Madden 07 (XBOX) Review
The Madden football game series has become so entrenched in the lives of gamers. Even those that hate sports games can instantly tell you that Madden 05 or 06 or whatever version is current is one of the most popular video games out there. Sure, some might go into a nerd rage when you mention it and talk about how sports games are the bane of whatever Japanese RPG is popular at the time, but the popularity of these sports games is undeniable.
So, EA has decided to cash in on this. In the past couple of years, they have secured exclusive rights to use NFL teams and players in their games, effectively killing their only real competition. Also, to throw another nail in the coffin, they’ve wooed ESPN to their side, too – the only real thing that was left for the other football series. We’re now into the second year of the exclusive licensing deal with ESPN along with the NFL exclusivity – have they helped the game out or has killing the competition allowed EA to just sit back and cash in on the Madden name without putting forth any work?
Madden 07 was released and inaugurated the new term “Maddenoliday – a day when EA likely gets to give each and every one of their employees a day or two off because of the absolutely insane amount of money that will roll in from the insane amount of copies of Madden 07 that will sell that day. Sure, the term was around before but, this year, it has been ‘pushed’ a lot more. This year’s version of Madden of course has the highlight feature – the revamped running system. Before, you had the truck stick. Little guys and big guys alike would just try to bowl someone over. Now, this was great for a Jerome Bettis but, well, can you imagine Warrick Dunn trying to run someone over? It made no sense.
So, enter the highlight stick. Now, the type of runner you are will determine just what happens when you flick the right stick. If you’re a small and agile type of runner, you’re going to duck under incoming guys or maybe give a quick turn to the left or right to watch a tackler fly past. The big guys, though, will still try to run right through you. This was a neat idea and should have been part of last year’s game.
The highlight stick wasn’t the only major addition to the running game, either. Now, you can switch to a fullback or an offensive lineman and play blocker for the big stud halfback. The right thumbstick will act as a lead blocking control – flick it down for a cut block or flick it up to try to put a guy on his back. There are also other blocking controls such as turning the block to the left or the right (to make it harder for the guy being blocked to disengage and hit the runner) or even the ability to hold a guy (getting caught nets you a 10-yard penalty, though). These controls go a long way to making Madden feel like a fun experience at any position on the field.
It is a good thing each position feels this fun to play, too, because this year’s Superstar mode has had some significant changes made. Now referred to as the Hall of Fame mode, it looks very similar on the surface to last year’s basic superstar mode. However, the way some things work have been changed. First is what you do before the draft – you’ll go to “work out” for three different teams. This amounts to picking from a few appropriate drills for your position (basically, the minicamp type drills that you’ll run in franchise mode with a few new ones tossed in) and running them. The major difference, though, comes in when you start the drill.
See, you don’t have the same view on the action as before. The camera is lower to the ground and more focused on your superstar. While this takes some getting used to at first, it is a great blend of the original camera and the first-person view that was seen as not much more than a gimmick in the ESPN NFL 2k series. You don’t quite get into a first person view but you can see less of the field. You can turn your head left and right before the play with the right thumbstick, too, which is a neat touch. Also helping is that each team has certain play styles -- The Colts love to pass and really don't use the running back that much while the Ravens lean heavily towards the run. Due to that, certain positions being drafted by those teams will, well, suck. Overall, the camera view and teams playing to their general styles add a lot to the immersiveness of the superstar mode.
Other small touches also help out the mode. You can have the computer play when your superstar isn’t in, for example. There are a couple of minor issues I do have with this, though. One involves the playcalling – the computer will, quite often, make some boneheaded play calls. I’ve seen a run play on third and long when the team needed a first down to stay in the game. Stuff like that doesn’t help me stay in the game. Also minor is the view you have of the game – it seems to be from the other team’s sideline. I know that is small, but I should be watching the game from my sideline, not from a view that seems to be on the other team’s sideline and back about 10 rows in the seating. Even then, though, being on the sidelines leads you to actually cheering for your team when you aren’t in and makes you feel more like the player instead of the coach.
Another nice addition to this year’s game is the idea of roles. At first, you’ll only have the role of Rookie. You can get tougher and have more stamina, but can’t influence other players. As you play, though, and gain influence with your team and make certain types of plays, you’ll gain more roles. A defensive team captain, for example, can influence his team and call defensive audibles. Other positions each have their share of roles which really adds to the game. Improving the role-related stats happens during a game and you’ll have more points to spend if you’ve been doing well. You can give yourself the points or others the points dependent on the role. It makes sense, really – the better your play, the more influence you will have over your teammates.
Of course, some of the positions in superstar mode are incredibly difficult. For example, the cornerback position is much harder to play – whether or not this is actually true, each position should be at least somewhat approachable by most gamers. While I have read of some being able to play this well, others have a ton of issues. Even with this, though, most people will find a few positions they are well suited to and play them. I’ve really taken to Middle Linebacker, Running back and wide receiver. I’ve tried all the others, though, and they are pretty fun.
The rest of the game is pretty much regular Madden fare. Sure, there is a new kicking meter (EA loves to use the right thumbstick for things like this in games – swing your club in Tiger Woods golf, swing the bat in MVP NCAA 06 and punch in Fight Night), but that isn’t really a big deal. The franchise mode is still here and, unlike the 360 version, you can draft your own team and play with your buddy on that same team. The passing cone isn’t a requirement anymore if you want a perfect pass but you can still focus on a receiver, turn it on, and gain an accuracy bonus (not to the degree that you did last year, though). The online modes are pretty much the same too.
So, the big question will be, then – is it worth picking up this year’s version if you already have 2006? The answer is a definite yes – the new lead blocking controls and the refined superstar mode add a lot to the Madden experience and, as a minor plus, the game seems to run more smoothly. Also, there’s the roster update that you’ll get which is the reason most upgrade each year. Madden 07, despite a couple of small issues, comes out of the gate as the best current-gen Madden yet.
Now, some with a 360 and a regular Xbox have been wondering if they should go with the version of the game on the 360. I’ve picked up both versions and will be diving heavily into the 360 version over the next few days and will report back with a review on the next-gen Madden. So, stay tuned.