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Xbox Review - 'Madden NFL 07'

by Nicolus Baslock on Sept. 6, 2006 @ 3:52 a.m. PDT

Step up as the lead blocker to create a hole, and then take control of the tailback and smash through, overpower, or slash away from would-be tacklers as you fight for every yard. Innovative rushing controls give you a game-breaking ground attack featuring all-new jukes, cutbacks, and the distinct running styles of your favorite backs.

Genre: Sports
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Games
Release Date: August 22, 2006

Certain things come to pass each year like clockwork: national holidays, tax day, and, for the past decade, installments in the Madden football series. Offerings for each successive year improve some of the mistakes from the prior year, in addition to providing a number of advances. Madden NFL 2007 definitely fits this description, although there are a few shining examples and saving graces which still make it one of the most enjoyable sports titles on the market.

This year's new features seem far more numerous on paper than in execution. Most notable are the new lead-blocking controls, which allow players to take control of an offensive lineman or blocking back on an offensive play. With the player selected, you use the right analog stick to try and pancake or block the defenders, and this feature helps to improve the running game. When playing against another player, this seems to work well, and on the easier difficulty levels, the AI seems to fall into the trap. However, on higher difficulties, it seems that you can't even slow down the defenders. It's strange that the blocking controls would be so highly touted and then made so unusable in practice; they work fine occasionally, but are too inaccurate to use on a really consistent basis.

The kicking meter, which emulates the version found in the current NCAA Football offering, was another addition made in Madden 07. Using the right thumbstick works well enough, but the change is unwarranted, as the control only makes the overall gameplay slightly different, instead of helping or hurting it. Also, returning seemed to become more realistic this year, as last year's model meant immediate death as soon as the ball got near. Now you might have a better chance, which is a welcome change.

The running game also received other significant additions, like the new highlight stick. Although effective, the truck stick, which lets running backs bear down and smash headfirst into defenders, was overpowered and unrealistic. Fastbacks like Tiki Barber don't break too many tackles but slid back and forth, juking and spinning. As such, the truck stick was always a bit ridiculous, as 300-pound linemen would be flattened by a guy like Tiki. The highlight stick eliminates that; players get brand-new animations that are more dependent on their playing styles and attributes. Going back to Tiki for a moment, his moves are quicker so he slides off the defenders, while bigger linemen still lower their shoulders to move defenders out of the way.

Making a far more triumphant return this year is the Superstar mode, which takes what had been a silly chore and turns it into something far more enjoyable. Last year's version of Superstar was an interesting idea that was fundamentally flawed; no real end goal existed, and you never felt that your player was any better than the average computer-controlled character. This year is entirely different. Taking a far more RPG-like approach, the camera moves to a new mode that's closer to the action and designed to bring you into what your player sees. Although first-person football will probably never exist beyond the NFL 2K series, this is as close to living through a player as any football game will bring you.

Even more important is the addition of roles for players. Each player on a team has a role dependent on their past performances as well as their individual ratings. For instance, some players who are loudmouths have greater egos, and although they can become great individually, their team may suffer as a result. Along the same vein, selfless players who really push teamwork will become huge performers who are loved by fans and teammates alike. This will eventually earn them the role of mentor, which means that boosts are given to everyone else on the team. This little touch helps make playing the single-player game pretty interesting as you progress your Superstar's career.

On the road to Canton, Ohio, and the Football Hall of Fame, you can elect to only play as your character, so if you made a great defensive end and do not care what your offense does, the computer will do its thing until it's time for you to come back onto the field. This is certainly a welcome addition, as the plays will go by super fast.

The control you have over players is also far more advanced this year, with increased passing options, and the previously mentioned lead-blocking works far better in Superstar mode. This was indeed the biggest and most important add-on for Madden 07; last year's Superstar model was lacking in so many ways, so for the developers to persevere and create something like this was great. It still needs a few more options, but overall, it's a dramatic change for the better.

In all of its current- or next-gen incarnations, Madden 07 is the most realistic-looking offering yet. Although a far cry from the X360 version, there is still polish to the current-gen model; more importantly, all of the new animations really look great, and that helps to dramatically increase the sense of realism. The fluidity of the movements and the speed at which some players move versus others are seemingly small touches, but they really bring the game world to life for players. Another addition is the ability to break ankle tackles sporadically by tapping the sprint button; it's another feature that you might not even be aware of because of its fluidity, but it's something that long-time players will truly appreciate.

Sound is typical Madden fare, with everything you have come to expect there. The typically kitschy soundtrack features a few winners, but it still cannot strike the gold of a few years ago, when OK Go's tune, "Get Over It," would get stuck in your head for hours on end.

Online multiplayer mode returns, running as smooth as ever over Xbox Live. The newest addition is the ability to start or join a club, something akin to a Counter-Strike clan. The better a clan is ranked, the better it is for everyone involved, so there is definitely an incentive to working your way up the overall rankings. More importantly, it enforces the group dynamic that has been absent from the online portion of Madden's previous iterations. Being able to play with friends or an entire club over Live just makes the game experience that much better, and it's something that should have been added years ago.

At this point, the problem with Madden is that without any competition, it can only be compared to itself. This year's offering really is a great game, but most of the new additions aren't really that spectacular. Most of the time, I felt as if I were playing last year's model, only with a few roster updates. Even with the upgrades, there are still some lingering doubts about the noticeable differences between this year and last year's offerings, which means that for a lot of people who are casual fans, Madden 07 may not be worth the purchase price. Of course, it is Madden, and anyone who plays the series will purchase it anyway and play it until next year's game. A few more additions would have made this a spectacular title, but as it stands, Madden 07 is still a great game.

Score: 8.6/10

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