Review by dougmoto

Reviewed: 08/21/06

"I'm not into sports. I mean, I like Gatorade, but that's about as far as it goes"

-Mitch Hedburg

Football is possibly one of the most defining aspects in American culture. In a land where many different societies are melded together to form one nation, it’s hard to find a unique innovation, that wasn’t stolen or ‘borrowed’. Granted, there’s no question that American football ‘borrowed’ some rugby elements, but the game that was created in the aftermath, is one like no other. Maybe this is why Americans take football extremely seriously. It’s not just a mindless form of entertainment; it’s a symbol of unity for the country.

However, the downside of this nation’s video game: Madden 06 will not entice you by weaving a beautiful, heartfelt story, or immerse you in its battle system, nor will you be rewarded by having your characters develop and mature. Madden will not fulfill any of those criteria.

Or will it?

You can start at the very bottom, take the worst team in the league, build them, train them, work them. Eventually you start to win games. You move up in the rankings. After a few seasons, you trade for better players and sign prospects, waiting patiently until the time comes when you can take a run at the gold. Is that not a story, in its purest form? You sit in your kitchen during lunch, scribbling plays on a napkin. You take into consideration all the variables. You exert inhuman hand-eye coordination during your runs, and make impossible catches. Are you not immersed in Madden’s ‘battle system’? With time and effort, your characters grow and progress, and soon are acting like real stars. They demand higher salaries. They are unsatisfied with your team. Like a son growing up, they must be weaned from the mother’s protection. Is that not character development?

You see, at one time, sports games used to be just about sports. Plain and simple, and people enjoyed it. Then the masses started realizing that a game with a storyline, or great game play mechanics can be just as, or even more fun than their favorite sport. But developers aren’t stupid. They too have realized this, and over the years, began to slowly integrate some of the best aspects from other games. Create-a-player, which is now a staple for sports games, is necessary because it gives you a sort of attachment usually only found in Role Playing Games. Franchise mode has been added, because fans like to explore, and pave their own path. Even though Madden is a sports game, it really encompasses more than just sports. It certainly is a polished product of video game evolution.

Madden 06 is no exception in the Madden chain. In fact, the biggest complaint for critics seems to be the lack of groundbreaking changes from previous versions. Compared to other installments in the series, 06 seems like a mere expansion pack. The biggest change in game play is probably the addition of quarterback vision, which forces you to rush your throws a bit more, adding some intensity. However, they did add a training camp which serves as a fun way to beef up your players and idle some time away. But that still feels like more like a mini-game than a revolution. Solution? Come into Madden 06 with no expectations whatsoever. Give it a blank slate to carve experiences on, and maybe then you’ll realize that this is probably the best football game to date.

That’s not to say that it’s perfect. Far from. There are many little bugs and nuisances that just stop Madden 06 from being a 10, or a high nine. The game play is fun to start with, but it starts to get a bit stale. Spinning and juking has very little effect at higher difficulties, and is basically only useful against human opponents. But if you don’t play on the higher difficulties, you can just exploit the stupid low-level AI. Don’t they understand that I’m going to use a pitch every run? Can’t they see that I’ll switch to a fly EVERY TIME I see single coverage? That sets the stage for another ‘problem’ for Madden 06: the gaping chasm they call a difficulty jump from All-Pro to All-Madden. By starting with the former, you get used to the idea of your wide receivers actually out-maneuvering the cornerbacks. Touchdowns come easily. Then you get cocky and decide you’re too good for All-Pro, and slap on All-Madden. Prepare yourself for a beating. Picture this:

There’s a mere 1 minute 30 seconds left, and I’m up by 5 in my opponent’s red-zone. Third down with no time-outs. I figure if I can push them back as far as I can, I should be able to hold off, even without a touchdown. My heart is racing as my fingers fumble for the sweat covered buttons. The snap is clean, and my quarterback drops back to scan the surroundings. My first receiver is in double coverage, and my second is flirting dangerously with the sideline. Before I can even move the QB vision to look for the third, I notice the rush closing in. Fast. Scrambling, I launch a blind pass to my third, who is luckily in single coverage. The ball is closing in fast, but he’s a step ahead. This game is over. Just as the ball approaches my receivers fingertips, the cornerback raises his hands, and makes a disgusting over-the-shoulder catch. My heartbeat becomes erratic as the camera does the dreaded 180, and suddenly I’m playing defense on a wide open field with only my running back, the last hurdle between a shrug-off and primal rage. My line of attack is calculated, and I come hard, putting all my frustration of a long game into this last hit. I want to destroy this corner. As I close in, I mash the hit stick for massive damage, only to be met by the strong right arm. As my hopes and sanity tumble onto the turf in a heap, the cornerback displays a varied arsenal of gymnastics into the end zone with the Benny Hill Theme blaring in the background. I am a broken man.

Although I have a losing season, with hardly any wins, playing on All-Madden is a good challenge. I admit it took me a long, long time to improve to the point where I could actually win some games, and that didn’t used to sit well with me. Why would they make the difficulty leap so harsh? But after I crossed the hump, I realize that it made the game so much more meaningful. It may be a problem at first, but it becomes so fun to win that it pushes you to stay on All-Madden and to keep practicing. With some perseverance and some luck, you may be able to win a few.

Game play aside, Madden 06 offers a standard visual and atmospheric performance. The graphics are nothing revolutionary, and leave much to be desired. The repetitive animations are the biggest complaint here. It makes me wonder how much effort it takes to throw in a bit of variety into my gaming experience. The catches start to look the same, I’ve seen every touchdown celebration a myriad of times, and even the tackles are starting to get old. The TACKLES, the heart and soul of football. Asides from the repetition, the character models are decent, and won’t hinder your game experience at all.

Sadly, the music is almost as mediocre. There are some songs that definitely set a positive vibe for your game, such as “Bat Country” and “The Beast”, but then there are songs that are more out of place than snakes on a plane. “Dance, Dance”? This is football, not ballet (though an exquisite form of technical and artistic performance, not what I envision in a football game). The rest of the sound track isn’t nearly as memorable, save for the triumphant Sam Spence Themes, which will inevitably infect you with its catchy symphonic melodies.

It was not my intention to leave the review on a sour note, so I must recap why this game plucked one of my heart strings. The franchise mode lets you have so much control that you become emotionally attached to your team and your players, providing a game experience not welcome in many other sports games. The difficulty has a nice range, and winning on the hardest level is meaningful. To top it all off, there is enough customization in players, and in play books to keep you busy for a long time. Congratulations to EA for another great installment

Pros:
+Franchise Mode has depth
+Nice general range of difficulty
+Plenty of Customization
+Memorable Game play
+Training camps are a fun and welcome addition

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Cons:
-Animations are repetitive
-Lack of real innovations

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Overall :9

-Dougmoto (Where is my mind?)

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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