Review by Dunkeroo23

Reviewed: 08/09/05

EA's vision takes the game to new heights

Introduction:

EA Sports’ Madden NFL series has been the gridiron king for over 15 years, due to its authentic gameplay and ability to improve upon itself every year just enough to stay ahead of the increasingly tough competition. But now with the NFL exclusive license and the lack of any competition on its side, the quality of the product is now in question, and rightfully so, as the new features in this year’s installment are limited when compared to past versions. However, despite the exclusive license and minimal addition of new features, Madden NFL 06 is the most polished football title ever and again improves in every aspect from its predecessors.

Gameplay:

The passing system in Madden has always been great and remained untouched for over a decade. With this year’s new Vision and Precision Passing feature, however, EA hopes to revolutionize the QB position for the better. The additions of Offensive and Defensive Playmaker over the past years has added plenty of depth, but never has EA attempted to completely revamp any aspect of the game quite like this.

The goal of Vision Passing is reproduce what the QB sees on the field. Quarterbacks will have a Vision Cone which will appear after the ball is snap, which is highlighted and represents their field of vision. The size of the cone is determined by the QB’s awareness rating - the higher the rating, the larger the cone. So outstanding QBs like Peyton Manning or Brett Favre will have a cone that fills nearly fills up the entire screen, allowing them to see the entire field, while a less than stellar QB such as Kyle Boller will have a cone that allows him to only look at one receiver at a time. The QB will now have to look at his intended receiver before attempting the pass, otherwise the pass will be extremely inaccurate (as much as five to ten yards off).

The easiest way to use Vision Passing is to press R2 + the button of the intended receiver when you are ready to pass the ball. This will automatically make your QB look at that receiver, and then you have to press the receiver’s button again to actually make the throw. The other alternative is to use the right analog stick to move the cone back and forth. While this method is much more realistic, the problem is that the cone does not lock on to the receivers, so QB’s with low awareness ratings will have very a tough time maneuvering the cone exactly on the intended receiver.

While it might seem simple enough, the QB Vision can make passing extremely difficult. With the standard passing system, a receiver will normally manage to get himself open for only half a second. By the time you press R2 + the button of the receiver before making the throw, the receiver might no longer be open, which can be frustrating. Also, the method isn’t just a simple double tap even if you hold the R2 button down the whole time, as there is a small delay as the cone switches from receiver to receiver, so you have to wait until the cone fixes on a receiver before attempting the throw. Doing all that while reading the defense and blitzes is a lot to keep in mind, so much so that it can be a frustrating experience and take away from the overall fun of the game. If you are trying out Vision Passing for the first time, expect to make plenty of incomplete passes, interceptions, and get sacked – a lot, especially on the All-Pro and All-Madden levels of play.

Despite the awkwardness of the feature after using the traditional passing system for so long, I found that Vision Passing added so much depth to the game and truly does revolutionize the way Madden is played more so than any other feature ever implemented, on both offense and defense. For example, if you stare at one receiver the entire time, the defense will actually anticipate this and break for the ball when the pass is thrown, meaning you can use this to your advantage to “look off” the defenders. Likewise, on defense, you can anticipate the passes by looking at the cone, which can lead to more deflections and interceptions. Also, you’ll probably immediately notice that the QB’s cone will always be facing in the center of the field on all draws plays. While this would appear to make draws plays predictable, you can set the cone toward the middle before the play to fool the defenders. If you take the time to master this feature, it is probably the most fun addition to ever hit the Madden franchise. EA took a huge risk with Vision Passing, and most players will either hate it or love it. But with enough practice, you’ll be using Vision Passing without giving it a thought, and going back to the traditional passing system will seem dull in comparison.

