With each new edition of the Madden football franchise, the developers at EA Sports try to make their game a little bit more complex and a little bit more enjoyable. The previous year's new features focused mostly on the defensive side of the football, so this year it's the offensive side of the ball that gets the tune-up, with the passing game getting the biggest facelift. The other major adjustment to this year's version is the addition of a superstar mode that allows gamers to take control of a single player from birth to retirement. Both new additions are ambitious and show promise, but both are ultimately disappointing.
The most dramatic change to this year's game is the brand new vision control, a wedge of light that represents the quarterback's field of vision. Now QBs actually have to look at the receivers to make an accurate pass. This adds a great deal of realism to the game, but controlling the vision cone is a clunky affair that adds as much frustration as it does realism. Other additions to the offensive gameplay come off much better. The new precision passing allows for pinpoint accuracy on throws, and the new "truck stick" lets running backs lower their heads and smash into defenders. Overall, gameplay is typically great, but the iffy new quarterback vision outweighs the positive additions.
The franchise and online modes are great, and remain the primary attraction in the Madden series, but the new "superstar" mode is also worth a try. Unfortunately, a single try is basically all the superstar mode is worth. It's essentially a cross between the create-a-player feature and the franchise mode, but it lacks the bells and whistles to make it more than a novelty. Both the superstar mode and the new passing controls are disappointing, but they are good ideas that can be expanded upon and improved in the future. Madden NFL 06 retains the addictive gameplay that makes the series great, but the lackluster additions essentially leave gamers with last year's game and this year's rosters.
Graphics: Serviceable, yet unspectacular graphics. Realistic animation that is not particularly crisp or detailed.
Sound: Very realistic sound effects, and innocuous commentary that is mostly lifted from Madden 2005. Typical pop music soundtrack with a few pleasant surprises.
Enjoyment: Gameplay is the hallmark of the Madden franchise, and it remains spectacular in the 2006 version.
Replay Value: Online and franchise modes provide excellent short-term replay value while long-term replay value is practically nonexistent once a newer version is released.
There was a huge stink earlier this year (2005) when EA Sports and the NFL entered into an exclusive licensing agreement, shutting out competitors like the ESPN 2K series and making the Madden series the only licensed NFL game left standing. PC gamers, however, took the news pretty much in stride. Unless you count text simulations like Front Office Football, Madden has been the only NFL game in town on the PC for years. Thankfully, this year's PC game is a solid one, and while the feature sets of the console and PC versions of Madden NFL 06 are very similar, there are some key differences that separate the two from one another.
This year's Madden is being touted by EA as the "Year of the Quarterback," and the new Vision and Precision passing features are simply fantastic. For the first time ever, a quarterback's awareness rating has an impact on his play in the game when under human control. Control a player like Peyton Manning and his vision cone takes up nearly half the field, whereas if you control a player like Gus Frerotte (pity the poor Dolphins), you're going to be forced to lock onto a receiver and stick with him because his cone is much smaller and it takes more time to scan your receivers. It takes a lot of practice, but once you get the hang of it works extremely well. No longer can you take a poor QB and throw the ball accurately all over the field.
On the other hand, the other new feature, the highly touted "Superstar" mode, is an enormous waste and does not fit the overall "sim" feel of the PC version. Basically, Superstar mode allows you to play the role of a newly drafted rookie. You'll get stalked by Terrell Davis as he leaves umpteen cellphone messages just to "check in." You can accept movie roles, demand trades even though you're a fourth-string halfback, take ridiculously easy IQ tests that ask you what kind of tree you want to be, and go to the local barber to get a new hip haircut. The idea of adding a role-playing aspect to a sports game is a very cool concept, but Superstar mode (just like "Race for the Heisman" in NCAA 06) is woefully underdeveloped and overhyped.
While the Superstar feature is easily ignored, it's frustrating to think of the time spent on it when there are basic problems that need to be addressed. Blockers on punts and kickoffs literally stand still and let gunners race in and decapitate the return man; after playing two full seasons, the CPU has yet to return a punt for more than eight yards. There are way too many pancake blocks as blitzing linebackers get blasted on their rear ends by halfbacks that stay in to assist blocks, and defensive backs leap in the air like Superman to swat passes away, which looks ridiculous. The commentary from Madden and Michaels is as sterile as ever; you're probably better served to disable them entirely and stick to the on-the-field sounds combined with the PA announcer. Then you get into franchise mode and see CPU teams draft kickers in the third and fourth rounds like they are going out of style.
With a series like Madden, it's understandable that EA would want to develop new features that look sexy on the back of a box to keep fans buying the latest version year after year, and the Vision and Precision passing seems like time well spent. But many of the problems listed here are things that have nagged the franchise for years, and we can only hope they get taken care of soon, instead of getting another half-baked feature like Superstar mode.
In terms of other new features, Madden 06's new "Truck Stick" is really just a way for the running back to lower his head and attempt to run over a smaller player. It works as advertised; it's tough for a corner to tackle Bettis when he's truck-sticking. There are also several new pre-snap reads and adjustments that you can make, such as changing pass protection patterns.
Madden 06 looks a lot better on the PC. Running the game on a nice video card with a decent machine provides an amazingly superior-looking game. The interface is also much cleaner on the PC. It might look similar to the console versions, but the layout is different and more conducive to PC gaming.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the two versions, however, is the overall speed of the game. The pace in the PC version is much more deliberate than on the consoles. One common complaint with the console version of Madden is that it plays too slow when compared to NCAA 06, and if you feel that way about the console versions, then the PC version might drive you crazy. Of course, just as the Tiger Woods PGA Tour series has historically been a bit more sim-oriented on the PC, there are those who may appreciate the slower pace.
And then, for reasons unknown, there are some little things in the console versions of Madden 06 that are absent in the PC version. The Vision and Precision passing tutorial that comes up the first time you load up the Xbox version is nowhere to be found on the PC. You can't disable specific music tracks on the PC version without digging through game files and playing trial-and-error in the audio directory. If you want to listen to the Sam Spence classic NFL Films music (which is awesome) rather than the Da Riffs Remixes then it shouldn't be this difficult. There's also a bug specific to the PC that prevents the Tony Bruno show from automatically playing after each week.
It's a bit unfair to say that Madden 06 is just like Madden 2005 with the addition of new Vision passing. There's a lot more to it than that -- some of it is in how the game plays rather than in new features. There are annoyances that remain unfixed, and Superstar mode simply needs to get dumped for next year, but Madden 06 is the only NFL game in town, PC or otherwise, and while it might fall short of championship material, it's still an excellent game that will get fans through the upcoming season.
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