Madden NFL 06 Review - 05/02/2006

The next generation of American football gaming has arrived, and it all kicks off with the familiar face of Madden, but a rather unfamiliar lack of well established features. EA Sports’ excuse being that they had to start the whole franchise from scratch for its debut on Microsoft's new console behemoth: the Xbox 360.

'It's not that the console can't handle the wealth of gameplay options and modes that the franchise has accumulated over the (thousands of) yearly updates', they stated, 'we just didn't have the time or resources to incorporate all the features into Madden NFL 06'. It also didn't help that MNFL06 was a launch title, which are notoriously known for being rushed to coincide with the respective date.

What does all this mean for the fans? Does EA's revelation mean it will take a fair few laborious years before Madden is even back up to the standard set on the current crop of consoles? In this reviewer's opinion: most certainly. Madden 06 heralds the re-incarnation of an entire series on a new platform, and that means an entirely new graphics engine, Dolby Digital Surround Sound, full Xbox 360 Live support, gameplay mechanics featuring complex physics and other technical gaming lingo you probably don't even care about. All that stuff will come later on however as EA didn't have time for most of the above.

In the meantime though we do have the sumptuous, shiny new graphics engine at least, which gives a new life to everything, such as the now fully 3D (although still blurry) crowd that holler and cheer at the incredibly lifelike players on display. Although you will need a high definition TV to bring out the sharp textures and get the most from the game, Madden will look the business on any setup, beating any current American football game on the market into submission. In fact, most of the players are actually 10 times better than the players featured in Madden NFL 05, and they, if you excuse my London accent, 'weren't no mugs.mate.'

I say most players because some of the lesser known competitors have had the old 'EA sports default face treatment. Although this sounds like a delightful bit of cosmetical enhancement, it actually involves a set number of faces that EA have created, that are then mapped onto virtually unknown players to save time, much like was done in the FIFA games to the likes of players such as Gavin Mcann and David Weir (who?). Well it would take an age to scan every single players face!

The commentary has also befitted from a complete oral over-hall due to the loudmouthed John Madden swapping the commentary booth for a play calling role, with the new universal EA Sports announcer taking up the mic. The improvements over the commentary is also down to the huge memory capabilities of the 360, which means the commentator can spout on for days about the minutest statistic or even the weather. In a loud mouthed American way, his constant chattering can become tiresome, but at least there is less chance of hearing him repeat the same thing twice.

The meat of any American football game lies in, you guessed it, the football, oh and the Americanism. Well this game has it in red, white and blue droves. From the trash talking ramblings of opponents to one another at the beginning of a play, to the coach barking orders on the touchline, the presentation is astounding and at times it doesn't feel like you are playing a videogame. Unfortunately, for the majority of MNFL06, it hasn't been bulked up much from when we last played it, and the only improvements come in the form of the additions of new plays and formations. The 'ask Madden' feature is better than ever however, with the 'king of football' (and hot dogs) offering a useful insight into what play might be useful in what situation. Although a nice bonus, this small addition certainly doesn't make up for the loss of key features such as defensive playmaker controls.

Not much had been introduced this year that hasn't been seen before. The obvious features have been left in-tack such as the 'play now' option that allows players to jump straight into a custom made match and let off some steam. The Franchise mode (Franchise being American for season) which is the main draw for Madden games, is a shell of it's former vibrant self, with a considerably short and shallow experience not helped by the troublesome menu screens that are a nightmare to navigate.

The only another feature accompanying the two above is the online mode. With its solid, MOSTLY smooth play (unless you're challenging a lag-laden Australian) this saves MNFL06 from being a totally bleak experience. Although again, a lot of what made the online play of Madden fun has been stripped down to it's bare components, with the fun-filled mini games that we came to love on the Xbox and PS2 being taken out altogether. This just leaves the intense matches to compete in, with the only form of a break coming in the shape of a lobby where you can chat to like-minded Madden fans.

Other than the obvious additions to the series that comes with the 360 name (i.e. highly improved visuals), MNFL06 offers nothing new to long term fans or even newly-band-wagon-hopping gamers. When one of the only draws of a game is merely nice reflections on helmets and flapping uniforms, it has a long way to go. In some cases the game has even taken a few steps back, most noticeably in the franchise mode which makes for a skeletal game of football. Since the only draw of this game is in the looks department, we would only recommend you purchase this title to show off what your shiny new Xbox 360 can do, although with a 49.99 price tag, all the shiny graphics in the world don't substitute for a lacklustre football experience.

- Ben Griffin


EA Sports
EA Tiburon