Madden NFL 07 Review
It's no secret that Madden hasn't been reinventing itself much lately. In fact, after four years the series probably peaked with 2005, as the deepest Madden title ever. But despite drastic changes in the defense game, the differences between 2004 and 2005 weren't instantly recognizable. It made picking up a copy of Madden 2004 for $15 a better bet than plunking down $50 on a slightly revamped game with better defensive AI. Needless to say, I wasn't too content with Madden 2006, and I especially wasn't thrilled with Madden 2007. The changes between 2005-2007 haven't really piqued the interests of fans both hardcore and casual alike. I'm the casual Madden fan who will pick up a game or two here and there and call it a day. My best-friend is a hardcore Madden freak that plays and replays seasons, tinkers with every possible option and so forth -- and the both of us easily agreed that the franchise needs a serious overhaul. While yes, Madden 2007 is a solid game on the PS2 and Xbox, it feels almost rushed on the PS3 and X360.
A lot of us were expecting an aesthetic upgrade over X360's Madden 2006. Initially, we all knew that EA set the bar way too high with their target renders. And then they ultimately buried themselves by going out on record and saying that the final product would exceed that of the target render. So not only did they set the bar high once, but they later took the proverbial bar and raised it to the heavens. In other words, if you didn't think Madden 2006 looked at all spectacular, don't expect Madden 07 to look much better and don't let the screenshots fool you either. First off, the players animate rather smoothly, but you'll quickly notice that almost every player has the exact same animation routine. You'll especially notice that when players are just standing around, they're all standing in the same stance. It's like one skeleton is shared between every player and there is no individuality between one athlete and the next. Little intricacies that should been shown off on this new hardware we have is missing. The grass doesn't deteriorate during heavy rains. Likewise, rain drops don't even appear on the helmets of the players or drip down their arms. The jerseys themselves look identical between every player; as every jersey is magically creased and wrinkled the same way around the torso of every slim player and the same around the torso of every heavy player. These things are minute, yes, but these annoying oversights are clearly attributed because of laziness and rushing to make a release.
This certainly wasn't the caliber of visuals I was expecting to see out of a next-generation football game. Everything about Madden 07's visuals are completely dull and boring...hell, even the game's snow looks absolutely terrible (yes, I did just nitpick). The players look half decent, but I can't shake the feeling that a majority of them look a little larger than life, almost steroid-ish. And why is it when the players speak, their entire jaw dislocates itself and drops about 10 inches? (It almost reminds me of how terribly average NFL GameDay 2001 looked on the PS2). Madden 07 just doesn't look that good, HD or not. It's a visually lazy attempt at a sports-game, and perhaps EA should start taking some cues from the guys at Visual Concepts (i.e. NBA 2K7) on how to properly make a good looking sports title. Even though graphics aren't everything, they're still a pivotal factor in immersing a gamer into the virtual world.
The gameplay is the standard Madden affair. If you've played Madden last year, or even the year before, you'll get the hang of things fairly quickly. The controls have changed, but aside from that, the basic principles remain the same. Play selections can be done a number of ways, you can select by formation, by play type (inside handoff, outside handoff, quick pass, standard pass, shotgun pass, etc.), ask Madden, ask coach, or by key players. If you pause the game you'll see an option that'll describe the newest features implemented into this year's game -- one of which is the motion controls of the SIXAXIS. It's nothing spectacular, honestly. If you pull back on the controller, the camera will pan out and the QB will call a fake. In terms of maneuvering the player with the SIXAXIS, don't bother. After sitting for a couple of minutes in practice and trying to figure out how the SIXAXIS is used, I gave up. I had the sensitivity on 100% and I couldn't get any normal control out of my player. If I raised my controller up, he'd run left and that was about the best I could do -- nothing else seemed to work. Either way, apparently motion sensing via the controller is no different than using the highlight stick (R analog). And using the controller layout feels a lot more natural anyways, so if you can't get the SIXAXIS controls down, you're not missing much. Use the highlight stick to pull off your desired maneuvers.
Regardless, if you're the hardcore type, make sure to take a look at the new gameplay features in 2007 -- they may be miniscule to the most of us, but to the select few they're an improvement. One of the prominent additions is being able to control your blockers during a run and immediately switching to your runner once you have your blockers in place. So instead of having the A.I. guard you and open up a passage for you, you can do that yourself and quickly shuffle back to control your runner. Obviously this will take quite a bit of time to perfect, but the feature is there for anyone who's looking for more control. Speaking of A.I., the brains controlling the game are what we've come to expect from the series. Ever since revamping the D-game in 2005, Madden's defensive A.I. has only continued to get better. The same can be attributed to 2007, as the A.I. has been tweaked yet again for further refinement.
What may bother many is the fact the Franchise mode here is a direct replica of what was found on the X360 version of Madden 2006. Where as the PS2 and Xbox version have a feature filled franchise complete with the owner mode, Tony Bruno radio show, email reports, etc., the PS3 version has none of that. It's just a straightforward season with little in the way of extra activities and immersion. Having said that, the Superstar mode is one of the modes you'll probably spend the most amount of time with. Again, any seasoned Madden player will know what the entire premise of this mode is; you take a rookie and work him out to be the best player possible, ultimately getting him into the hall of fame. It needs to be said that the Superstar mode has also been cleaned up over last year's, and the interface is actually more accessible now.
The new mini-game practice modes aren't very fun, to put it simple. They feel like tacked-on extras with no real substance. The mini-games consist of a 40 yard dash, bench pressing, quarterback challenge, lineman challenge, coverage challenge and running back challenge. Believe me when I say that none of these bits of content have any value at all. Ultimately, you'll want to spend most of your time either online or in Superstar mode. Otherwise, if neither of those two modes interest you and you already have Madden 2006 for X360 then stick to it. Even if you have Madden 2006 for PS2/Xbox, then just stick to that too; since the Franchise mode in the PS2/Xbox versions is deeper and superior to that of the next-gen versions. But because both online and Superstar mode have seen some revamping, you should consider a purchase if those are the two modes of interest for you.
The audio is a bit of a mixed bag. For the first time in a long time, I can actually say that an EA game has a terrific soundtrack. I don't care much about the hip-hop playlist in Madden, but I am quite fond of the majority of rock tracks found in the game. Unfortunately, the soundtrack isn't a very fundamental part of a football game, so good or not, it's not something you'll hear much of. What's arguably the most important aspect in a sports-game's audio is its commentary...something that Madden 07 has none of. You'll hear the game's radio announcer say a few words here and there, comment on yards gained/lost, and count down yards left to a touchdown. This is about as arbitrary as commentating goes, and suddenly I feel like I'm playing a PlayStation game in 1996 with graphics that are 10 years ahead.
It's hard to review a game in such a praised series and talk about it so negatively. And I admit that I am not a hardcore Madden fan, but I do believe I know what a good videogame is and what a bad one is. Madden 07 is neither good nor bad. It's completely average. As a next-generation title, its visuals leave a lot to be desired. And when you're not peeved at how boring it looks, you'll be peeved at how dull it sounds. While the game plays quite well, it features a half-hearted Franchise mode that is missing some key aspects present in the older consoles, and an overall lack of any significant improvements. Reiterating what I said before; the Superstar mode has been cleaned up and changed for a much more accessible experience. And if you're constantly playing in online leagues and want to stay up to date with your league-pals, then Madden 07 is right for you. If you don't have an X360 and you don't mind playing a football game in its most basic form for your PS3, then Madden 07 is your only bet. But consider saving $20 for inferior graphics, but with more gameplay features.
12/7/2006 Arnold Katayev