To go along with Vision Passing, EA had added all new Precision Passing features. Using this, you will now have a lot more control over where your passes are thrown. Pushing on different directions using either the Directional Pad or Left Analog Stick just as you throw the ball will alter its placement. You can lead your receiver or throw it behind him, aim it low, or even throw Randy Moss type lob passes. But just like Vision Passing, Precision Passing can be tough to master. If you don’t place the ball perfectly, more than likely the pass will have a great chance of being intercepted, especially if you overthrow the receiver. But when used correctly, Precision Passing allows plays to be made against the toughest of defenses. Either way, Precision Passing is extremely fun and impacts the game even more than Vision Passing.

Superstar Mode is the other big addition to this year’s game, letting you live the life of an NFL Superstar on and off the field. I had pretty low expectations for this mode after experiencing the mediocre Race for the Heisman mode in NCAA 06, but Superstar Mode turned out to be incredibly fun and is the biggest mode since Franchise mode was introduced. The first thing you will do in this mode is to create your player, which is essentially choosing from a set of parents. The attributes of your parents including IQ and occupation will determine your player’s skills, looks, and best suited position. While this can be fun to sort through all the different set of parents before choosing one, Superstar Mode would have been better off if they would have just let you use the Create-A-Player feature to create your player, as then your Superstar could be built from the ground up.
After your player is created, you’ll start off in a small crib. Inside the crib are things like your schedule, a map of all the key places around town, a cell phone, and a computer. Every city has a barber and tattoo shop to maintain a good image toward the media. Terrell Davis will be your mentor, giving you advice along the way, some even featuring his real voice. Your first priority will be to hire an agent. While the game doesn’t have the big names like Drew Rosenhaus, there are plenty of realistic agents to choose from, all with different strengths and standards. Only a few will be available at first, but eventually you can choose any agent once you’ve become a superstar. Before the draft, you’ll have to take an IQ test, which a set of 20 random questions based on intelligence and personal preference. Then it’s time for the draft, where you’ll stare at a still picture featuring the draft day crew while you wait for your name to be called. It was a little disappointing they didn’t include some draft analysis or have a clip of your player actually getting drafted. Throughout the season, you’ll receive movie offers and interviews, all affected by your play on the field. You can do everything from demanding trades to guaranteeing a victory. While everything is fun, it’s all just choosing from a list of options that can get boring after awhile. Still, Superstar Mode is a breath of fresh air from the normal gameplay.

Another nifty feature this year’s installment brings is the Truck Stick, which is essentially the Hit Stick on offense. Anytime your player has the ball, tapping up on the Right Analog Stick will make the ball carrier attempt to plow through the tackler. EA implemented this feature perfectly to keep the game balanced. For one, only the bigger Runningbacks like Jamal Lewis or Jerome Bettis will have any success with this feature. Also, much like the Hit Stick, the timing has to be perfect and players will even fatigue if this feature is overused. Unlike the Hit Stick where fumbles only occurred every so often, the Truck Stick can have an impact on every play. The game also features a backwards juke move, which can be performed by tapping back on the Right Analog Stick. If timed right, the defender will completely fly past the ball carrier. This is a great alternative to the Truck Stick and is better used with smaller, agile Runningbacks. Combine these two new moves with the standard juke, spin, stiff arm, and cover up moves, running the ball has never been so fun. The only complaint I have is that the left and right jukes are done with the R1 and L1 buttons, instead of tapping left and right on the Right Analog Stick like the NCAA version. It would make sense if all the juke and Truck Stick moves were able to be performed with the Right Analog Stick.

Madden NFL 06 has even expanded on the Offensive and Defensive Playmaker controls featured in the 04 and 05 versions. On offense, Smart Routes have been added where you can alter a receiver’s route to take where the first down mark is into consideration. On defense, Man Lock allows you to disguise zones and lock certain defenders to receivers no matter how much they motion. Receivers can now be shaded, meaning you can tell your Cornerbacks to anticipate the receiver’s route and cover the inside or outside. Any defender can double team any player now as well. The ability to crash the line or defend the pass after the snap from the 04 version has returned. Lastly, the bump-and-run defense has been fine-tuned. In last year’s version, bump-and-run was too effective, as it would unrealistically stall receivers two to three seconds. Even though the Corners will still attempt to push the receivers off balance now, the receivers will effectively fight off the tight coverage.

