Review by admtanaka
Off his back foot, but still good for a TD
EA sports and I have a love/hate relationship. On the one hand, there is no disputing the quality of any Madden Football since 2004, and, on the other, it really irks me that they can consistently profit off of minimal upgrades from year to year. In 2006 we saw an end to competition between game companies in the football market with EA's purchase of the exclusive license to the NFL. Naturally, this led me to believe that 2006 would be the year that saw next to no improvements made from the previous year. And, I must admit, I was partially wrong.
What EA has managed to do in 2006 is develop one gameplay modification that completely changes how people play football videogames: the QB passer vision. Basically, this is a cone that begins from your quarterback and spreads to cover a portion of the field in front of him. Pass to someone within the cone, and your QB's pass is more accurate; pass to a receiver outside the cone, and your QB's pass will be substantially less accurate (read: likely intercepted). The more experienced and alert your quarterback is, the larger the cone.
There is no more just snapping the ball and tossing it to whomever is open. As a player, you're now forced to go through a receiver progression starting with the play's number one target down to the check down man. It also gives the ability to "look off" defenders. Throwing deep down the field? You can stare down your running back in the flat, then throw the ball deep over the baited safety and watch as he chases your receiver hopelessly.
Admittedly, it does take some time to become acclimated to the vision cone. The first time I played, I was amazed how fast and alert the players on defense can be. You'll throw a lot of interceptions to start. Fortunately, this is the kind of gameplay element that improves in a player's eye as he improves. Of course, if someone isn't up to the learning curve, the vision can be turned off. Defenders can also be dumbed down a bit with gameplay sliders that allow adjustments to their speed, awareness, ability to catch an interception, etc. In the end though, anyone who really appreciates football should also appreciate how much the vision cone adds to the game, both in terms of realism and gameplay.
Unfortunately, this is also where the meaningful changes end. There is a "hit stick" and a "truck stick" that allow the running back and the defenders to tee off on each other for really big hits by pressing the right thumbstick, but these additions really pale in comparison to the vision cone in terms of having a meaningful impact on the gameplay. The truck stick seems a little overpowered, especially when Warick Dunn is pushing my linebackers into the ground as he runs over them.
Madden 2006 also includes a completely laughable "superstar" mode, intended to simulate what it is like to live the life of an NFL draft pick through his career and retirement. There is clear evidence of lazy programming here; in fact, it seems like they didn't really change anything from the regular season mode, but rather just dressed it up with a new face and added some superfluous options. I don't see much realism in a 4th round draft pick having control over the team's depth chart, just like I don't see Ron Dayne the starter for any NFL team. In actual gameplay, the only difference is that "your" player has a red circle underneath his feet - you still control whomever has the ball.
There was also a feeble attempt to add some role playing elements that might relate to your player, like movie deals that are essentially all the same, promotions that do nothing, and pointless interviews. After a couple games, you'll simulate the rest of your player's career and watch him put up great stats and develop into a hall of fame caliber player. You'll stroll to your agent's office ready to announce your retirement, anxious to see what reward you'll get for putting together a great career. Then you'll hit retire, and be returned to the main menu, as though you never played at all. Remember wasting a week to beat a Nintendo game from 1989 only to read:
Well, if not, you will when you finish Madden's superstar mode. There really isn't any reason to devote anything more than a glance to it, especially since the programmers didn't think so either.
Most of the other peripheral modes suffer from the same inattention. The franchise mode hasn't had any appreciable improvements since 2004 (or maybe even earlier). The draft still has the same trite comments listed for just about every player. On top of this, the programmers seem to have tweaked the player development algorithms to the point that good quarterbacks never develop by themselves. If you do more than 5 or so seasons, expect no good rookies to replace the aging veterans.
Graphically, the game looks pretty good on the Xbox. They've added a few more animations and made the graphics a little sharper, but they still look a little too brightly animated to me. Similarly, the commentary is 90%+ rehashed from previous Madden games, but, despite some criticism from other reviewers, still does the job pretty well. Admittedly, there are instances where Madden and Michaels make comments that are totally inane or inappropriate for the situation, but besides these relatively few moments, their banter is generally acceptable.
The soundtrack for this version seems to be one of the strongest of the series. There are the usual "made for Madden" rap songs that sound absolutely silly, but when these are turned off most of the playlist is pretty solid. I suspect part of the problem is that the NFL doesn't care to be associated with profanity-ridden rap (which I, and just about everyone else, seem to prefer). Even if you don't like the songs, you can always add your own custom playlist, so there shouldn't be too many people dissatisfied.
Within the actual games, Madden 2006 manages to really shine. The problem lies in all the other modes that EA continues to carelessly just tack onto the game with little to no game testing or development. Anyone who picks this game up for the aspect of managing a team or living the life of an NFL player will likely be disappointed. For the rest of us who just like playing four quarters of football against another player, however, Madden 2006 is a very good game.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
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