Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Tiburon
Release Date: November 22, 2005
This year, the National Football League was a carnival ride that many will not soon forget. The Indianapolis Colts came within reach of the league's most glorified accomplishment: the perfect season, the Seattle Seahawks made their first-ever appearance in the NFL's most sacred game, and the mighty Pittsburgh Steelers established themselves as one of the most dominant football franchises ever to suit up. In time for all of this year's spectacle and splendor is the Xbox 360 version of Madden '06, which is now the only available NFL video game on the market. The Madden franchise speaks for itself in terms of history, improvement over time, and overall addictive football goodness, so how does the 360's version hold up to those of times past, or even this year's version on other systems?
Madden '06 features many things that have become common in the Madden franchise, namely a Play Now instant gratification mode and a Franchise mode allowing you the opportunity to create your own Madden Dynasty, along with online play. All of these game modes are now accessible from the relatively creative X-menu, which allows for relatively easy navigation of the primary screen through the use of various sub-menus and convenient menu screen continuity.
Sadly, what many Madden players will immediately notice about this menu are the many different game modes that were not included in this edition. Gone are your mini-camp games and scrimmage setups, which were not only solidly designed and entertaining but also quite key in developing one's skill set in the off-season, both on an individual basis and for your players in Franchise mode. There will be no trophies awarded for developing your quarterback skills or learning how to rush from scrimmage. Kicking drills? Nope. Quarterback Awareness camp? A thing of the past. Create-a-player? Not even a little bit. To some, this may not seem like a tremendous deal, but to others, I know this will come across as downright devastating. To you, my true Madden player, I extend my heartfelt sympathy.
Moving on, however, gamers will be quick to note upon stepping onto the field that the players and stadiums look nothing short of spectacular. Player movements seem both natural and free, and the graphical attention to detail is stunning. Players' breath comes in appropriate timing patterns, and sweat glistens from faces and on helmets and even stains jerseys as the game wears on. The hit stick has never looked quite as punishing as it does in some of the raucously enjoyable tackles that can be unleashed this time around. It truly cannot be stressed enough that these graphics can only be appreciated in High Definition. Without a doubt, they look good, but in this case, the difference between regular and high definition is like comparing an Etch-a-Sketch to a Picasso. Seriously.
Unfortunately, there are once again some features that veteran players may find completely inexcusable. After all, how many times do you see a pass caught on the sidelines that was clearly out of bounds, or watch your running back fumble the rock as he dives into the end zone to tie the game? Well, no worries, because that's what the trusty red flag is for; coaches have been touting it around for so long that it is hard to remember what football was like before challenges. Right? Wrong. There is no option to challenge any play in Madden '06 for the Xbox 360. I couldn't believe my eyes when I realized that this aspect had been left out, and for a great number of players, this is as close to a deal breaker as may exist. The ability to challenge questionable calls on the field is part of what has come to make the game fun to play, as it adds an element of realism. Let's face it, there will be times when the computer just does not seem to get the call right, and at least with challenges, you could put your mind at ease that the offense was being appropriately looked into.
Fortunately, Madden '06> plays like a dream, so you may come close to getting the outcome you originally desired with every play you run. The AI is perceptive and improved over prior incarnations of the game – gone are the many missed blocks and forgotten assignments. Instead, the playmaker controls are both useful and fun, and the new Truck Stick feature, combined with several new running animations, make running up the middle look good and seem more viable in offensive strategies, particularly with teams equipped with bigger running backs.
Also improved is the pre-snap menu. A small menu now pops up to indicate several different options are available on offense or defense before the snap, allowing the players to shift their lines, change their formations, or completely change the play. You could do all of that before, but the in-game reminders will help many a novice and veteran alike remember or adjust to the controls as they are presented in this version of the game. The now-familiar Hit Stick animations benefit from the new and improved graphics. There is truly nothing like seeing a helmet fly off an opposing player after a hit, except seeing that play in High Definition, with a lifelike face being revealed underneath said recently lost helmet. That is the true edge that this game delivers – whenever you start to think about things that you may find lacking, you will probably stop yourself short by just pausing and staring at just how good everything looks.
Let's move into the Season mode and take a look around. The first thing most players will note is the lack of sports radio, which was a staple of the past few editions of Madden. There is no newspaper heralding your team's accomplishments or news from around the league. Essentially, your only options during the season are roster-related, and of course, you can pick and choose which game you would like to play during the course of the regular and pre-season. After spending so much time and so many years tuning up the Season mode in previous editions of Madden, a player cannot help but feel like EA has essentially stripped down this game to a level that has not been seen in several generations. Upon further review, it becomes clear that the game was rushed to shelves to meet the X360 launch rush and move units before unsuspecting gamers could realize the folly of their tainted Madden experience.
Madden does, however, redeem itself with a flawless transition to Xbox Live. Any Live member with a decent connection to the internet will notice absolutely no lag during play and will more than likely talk extraordinary amounts of trash via the microphone. Unfortunately, the online play is made more difficult by your inability to view your opponent's play calls, which in some cases leads to some very mismatched offensive and defensive schemes. This is a forgivable change, however, since defenses in real football do not have the luxury of knowing exactly how the offense is going to line up, and it allows the player to improvise. The new ranking system keeps track of games played against quality opponents and will surely lead to heated battles on the Leaderboards and many a quest for some online respect. It would have been nice to see some achievements added to this game for online accomplishments, but very much in the vein of almost all EA titles for the Xbox 360, the achievements are all based in single-player mode and are also shockingly easy to accomplish.
It is certainly to EA's credit that they continue to produce games which utilize a fantastic amount of genuinely good music. From Coheed and Cambria to Hot Hot Heat to the Foo Fighters, the Madden '06 soundtrack is nothing but quality and completely enhances the experience. Browsing through the menus is quite enjoyable, as you are sonically greeted by the sounds of both the known and up-and-coming musical ensembles.
Oddly enough, players may find the title to be sound-challenged during actual gameplay. The sound effects are adequate enough; there are plenty of crunching shoulder pads and crashing helmets. On the whole, the sounds seem too far from the action, as they were coming from some distant part of the stadium and not up close and personal, as if you were the one crashing through the offensive line for the first down.
In addition, the commentary is not done by Madden for the first time ever, and although it's as insightful as any other sports commentary in video games, it sounds like it was recorded in the worst studio in the history of mankind, or is being broadcast from an aquarium. The announcer seems distant, and the sound quality is severely lacking to negative effect. Crowd noise suffers from the same issue, and the thing that makes these items glaringly bad is that they were not issues with previous incarnations of the game, so they truly stand out against the definite improvements that have been made in other facets, such as graphics and gameplay.
So my fellow Maddenites, what of Madden '06 on the Xbox 360? Honestly, if you love football and you love the Madden series, you will enjoy this title. It delivers on gameplay and graphics, which is why most of us play the game. However, those of you who have grown accustomed to the bonus features and covet the additional accoutrements that EA has been delivering for years will be sorely discouraged by the stripped-down feeling you will get from playing through this title's limited modes. Gone are the novelties and extras that rounded out this title, replaced by superb graphics and quality online gaming. Fair enough? It should be, for most of us. I'll see you online.