The AI in this year’s version has been improved as well. No longer do Linebackers have superhuman abilities to contest every pass that flies by them like Corners, but instead will pursue the ball carrier better to make up for that, just like real Linebackers are supposed to do. The secondary is smarter than ever, reading the QB’s eyes and aggressively playing every pass. Still, the same noticeable flaws plague the game once again. Blocking has not really improved at all, as linemen can have a tendency to just stand there from time to time as a Linebacker blows past them. Likewise, receivers will still just annoyingly stand in place after they’re finished running their route for a good three seconds instead of trying to get open.

The core of the game is still the Franchise and Owner Mode. With the exception of some more Tony Bruno segments, Franchise Mode has remained the same. It is really disappointing that EA didn’t expand on Franchise Mode as they seem to every year.

The online play has been completely revamped this year, with a totally new interface as part of EA Nation. The cost to play online is actually two dollars, but ESPN can actually sponsor you for free. The main addition is the EA Locker feature, where you can upload files from your offline game and use it online, such as playing a Franchise Mode game online. All the tournaments, Rushing Attack, and deep stat tracking are still there and all the glitches that ruined the experience in past versions seem to be fixed, although it’s still very early in the year. One problem I found is that when an opponent disconnects, both of you might get a loss even if you play it out and win. Other than that problem, which is usually fixed very early every year, the online mode is the best ever.

Gameplay score: 9

Graphics:

It is a little disappointing that the game did not improve the graphics like the past versions did. Aside from the graphics looking slightly sharper, this game is virtually identical to last year’s version with the exception of the Vision Cone, and even features some slowdown occasionally. Usually EA adds hundreds off new animations each year, which is not the case this year, and after NCAA delivered absolutely perfected animation, Madden NFL 06 falls short in comparison. However, the quality of the ones they did add more than make up for the lack of quantity. Some of the new tackle animations are jaw dropping, especially the mid-air tackles. Some of the new normal tackles in this year’s game are at least on par with the Hit Stick tackles, if not better. Runningbacks have also gotten plenty of tackle break animations, and receivers have new animations to coincide with Precision Passing. Also, instead of improving on the horrific-looking halftime cheerleaders, EA has decided to do away with them altogether, which is also disappointing. One plus is the improved presentation, even though EA’s deal with ESPN does not take effect until next year. More stat tables will pop up during the game and extra camera angles have been added as your players get set for the next play, all adding to the broadcast-like feel to the game. The limited graphical improvements are understandable, as the Playstation2 does have its limitations, but the graphics still look great.

Graphics Score: 8

Sound:

EA has always featured great music in their games, and this year is no exception. While there are no big name artists like years past, the beats this year are better than ever, and are definitely rap-heavy. The commentary has remain the exact same for the most part, which has been getting extremely repetitive. And with the exception of improved referee sounds, no additional gameplay sounds effects have been added.

Sound score: 8

Replayability:

Madden NFL 06 is by far the deepest in the series. Mastering Vision and Precision Passing, new pre-snap adjustments and Playmaker controls, the addicting Superstar Mode, better online play, and Franchise Mode as always, you’ll be playing this game right up until the release of next year’s version.

Replayability score: 10

Conclusion:

Despite what some people might say, Madden NFL 06 has greatly improved upon last year’s version. Vision and Precision Passing and Superstar Mode aside, EA has made this the most polished football experience ever. The amount of depth added to the gameplay with the vision and precision, pre-snap adjustments, and lifelike AI has truly revolutionized the series. Madden NFL 06 plays like a Superstar. Once again, a must own title for any football fans.

Final Score: 9/10


Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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