EA Sports' Madden Series seems to have been around for as long as videogames have been in existence. So it's great to see that the latest in the series, Madden NFL 07, has all new in-game moves and controls to learn. Where a lesser release might've just stuck to updated rosters, new game modes and presentation, Madden NFL 07 offers a number of new running moves, and a chance at something previously unavailable in the series, lead blocking.
It might not seem like much fun, but blocking for your running back can be the difference between a five-yard gain or a driving tackle into his breadbasket. Fortunately, this does pose a pleasant challenge in Madden. Your defensive lineman can get up close and personal with an impact block, which smacks your opponent front-on; a turn block, where you try to force your opponent to one side, or our favourite, the cut block, in which you dive at the legs of the would-be tackler and probably put him in a wheelchair. There's also the grab, which you should use sparingly, because if the referees see it, you'll be penalised. All these moves of course vary in their effectiveness depending on when you use them, the play you're running, the calibre of the opposition. A good inclusion by EA is the ability to switch back to controlling the running back after you've executed your block. This can prevent the frustration of laying down a well-timed block only to have the computer-controlled running back ignore the gap you've created.
If you like running the ball, there are a few new weapons in your arsenal. The right thumbstick can be pushed in a number of directions while running to juke or truck. A truck move sees your runner try to shrug off his opponent, lowering his shoulder. This is best used when there's no way round oncoming tacklers. If there is, you might want to juke. A juke sends your runner sharply to his left or right. Some of the better running backs can execute a succession of jukes, known as double moves, whereby the runner steps one way, then the other. A notable move is the back juke, which, when timed-well, brings your runner to a split-second stop, which will hopefully result in the oncoming tackler flying past his nose.
In addition to these moves, you are also given the chance to break out of some grappling tackles. On the occasions where an opponent has slowed you but is struggling to put you to ground, Madden gives you the chance to break free of his hold by repeatedly pressing 'A'. Do this fast enough and you'll break free of his grip.
The new running moves are fun to try out, but it's worth using the old faithful stiff arm and spin moves at times, too. That said, there are so many running moves in Madden that it will take you a lot of game time before you can know by instinct when you need to truck, juke, or spin, and hit the respective button in the same second.
Another new addition to the 07 release is NFL Superstar: Hall of Fame mode. At first look, this may not seem much different from the standard superstar mode, which has been part of Madden for a while. However, Hall of Fame adds the influence system, where your performance can affect how your team-mates play the game. If, for example, you're a wide receiver and you catch a few long passes, your influence grows and you may earn the role of, say, possession receiver. Your influence is then rewarded by being able to upgrade the skills of team-mates. The influence of your superstar is shown throughout the game by a player shadow meter, and you're given the chance to upgrade player skills each time there's a turnover of possession. This is a dynamic system though, so should you spill a few passes, your influence drops, and so does your chance to influence team-mates' abilities.
The aim of all this influencing, as the name of the mode implies, is to have your superstar's career recognised by the Hall of Fame. The mode is certainly a worthwhile addition and gives you something to aspire to throughout your seasons other than just accumulating touchdowns or yardage. Superstar has always been about developing your player and making him stand out from the pack, and the influence system is a welcome way of doing this. This adds depth, and Madden tragics may want to play Superstar a few times to explore the different roles available to each position.
While you're in the menu screens of Hall of Fame mode you're sure to hear the game soundtrack a fair bit. Thankfully this is not too shabby. Tunes from bands such as Audioslave, Keane, The Rapture and Sparta are all top-notch. There's even the familiar blistering riff of "Woman", by our own Wolfmother.
Other new additions to 07 are a revamped kick meter, similar to those used by some golf games, and rookie scouting. Here you can play a college all-star game and put rookies through your own training regime to make an informed pick at the draft. Again, EA have given us another way of ensuring total control over our team's destiny.
With more new features than you might expect of a veteran series, it's easy to forget the not-so-new elements of Madden are still enjoyable. The graphics engine might not be jaw-dropping, but gameplay is still great fun, and there's still the "realisms" that matter like helmets flying loose in tackles, and referees consulting the video replay for close calls. With a winning game-plan already in place and some new tricks certain to capture your interest, Madden 07 is a no-brainer for rookies and series veterans alike.