Review by VaporFox

Reviewed: 08/18/05

The Madden faithful deserve better than this.

Introduction
Well, EA Sports has officially begun its tyrannical reign over the football video game market with the strangle hold it now has over the NFL team and player rights. That's right; no more NFL 2K games, no more NFL Fever, no more 989 Studios grid iron games. If you want the real teams and players, it's Madden or nothing. Ah, America, the land of freedom and choices.

Here's the best analogy I can use sum up the Madden series since 2002: Think of EA Sports as a car manufacturer who only puts out ONE type of automobile. They keep piling on more "options" to the car each year to instill the illusion they're "improving" it drastically; however, when it's all said and done, you're getting the same car with the same "engine" and all the same flaws it's always had. But wow, at least you have power windows and a fancy cup holder now, huh?

Graphics - Rating: 7
If you've played ANY of the Madden games since 2002, you already know what you're getting here. The graphical "improvements" in 2006 are so incremental that most people will be hard-pressed to see any major differences. In my opinion, the player models are still a little too "cartoony" in appearance. Often-vapid player facial expressions are accompanied by bodies and uniforms which look so unrealistically glossy it's as if they're made of plastic. And other than a handful of new tackle/dive/jump animations, these are all the same moves we've seen since this series hit the PS2.

Game Presentation - Rating: 6
It never ceases to amaze me how this aspect of Maddens gets WORSE with each year. Remember how we used to at least get a minute or two of redundant blabbering from John Madden and Al Michaels about the key players of a team before each game started? Well, we don't even have THAT anymore. Instead, we get an ugly overlay of both teams, along with a brief (and uninspiring) verbal introduction by Michaels. Things aren't any different at the end of the game either. They're still using the SAME EXACT post-game player/coach celebrations Madden had FOUR years ago. For crying out loud guys, where does the laziness end?

The instant replays don't feel as nicely done in this edition either. Whatever happened to that classic instant replay they used in the 2002/2003 Maddens which showed of almost every touchdown pass from a reversed angle in super slow motion? It was perfect, yet EA has scrapped it for no apparent reason. Instead, now we get ho-hum replays that are often shown in the middle of the play selection screen, when you should be focusing on picking plays. Brilliant move, boneheads.

Sound - Rating: 7
Nothing outstanding, yet nothing downright bad either. As usual for these games, the menu soundtrack is hit and miss, with an assortment of rap and rock music you've probably heard way too many times on a radio station, MTV, or ESPN. A small assortment of theme music from "Autumn Thunder: 40 Years of NFL Films Music" is also included, which I must give the big thumbs up to. It's all a matter of personal taste, but I'd much rather listen to "Magnificent Eleven", "The Equalizer", or "Classic Battle" over 90% of the modern cra- I mean, music, EA stuffed into this package.

The in-game sounds are mostly what we've been hearing in every Madden since 2002, but I can't really gripe about that, since there's only so many ways you can recreate grunting, groaning, shoulder pads clashing, and crowds cheering before it all starts sounding the same anyhow.

As for the commentary, well, it's as stagnant as ever. Despite how much I respect Al Michaels, it's hard to praise his work in this series, since it feels like EA only lets him tack on a small handful of new content each year. As for John Madden himself, well, he's still John Madden. Need I say more? Ugh. Anyhow, there are still way too many errors/glitches in the commentary too. There's been times in games where Michaels says something like "<player name> has returned from his injury", even though said player was NEVER INJURED IN THE FIRST PLACE. Ahem ... sorry.

Gameplay - Rating: 6
Okay, before I climb into my flameproof body suit here, let me justify why I'm giving this area such an average score. To be perfectly blunt, if the "game testers" and "AI programmers" who did Madden 06 manage to find another job in the video game industry ever again, I'm thoroughly convinced that an epileptic chimp could be successful in their line of work.

What am I talking about? First and foremost, the punt return blocker "AI" (though calling it artificial "intelligence" is a major stretch). Now, anyone who watches NFL games regularly knows that punt returners end up having to call for a fair catch around 85% of the time. However, I'm fairly certain the reason they call fair catches is NOT because their own teammates never block for them!

Yes, you read that correctly folks; the brilliant programmers at EA "forgot" to write scripts that tell your return blockers to -- ya know -- BLOCK for you. Two teammates will usually get back in time to block for you. BUT! What do they do 99% of the time? They literally stand there, with their backs turned to oncoming opposing players and let them just run on by, untouched. So in consequence, you must call a fair catch for almost EVERY return attempt, hence ruining what's always been a huge part of gaining field position in football. Got a stud like Dante Hall as your return man? Tough cookies, kid. EA dun love ya. Oh yeah, and apparently NONE of the game testers noticed any of this (remember what I said about the epileptic chimps).

