It's come to our attention here at 3DAvenue that American Football isn't all that popular -- comparatively speaking -- in Australia. Sure, there's a broad appreciation of gridiron, but compared to pursuits such as AFL, Rugby Union, Rugby League or Soccer, American Football barely rates attention, which in itself is unusual in such a sports-crazed country as ours. Of course, it does itself few favors with terminology that would baffle even a distinguished linguistics professor. With that in mind, here's a brief refresher on gridiron terminology:
Hike: What you do to get from point A to point B when you don't have a car or public transport.
Shotgun: What your father-in-law held at your back during the wedding.
4-3: Equals one.
Running Back: Moving quickly in a reverse direction.
Tight End: A technical term, used mainly in pornography.
Safety: Of paramount importance if nobody's going to get hurt.
Punt: Something you use to move down a river, in accordance with the laws of physics.
Super Bowl: A really good container, possibly for holding jelly beans.
Those of you who are more hardcore fans of American Football are probably working out where we went wrong, but then you'll be aware of what Madden '06 is going to be -- namely the fifteenth (or so) iteration of EA's yearly American Football series, in this case on Microsoft's newfangled Xbox 360 console. Those of you who agreed with the above list probably aren't in the target Madden market at all.
After fifteen years, it's fair to say that EA's been at this game for a long, long time, and it'd be surprising to see something completely new -- but at the same time, they're trying to sell Madden '06 on the 360 as an entirely new experience for a new generation of consoles. Sadly, that's exactly what Madden '06 isn't.
Sure, it all looks very shiny -- almost suspiciously and unrealistically shiny, to be honest with you -- and there's more creases in uniforms, realistic weather and high-tech looking scans of snapped bones every time you make a nasty hit. Still, it's exceptionally hard to ignore the fact that the 360 version is basically just a very pretty version of the same game you could have purchased across multiple formats for significantly less money than EA's asking for this version. To make things even more jarring, there are features that exist in the current generation Xbox/PS2 versions of Madden that are inexplicably missing from Madden 360. For a start, you can't challenge controversial plays at all, which strikes us as unusual for a company whose sports tagline is "If it's in the game, it's in the game" -- not to mention "Challenge Everything"...
In-game features aside, it looks suspiciously like EA's spent all of its alleged millions of dollars of game budget on making everyone look nice and shiny at the expense of game modes, of which there are two. Count 'em -- two. You can play a game -- online or not -- and launch a very simple franchise mode -- and that's it. For the purists, it's also worth noting that the rosters in-game are now almost laughably out of date; bear in mind that this is the same game that shipped in the US last November, and the rosters weren't even that fresh then.
All of this might sound as though Madden '06 is a title to be avoided at all costs, and certainly for the gridiron purists, such as they are, it's a less compelling next-gen title than it might otherwise have been, especially when you consider that the late launch of the Xbox 360 (relative to other territories) has made it an even older game than it otherwise would have been. The saving grace for the game is that it's still remarkably good fun, in the same way that Madden games of recent years have been. The improvements in animation make for a much more realistic experience, especially if you've got an HD display to view it all on, although the flipside to this is that the quality of visuals makes the animation errors -- and there are some very striking and oft-repeated ones -- stand out even more. Thankfully, as the years have gone by the eponymous Madden commentary has been toned down, to be replaced by "local" radio commentary specific to where you're playing, and like most of EA's commentary tracks, it's fairly good at keeping up with the action and creating the illusion of reality. It still doesn't match the heights reached by NFL2K5's ESPN-centric commentary -- even though EA now owns those same ESPN rights -- but it's pretty decent.
Of course, all this criticism only really counts if you're quite fanatical about American Football, in the same way that, say, Americans might happen to be. If that accurately describes you, then as a Xbox 360 owner, you're a bit starved for choice. Still, you'd be better served waiting a little longer for the inevitable Madden '07. At the casual level you're more likely to be wowed by the visuals and less likely to notice the omissions and gaffes; still, it's hard to overlook the fact that the older Madden games for the Xbox/PS2 actually offer more than this supposedly "next generation" title.