Football fans, rejoice. A next-generation version of the ever popular Madden franchise is upon us. EA has some pretty big shoes to fill, since they’ve eliminated all other competition by securing the exclusive rights to the NFL players and teams. They’ve done a good job keeping fans happy on the other consoles, but how did they do on the Xbox 360?First and foremost, the graphics are astounding. The players and their animations look more realistic than ever. EA has made the game even more immersive and realistic by adding weather effects and night games. This is one of the 360 launch titles that really proves we’ve entered the next-generation of graphics. The game looks even better if you have a chance to play it on a high definition television, as it supports resolutions up to 1080i, providing the most realistic looking graphics in a football game we’ve ever seen.
The improved visuals are accompanied by a complete overhaul of the menu system. The new menus both look better, and are more intuitive, once you get the hang of them. For long time fans of the series, however, it could take some getting used to. The biggest change here is in the Playbook section of the game, where plays are now organized not only by formation but by types, such as quick pass, inside run, and outside run. This makes choosing an effective play much more accessible to newcomers to the series, because they can choose the play they want without having to know the formation it uses or the names of less obvious plays. The other big change in the interface is the X Menu, which is brought up by hitting X when the menu’s icon is available in the lower left corner of your screen. This shows the last menu you’ve accessed, the active profile, and offers the options in the main menu, from almost any point in the game. This enables the player to drop what he or she’s doing and start a new franchise, edit rosters, or log on to Xbox Live, without having to navigate through lengthy information screens and load times to find their way back to the main menu.
Aside from the graphics and interface, the biggest draw of the Xbox 360 version of the game is the Xbox Live functionality. This version of Madden offers online leaderboards, quick player matchups, and custom matches, all with the blazing speed of Xbox Live. While playing online, lag is mostly a non-issue, though can cause some problems while attempting to kick the football. Aside from the rare lag spikes during a kickoff or while attempting a field goal, the game plays smooth as butter online. It’s also a fun and competitive experience that both hardcore Madden players and casual football fans alike can enjoy, as long as they don’t mind losing a few games. Late night games of Madden have provided some of the most enjoyable experiences the Xbox 360 launch has to offer. As with all Xbox 360 games, EA has provided achievements for players to strive for in the single player game. Once these achievements are reached, they are displayed on your Gamercard for any friends and potential opponents to see. They are also offering premium downloads on the Xbox Live Marketplace, such as team-based themes and gamer pictures, for football fans looking to display their team pride, even while not playing Madden.
Unfortunately, this is where the string of praises ends for Madden NFL 06. It had the potential to be the best console iteration of a football game yet, but instead falls short of it’s current-generation brethren. The reason for this is simple – the game is missing features. And these are not throw-away features we’re talking about, but rather many that were made standard months or even years ago in the Madden franchise. The popular Mini-Camp has been taken out, ridding players of a method to improve their own abilities and their player’s stats in franchise mode. Also missing is the ability to challenge a call made by referees, a feature which has been in the game for years. Superstar mode, which allowed players to create a player and bring him from a rookie to an NFL superstar, is mysteriously absent. The only available modes of play are Play Game (Exhibition), Play Online, and Franchise. Franchise mode retains most of its features from the other console iterations, but the lack of other modes of play just makes this version seem lackluster at best, especially at an MSRP of $10 more than the game on other platforms. Fortunately, the new gameplay mechanics introduced in Madden NFL 06, such as QB Vision, the Truck Stick, and Precision Placement are still available.
Overall, Madden NFL 06 makes some great improvements to the series. The graphics are fantastic, and the presentation is more realistic and immersive than ever before. However, there’s no excuse for the gutting of the very features that made the Madden series great. It’s a shame that EA made what had the potential to be the best version of the game, and subsequently sut it to the point of being the worst. It seems they just don’t understand that no matter what the game looks like, the gameplay is the most important, and cutting gameplay out in order to make time to improve the graphics is about the worst decision a developer can make. If you’re only looking to for the prettiest experience in videogame football, or if you don’t have any other consoles that can take the game online, the Xbox 360 version of Madden NFL 06 might not be a bad purchase. Otherwise, it’s a safe bet to wait for Madden NFL 07, which will hopefully look just as good, but ship with all of the franchise’s content intact.