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Madden NFL 06 review: Madden NFL 06

The next-generation of football gaming kicks off with mixed results in Madden NFL 06, a game that's pretty to look at, but has less to it than you'd probably expect.

Alex Navarro
5 min read

It appears that reports of the birth of next-generation sports on consoles have been greatly exaggerated. Yes, Madden NFL 06 has made its debut on the Xbox 360 -- but not in a form that could really be called next gen.

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Madden NFL 06

The Good

Player models, coaches, stadiums, and menus are major upgrades over anything you've seen before. New play-calling menus are a breeze to get through. Gameplay is true to the series. New commentator is better than you'd expect.

The Bad

Many of the unique gameplay features of the last couple of Madden games are missing. Lots of missing modes -- all you get is a husk of a franchise mode and online play. Some unsightly animation and graphical hang-ups that stick out all the more on a next-gen console. You can't challenge plays.

The Bottom Line

The next-generation of football gaming kicks off with mixed results in Madden NFL 06, a game that's pretty to look at, but has less to it than you'd probably expect.

Certainly this is a graphically impressive game that's far better than anything you've seen on the current roster of consoles. Player models, stadiums, tackles, catches, and throws have never looked this good before. But beyond the impressive technology backing EA's newest football game lies a number of holdover issues that stand out all the more blatantly when placed in direct contrast to the game's newest graphical components. Plus, there's really very little about Madden 06's gameplay that you haven't seen before. And for that matter, there's a lot you have seen before that's simply just missing from this edition. So, while the graphics of Madden have eked their way into the next-generation, the rest of the game still has a ways to go.

One thing that must be made clear from the get-go is that Madden on the 360 is not just a port of Madden NFL 06 as it appeared on other consoles. The game has been built pretty much from the ground up, though it still feels very much like a Madden football game. The controls are as responsive as they've ever been, making good use of the 360's controller. Passing feels tight; runs can be very satisfying (especially if you implement the truck stick, which was introduced earlier this year); and defensive stops and big hits are just as good as they've ever been. What's different is the way a lot of these actions look. Animations have been adjusted in a number of ways to make things seem more realistic. Jukes, stutter steps, wrap tackles, ball strips, tosses, bombs...All these things look just a little bit better than they ever have in the past. The fluidity of these animations is really quite impressive, even if the game doesn't exactly operate much differently from the way it has in recent years.

While so much work has gone in to the graphics, there are still a lot of little annoying things that detract from the visual experience. Shifting players around before the snap results in some stiff, jerky animations that seem well out of place in such a glossy-looking game. And in some cases, guys moved on defense will get stuck standing up, unable to get back in to a defensive stance after you move them.

The rest of the game, as a whole, feels pretty hollow compared to what we've grown accustomed to over the years. Many of the nifty gameplay and game mode innovations that the Madden series has introduced in recent iterations are either gone or have been stripped down. Defensive playmaker controls simply don't exist, so there's no way to change how an individual player on defense plays. You can shift around the defense to show blitzes, press or pull back, and align with assigned players -- but that's about it. And the alignment feature is almost too good, since you can basically reposition your entire defense to hold down every single offensive player at the touch of a single button.

On offense, there are no formation shifts, though you can activate hot routes, call audibles, and/or send players in motion. The controversial quarterback-vision-cone feature from this year's game does make its presence felt in the game, though it defaults to "off". The computer player always uses it, so it's actually fairly easy to see where a quarterback is looking, but you yourself do not have to use it, except when you change a primary receiver before the snap. For some reason, the vision cone will pop back up, even with it turned off in the settings, whenever you do this.

One gameplay addition made to Madden on the 360 that is definitely an improvement over anything found in the last few Madden games is the new play-calling screen. It still works mostly the same as any other play-calling screen, but it's sorted out into multiple categories. There's the Ask Madden section, where John himself tells you what you should go with. There's the coach section, where the team's coach gives you some advice. And then there are sections broken out by formation, play type, and key player.

The biggest omission of all in Madden's gameplay is the ability to challenge plays. This is a fundamental part of modern football. There is nary a game on the schedule that doesn't involve at least one challenged play of some sort, be it a first-down play or a touchdown that simply wasn't. Well, you can forget about it in this game.

Those missing features extend well beyond the basic gameplay, as well. There's no minicamp mode in Madden NFL 06, no practice mode, no minigames, no create-a-player, and no superstar mode. While nobody's likely to be singing any elegies for the loss of the superstar mode, all those other components were highly useful and enjoyable parts of the Madden experience.

The online play is the only other feature in the game. It's online play the way you've come to know it in recent years. You can challenge players, and they can challenge you to ranked and unranked games. It's purely functional, and again, lacks anything beyond its core components (such as the online minigames found in the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions). The online play is solid, performance-wise.

Interestingly enough, John Madden is also absent from Madden 06--at least from the commentary booth. Madden still provides plenty of glib, generally uninformative comments in the Ask Madden feature, but commentary is handled by an EA Sports radio announcer, which is probably some code name for "guy whose name we don't actually know.

Madden NFL 06 on the Xbox 360 has the look, and it plays fine. But beneath its lambent sheen is a skeletal game of football that's lacking many of the things that football fans have grown accustomed to in recent years. Pretty graphics are great to have and all, but everything else about Madden on the 360 feels like a step backward -- and one that makes its higher price tag very difficult to justify.

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