Gratefully, the other facets of the AI aren't so glaringly flawed. For those of you who may be wondering: yes, the cheesy "comeback" AI is still intact. If you play this on the All-Pro or All-Madden difficulties, you can expect most of the CPU touchdowns to come from questionable one-play "drives" or miracle fumbles/interceptions which would usually make Sport Center's top 10 plays of the week.

Thankfully, now it's much easier to prevent the CPU from passing +300 yards on you every game, thanks to a new gameplay feature EA cooked up called "QB Vision". No longer can your (or your opponent's) quarterback magically see the entire field all the time. In each pass play, your field general will have a "vision cone" which represents how much of the field he can see. Throws made towards receivers in his vision cone are more accurate, while passes thrown at teammates far outside of said cone are more likely to be incomplete, or worse, intercepted.

You can either lock the vision cone onto receivers by holding the R-Trigger and pressing the button assigned to the desired player, or you can move the vision cone freely with the right analog stick. Even longtime Madden veterans may take a bit of time to get used to this new feature -- as it is a bit awkward to grasp at first -- but if all else fails, you can turn the QB Vision option off if you decide it's not your cup of tea. I do recommend trying it out though, if not just for the new level of strategy it adds. You can stare down a receiver to "look off" defenders, for example. However, this seems to pay off more against human opponents, since sometimes the AI doesn't seem to "care" which receiver you're focusing on.

Another new gameplay feature is the "Truck Stick". While running with the ball, you can now press up, up-left, or up-right on the right analog stick to make your player "shoulder charge" a would-be tackler. This often results in a defender flat on his back (though not so much on the higher difficulty settings). It's a simple but welcome addition to the running game, and its only drawback is it increases a player's chance of fumbling the ball when used.

Oh, I almost forgot: EA also took the "pass lead sensitivity" option it's had for the past few years and renamed it "QB Precision Placement" this time, just to make it sound more fancy. Basically, if you press a direction on the left analog stick while your QB throws a pass, you'll "lead" the receiver in that pressed direction. Want to throw it low? Press down. Want to try adding more "lob" to a pass to lace it over an aggressive zone defender? Press up. Well, I'm sure you get the gist of it.

Game Modes - Rating: 7
Same thing as last year, with a few new additions. (Am I sounding like a broken record yet?) Other than the basic exhibition, tournament, and online games, there's franchise mode, which has gotten a few nice touchups.

Now you can study a "gameplan" for every game of the season (and preseason) that's laid out by your coaches/coordinators. It allows you to "scout" the other team's key plays they like to use. You can even study up on EVERY starting player for their team with a brief text file that assesses their various skills. Also, you may practice three key "focus" plays each week. In other words, your offensive coordinator lists three plays your opponent's defense likes to utilize; then he picks three offensive plays which he feels are best suited to counter them.

Finally, there's NFL Superstar mode, in which you create your own player from scratch, literally. First you "roll the dice" by choosing your parents from random couples until you find a pair with genetic and career traits you like (high IQ, athletic background, high profile jobs, et cetera). Your parental choice also determines which position your player is best suited for. Next, you can tailor your "stud" by picking things such as the college he attended, player number, position, physical appearance, etc.

Once that's settled, you go through the "glorious" process most rookie NFL players endure. First you hire an agent to represent you, then you take an IQ test that helps decide your player's overall intelligence and persona. Next, you watch the NFL draft to see which team picks you up. And thus, your "adventure" of playing on a team begins.

Anyhow, to make a long story short, the NFL Superstar mode is a nice concept in theory, but it's so lacking in polish and full of unavoidable glitches that it's little more than EA's latest attempt to try making us forget the game itself is mostly unchanged. The "IQ Test" seemed flawed, since whether or not I got all the questions correct, my player would never score above 80%. Furthermore, even if I "turned down" roles I was offered for movies, it'd still talk about my player in the news as if he WAS in the movie. Things like this may seem menial, but it's just another example of how rushed and incomplete the game is.

Final Score: 6
In spite of the score given here, this isn't a "horrible" football game by any means. However, if THIS is the only game we're going to get with the real NFL teams and players every year now, EA Sports needs to not only innovate the gameplay consistently, but also fix all the glaring flaws that they seem content to LEAVE broken and untouched.

The fact that EA has the audacity to continue charging over $50 for these diminutive "upgrades" each year is ridiculous. Heck, I'd actually raise my score of Madden 06 a full point or two if they set the release price more reasonably. PC gamers don't pay $50 for upgrades or patches to their favorite games, so why should console gamers?

If you already have Madden 05, save yourself the money and just update its rosters instead of forking out the dough for 06, because the only things you're really missing out on by skipping this year's game is a quirky passing feature and a glitchy "NFL Dress-Me-Up-Barbie" game mode.

Rating:   3.0 - Fair

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