Review by EpsilonGSG

Reviewed: 08/15/05

As Great As Ever

When EA attained the exclusive rights to the NFL license, they were (and still are being) heavily criticized everywhere you looked. The main fear was that EA would just stop innovating and would just release a new Madden each year that was only minimally better than the last. Now that Madden NFL 06 is out, did that fear become a reality? Read on to find out.

There are a few big additions to the gameplay this year, so I'll start with the most obvious, QB Vision Control. Basically, each quarterback has a cone of vision, which is represented on the field by a cone of light. Wherever the quarterback is looking is the direction the cone is pointed in. If when you throw the ball, the intended receiver is inside of your vision cone, your throw's accuracy will be improved. If not, you will suffer an accuracy penalty and the pass will likely be off target. The vision cone's size depends on each quarterback's ability to see the field, meaning more aware quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Brett Favre will have large vision cones, whereas a Michael Vick or any given third-stringer will have small vision cones. For the most part, the QB Vision Control feature is pretty well done, but it has two downsides. Firstly, it has a longer learning curve than most features ever introduced in Madden. Secondly, the controls for it feel a bit unpolished when in a tight spot.

Keeping with the "Year of the Quarterback" theme, Madden NFL 06 introduces a second feature to help the passing game... Well, sort of. QB Precision Placement allows you to aim your passes to certain spots around the receiver using either the directional pad or the left analog stick. Pressing up as you pass will aim the ball high, down will aim it low, and left and right will aim the ball to the corresponding side of the receiver. Here's the thing... You have been able to do this for years, it just wasn't as good. QB Precision Placement is great, but it's more of a revamp rather than an all-new feature.

Fortunately, EA didn't forget about the running game. There is now the offensive equivalent of the defense's Hit Stick. It's called the Truck Stick. Whenever you are running with the ball and a defender is coming in on you for the tackle, you can press up on the right analog stick and the runner will deal a big hit to the defended. If it works, the would-be tackler will fall flat on the ground and you can take off running. If not, you will just be tackled like normal.

Madden NFL 06 has a brand-new mode as well. It's called Superstar mode. In it, you are an NFL player, straight out of college. You can either make a player from scratch using the DNA system, or you can import a player from either NCAA Football 06 or NFL Street 2. If you go with the DNA system, you pretty much keep looking at random parents over and over until you are satisfied with your look, position, and your parents attributes (which will effect your stats). Once you have a player, you'll start off by meeting with your mentor, Terrell Davis (I don't know why they picked him either), then you choose an agent, take an IQ test, and then it's time for the draft. If you made your player with Madden's DNA system, expect to go sometime in the 3rd round. If you imported a player from either NCAA Football 06 or NFL Street 2, you could potentially go in an earlier round. Once you've been drafted, you'll have access to all of your apartment items. In your apartment, you have a computer to check various stats and other information about your superstar, a city map, which you use to go to various spots in the city, a mirror to change your equipment, a cellphone that you will get messages on, a rookie handbook, which is basically your settings, and a schedule, which is what you use to access every event.

Once you get acquainted, you begin Training Camp. Training Camp is like practice mode, except you gain points for well-executed plays and lose points for bad plays. At first, this was fairly annoying, but it is an easily broken system. For easy points, all you have to do is call any given shotgun pass play for the offense and call a field goal block with the defense. Simply snap the ball and quickly pass it off to the primary receiver for an easy, unchallenged touchdown.

From there on, you'll have more Training Camp sessions and your four preseason games, with a few special events in between (like the highly lame movie shoots). When you get to the regular season, it is about the same thing, but the Training Camp sessions are gone and you now have practices in between games.

As your superstar gets better, higher-caliber agents will be willing to represent you and you will eventually get access to the Performance Institute, where you can improve your stats, but only temporarily. Furthermore, as you progress further in your NFL career, you will move from your humble apartment to a comfortable loft and finally an all-out mansion.

In the end, Superstar mode provides its fair share of fun, but the training camp sessions and practices become more of an annoyance than anything else. There will be people who enjoy this mode a lot, but there will be others who can't play through it more than once.

All the other modes are still there, from Franchise mode to Mini-Camp. Not much has changed with them. And if anyone was hoping for even the slightest of improvements to the Create-a-Team feature, well, you'll be disappointed yet again.

There are few significant enhancements graphically, but you can't quite fault the developers for that. We are just at the end of the current console generation and that's a sign of the times. There are some nice little details that I really enjoy. For one, you'll notice that during the playing of an actual game, there will be some special close-up camera angles. Additionally, after some plays, two stats screens will pop up on either side of the player who just made a big play, which doesn't sound all that great, but it has to be seen to be properly appreciated.

EA Trax is better than in years past. While most of the songs from various groups and artists still are pretty pathetic, there are a large number of NFL Films music tracks which are thoroughly enjoyable.

The announcing is improved this year, with far less stupid comments from Madden. There do seem to be a few problems with the coding for the announcing, however, as there have been multiple times when Al Michael's comments on what had just happened made me wonder if he was watching some other game. It looks though, that this may be Al Michael's last year in the game, due to Monday Night Football moving to ESPN, meaning the real-life John Madden and Al Michaels look to be going in two separate directions. That is a shame.

The online mode is pretty much as solid as ever, but I did notice that EA loves to milk their customers for all they're worth. What do I mean? When you register, you are eventually taken to a screen that prompts you to either pay them $2 via credit card, or choose the ESPN sponsored online. They both take you to the same place, but the latter simply means that you are going to be spammed by ESPN and its affiliates.

The true beauty of the Madden series has always been that it has an incredible amount of replayability. There is enough to do in Madden that it will still offer unique experiences up until Madden NFL 07 comes out.

When you get down to it, Madden NFL 06 is a solid addition to an always good series of games. The new additions may not be the most amazing things we've ever seen, but they are well done and add more to the fun and depth of the game. If you have enjoyed Madden in the past, this is definitely worth a buy. If you have never played a football game before, or if you were only a player of the ESPN NFL 2K series, you may want to rent it first.

FIRST DOWNS: More innovation than in the last few years, gameplay is as solid as ever.
FUMBLES: A few obvious bugs that should have been worked out, not enough polish on Superstar mode.

SCORE: 9/10

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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