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EA Commits A Foul

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What a difference a next generation system makes. Madden NFL 06 for the Xbox 360 is almost the polar opposite of the same game (in name only) for the Xbox. I am so disappointed in Electronic Arts for releasing this version of Madden. Sure the graphics are all dolled up, but there is so little substance to this title. It?s a shame that due to the exclusive deal EA has with the NFL, if someone wants to play a football game on the 360, it will have to be Madden, no matter how average it is.

You?ve heard it said many times, ?What really matters in a videogame is the gameplay.? Fancy graphics are nice and all, but a game worth $60 graphics do not make. With that said, the 360 Madden is not very user friendly. Many times my custom control settings would not save and I had to keep redoing the controls so they would resemble some kind of button scheme that made sense. Even when they finally did save, I found the controls to be sluggish. In a game that relies on split-second timing, spot-on controls is a must. Why didn?t EA just keep the same button layout they used for current generation versions? The layout is so odd, especially for someone like myself who has played the Xbox Madden many times and has it memorized. To change up something so crucial to the overall gaming experience is a very dicey move for developer EA Tiburon. It?s a move that absolutely didn?t need to be made. This is all apart of EA?s ?rebuilding? of their key franchises. To that I say, if it ain?t broke, don?t fix it.

Other key changes are the omissions of long standing gaming modes such as create-a-player, owner mode, mini camp, superstar, practice, challenges, madden cards, tournament, rushing attack, and scouting for drafts. Parts of the game like create-a-player, mini camp, and owner mode will no doubt be missed more than newer editions to the series like superstar. That really doesn?t matter because one of the many pluses for Madden was its variety. Now we?re stuck with ?play now? and ?franchise?. Whoopy! Surprisingly enough, the vision passing makes its debut on the 360. The color has changed from yellow to gray if anyone really cares. I?m glad that the color of the vision cone was high up on the list of things that had to be included in the game. Who needs play challenges when EA can just change the cone color? Anyway, if I can stop being sarcastic for a few moments, vision passing works well for those gamers who like it. Players who found it too complex, however, don?t have to use it if they don?t want to. It only takes a flick of the right analog stick after the snap to activate the precision passing.

There is a new system for picking plays, but it?s really just a cosmetic thing. All the plays are still the same. Yet another shining example of EA building the next generation of football from the ground up [read: sarcasm]. The offensive and defensive pre-snap play calling has been scaled back considerably. This is like football for dummies. I loved making last second changes like spreading out my d-line while telling my secondary to play bump and run at the same time I?m sending my interior linebackers in on a blitz. It was great moving wide receivers everywhere and changing routs for them, while keeping my half back in to block for me. Now all that crazy, hectic fun is gone. What we?re left with is a ho-hum game that would?ve been fun five years ago. At least we still have the hit and truck sticks. That?s something right?

The kicking has now changed as well. Apparently the kicking game was another high priority issue with EA. Instead of adding things like new smoother animations, slipping and sliding in the rain and snow, pile up tackles, helicopter spins, over the top dives, more pass interference calls, side arm passes, real mud effects, torn jerseys, more spectacular catches, or fixing the clipping problems, they decide to mess with the kicking controls. Maybe this wouldn?t be so bad if the kicking game wasn?t so ridiculous now. It?s like a poor version of the kicking mechanics in the earlier NFL 2K franchise from Visual Concepts. Speaking of the 2K series, I really wish it was still around, because there is no doubt that it would be gridiron king for many years to come. At the very least, the current gen Madden should be backwards compatible so we have some kind of choice. Even if they are both from the same company.

Another problem is that you can?t change the camera angles. So even though many of the players? have detailed faces, you will rarely be able to see them unless you are messing around with a replay. While there is some amount of good detail the player models still leave something to be desired, especially their freaky Terminator looking eyes. Players look okay, but after seeing other 360 titles like Project Gotham 3, EA?s own NBA Live 06, Call of Duty 2, Condemned: Criminal Origins, and soon to come games like The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and Tom Clancy?s Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, I know the player models can look much better.

One thing that can definitely be said about this Madden, is that it certainly has a different style. It?s just too bad I can?t shake the feeling they stole it from Midway?s NFL Blitz. The player models have an uncanny resemblance to the players in the Blitz franchise. I?ve looked around and I cannot find anyone else complaining about this matter, but I promise you if you look at any Blitz title, especially later versions, you will see a similarity in the models. There is also some deja vu on kickoffs. The camera pans around from the kicking team to the receiving team just like it does in Blitz. Now compared to the model accusation this really isn?t a big deal, but compiled with it, just makes my case stronger. This is not to say EA stole anything from Midway, but why even leave your players and other content that way if they so closely resemble another franchise?s, just with more detail and in high def?

There are nice TV styled visuals and great shinny helmets. The fans have never looked better, although they do look and dress alike too much. The stadium models look excellent and the little windows that show x-rays of player injuries are a slick little touch. From time to time you will even get outside shots of the city you?re playing in. But again, these are still just cosmetic changes. None of the additions I just mention will change the way you play whatsoever. Some graphical problems that could have been fixed are the jerky and awkward animations. Maybe some more animations for the crowd could?ve been used also. It?s very strange to see half the stadium waving their hands and pumping their fists in such a synchronized fashion throughout the entire game. But the biggest thing, graphically, EA could have done, was to actually make the game look how they showed it in all those cool commercials. What a rip off. It?s even more surprising that EA would try to trick us with fake graphics. That?s not usually the kind of thing EA is known for . . . until now.

As far as audio is concerned, it?s all pretty forgettable. The player chatter is bland and the music is stale. John Madden and Al Michaels are gone from the booth and replaced by a radio announcer. That is a huge strike against the game right there. How do you take a great announcing tandem like Madden and Michaels away from the game and give us some lackluster actor to make us feel like we?re listening to the game on the radio? What a joke. What EA should have done was take recordings from real games and plugged them in to the videogame. To get true, real world emotion and reaction in the game would?ve been so much better than some radio guy. Of course the recordings couldn?t be player specific, but so many calls are made that it really shouldn?t be a problem for EA to find suitable snippets. They could also use some of the amusing stories Michaels and Madden tell during a game. That would certainly add new life to the dull commentary moments.

Replay value is hard to judge on a game like this. Madden 06 is very average across the board, but it?s the only football game out there. So from the obvious view that sports fans want to play multiple games of football, the score for replay value would be higher. But from a quality standpoint, any honest gamer would tell you that they would probably rather play the Xbox version, all things considered. I know I would.

EA?s company line of rebuilding their sports games from the ground up doesn?t fly with all gamers. Some believe EA is getting all the bugs and kinks out of the next gen Madden in order to have the franchise all pretty for when the PS3 comes out. I hope this is not true, but seeing this year?s game makes it hard not to think there is something to the argument. I can think of no new additions to the series that actually affect gameplay in a positive way. Everything seems to be in either the graphical or audio department, and they?re not even done that well. If EA wasn?t going to change things for the better why not just release a prettier version of the Xbox Madden while still working on the real next-gen project? Instead, 360 owners have to play a mediocre football game. Madden NFL 06 is the Xbox 360’s first budget title, it?s just too bad the game isn?t priced that way.

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