Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Tiburon
Release Date: November 22, 2005
Probably the most surprising thing about Madden 06 for the Xbox 360 is that isn't just the Xbox version with a graphics upgrade. Instead, the games offer massively different experiences, with the X360 version emphasizing a faster, more arcade-like pace over the more meticulous, simulation-oriented game released on the current-gen platforms. Graphics that moved toward new levels of realism and a very fast, slick interface were the dominant elements of our demo time with the title recently. Madden 06 for the X360 looks and feels so different from the Xbox counterpart that it seems to only have the roster lists in common with its current-gen predecessor.
Fans of Owner Mode will be disappointed to see that it's not a feature of Madden 06, as the transition to the new hardware forced EA Tiburon to rebuild a new engine for the game from the ground up. The new Madden 06 seems geared toward quick pick-up-play sessions, but we were promised that there would be a 30-year franchise mode for more campaign-oriented players. The engine difference makes itself apparent from the first place you run, as players noticeably move, throw, and catch with more complex movements. The new engine obviously lacks the years of fine-tuning that have been applied to the current gen engine, but our time with it showed immense promise.
In particular we enjoyed the new implementation of the playbook, which organized plays by type in several different ways according to their offensive and defensive roles. If you had even a basic idea of what sort of play you wanted to use, then you could find the proper section of the playbook and select it with a few taps of the button. If you wish to build your game around a particular player, then you can use the Key Player feature to call up plays from your playbook that will particularly favor him. You can also call up a quick list of the last five plays you've used, in case you find something particularly useful that you want to begin repeating. From there, you control the quarterback and take a hands-on approach to trying to execute the play flawlessly, with simple single-button controls for catching, throwing, and tackling. A new variety of camera angles has been introduced, to emphasize the feeling of being on the field as an actual player in the game.
Madden 06 does not present graphics that are instantly impressive in the way that, say, Oblivion or Dead or Alive 4's are, but it's the fine details that really establish it as a next generation title. Your players come with a wide variety of body types, ranging from heavy to smaller, more agile builds, and each have their own ways of moving. Some options can be used to alter your players' body characteristics, such as making them thinner or heavier. Over 500 player faces have been digitally reproduced to match their real-life counterparts, authentic down to fine details like scars and face structure. Even referees have faces to match their real-world counterparts. Player uniforms feature authentic textures down to stitching and the reflective paint for helmets, and outfits will also reflect wear and tear as a game goes on - growing muddy or grass-stained, as the environment dictates.
All of the stadiums are authentic recreations of their real-life counterparts, holding accurate numbers of spectators who have behaviors modeled on those of real-life crowds. You can opt to zoom in on the stadium during replays to examine the crowd more closely, and can even see that the light board displays are made out of individual light bulbs. In certain appropriate venues, scenery is even visible beyond the stadium walls. During the course of a game, day will slowly turn into night depending on the course the game takes. A high-scoring game will be short and end before night comes, while a closer game will eventually result in the stadium lights coming on as it goes into overtime. The progression of time is also tracked by the game on a larger scale, allowing the time of year to reflect how quickly day becomes night and what sort of weather conditions the game takes place in. A game in December might feature snow and the player's breath forming fog, while matches in fall might feature turf that's become muddy from rain.
Audio is a big part of the Madden experience, and 06 is no exception. In this year's incarnation of the "Ask Madden" feature, plays can hear John Madden's voice explaining each play to them in tutorial fashion. There is also an "Ask Coach" mode where you can hear a coach explain the play using authentic football jargon. The voices of eighteen quarterbacks have been recorded, and just before snapping the ball you can hear the player call out the play in his own, authentic voice. In a first, the commentary team of John Madden and Al Michaels has been replaced with commentary from a single announcer who is supposedly calling the game for a radio audience. While this does make commentary more generic overall, it also makes it less repetitive and allows commentary to more naturally follow the flow of the game.
Even the menu system has been radically changed for the X360 version of Madden 06, with the 16:9 resolution allowing for a less cluttered, more horizontal interface that allows for easy backtracking to higher menu levels. All told, Madden 06 is one of the first truly all-new football games Electronic Arts has made in years, and fans of the genre can look forward to a more immersive and action-packed approach than ever. With so much detail in the players and stadiums, simply playing fast games has a feeling of freshness to it and prior Madden installments had been lacking. Like the rest of the X360 launch lineup, Madden 06 will be available on November 22nd.