmaking. Also, players can now check their fantasy scores online, giving Madden 2006 the nice title of being the only video game to offer Fantasy capabilities.
Superstar and Franchise
Superstar Mode, despite a few AI quirks, is the brightest and most original addition to single-player mode since the Franchise has begun. What superstar mode entails is experiencing the lifestyle of a NFL player off the field, and acquire personas specific to the way the player lives their life. Whether, fielding endorsements from septic tank companies or auditioning for the hot indy flick of the summer, there are plenty extracurricular activities for the player to get his mischievous self involved in. Be sure to select the right set of parents when you start it up, though. Your parents, as well as a few other events (like the infamous rookie IQ test) will be the determining factor on your player's stats at the outset of his career. Choose a father who was an All American sprinter in college and you'll be blessed with stellar acceleration and speed.
Also pay good attention to the IQ's of your folks, especially when in a position requiring use of your noggin, as it will have a direct affect on awareness attributes, which in the case of QB's where it subsequently determines the size of his passing cone. Don't bother shuffling through hours of parental matches hoping to find a hall of fame running back father and Supermodel/brain surgeon mother combination, though -- because extremely desirable traits like those show up few and far between and rarely, if ever, come paired together. The AI quirks I mentioned earlier pop up around draft time when it's just as likely that a quarterback will be drafted by the NY Giants, or a running back by New Orleans, as it is for a team to draft appropriately for their specific needs. After the interviews, tests, hiring, and so forth you may be drafted as LaDainian Tomlinson 's backup in San Diego, despite the choice to answer an interview response that you want to play for a team with winning history.
The most enjoyable feature within Superstar Mode is the performance institute: a training facility run by ze German, J.C. (Hans and Frans' long lost cousin) which players can use to increase stats, and generally improve their overall game. The catch is that only a few agents have access to it, and they just so happen to be the best in the business, so it will take a good many hours of gameplay, before you can build up the exposure and marketability to attract their, eyes even after, say, three consecutive player of the week performances. Smart move by EA: make you play for a long time before the coolest mini-game becomes available. All in all, Superstar mode is good fun for those of you who enjoy Madden's single-player features. If you relished NCAA Football 06's Race for the Heisman, you'll love playing through Superstar, and some version of it will most certainly be around in the years ahead.
Franchise mode has become deeper and more immersive every year and even more so for 2006. Gameplan preparation is also accessible in Superstar, allowing you to practice specific plays relevant to the opposition faced that Sunday. By effectively executing those plays the performance boosts are then added to certain players if you run the same plays during that week's game -- adding to their efficiency on the field. By running a hail mary as prep. you can improve receivers catching stats or the QB's throwing power helping to increase the probability of completing that desperation jump ball if you run it during the game. The new spawn feature allows users to save key games during the season, and play them at a later time (while still able to re-merge these results back into the franchise season). Also, Tony Bruno's radio show has added new callers and segments that give freshness to one of the Franchise mode's major additions of 2005. So if franchise is your predominate mode of play, like it is for many, this year it only gets better.
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