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Video Game Generation

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Madden NFL 07
Review By: Jared Black
Developer: EA Tiburon
Publisher: EA Sports
Genre: Sports
ESRB: Everyone
# Of Players: 1-2 (2 online)
Online Play: Yes
Accessories: Xbox Live (content DL, leaderboards, online play), In-game Dolby Digital
Buy Now: Buy Madden NFL 07 at Amazon.com!

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Another year, another Madden. I think pretty much every sports fan knows what to expect out of the yearly installment in the juggernaut Madden franchise by now. Largely the same game as last year’s, with the changes coming in the form of minor gameplay tweaks, a snazzy new mode or two, an upgraded interface, and little else. That’s certainly the case with Madden NFL 07, another solid but uninspired outing in gaming’s most important franchise (oh yeah, I totally went there Final Fantasy fans).

Let me get my mini-rant out of the way first: it saddens me to see how stale the Madden franchise has become, and it now has no reason at all to evolve with the NFL 2K series out of the picture. If you compare it to almost any other long-running franchise in another genre, the relative staleness found in Madden is remarkable. Of course EA had every right to nab exclusive rights to the NFL license when presented the opportunity, and if I were running the company I would’ve done the same thing. But it sure doesn’t help to spur on creativity when there’s no competition (Blitz doesn’t count) to push thought processes in a new direction.

Madden NFL 07

For example, gang tackling. As my colleague Nick is quick to rant about, goal line play will never truly be realistic until gang tackling is greatly improved upon. With today’s super-powerful consoles, surely player A.I. that’s flexible enough to work together with other teammates to take down a running back is now feasible. Instead, we’re stuck with the same old system where one or two players at the most combine on a stop. I’d gladly take one less animated scoreboard (or whatever the graphical trade-off is) in lieu of more realistic player A.I.

There are many other “standards” of the Madden series that need an overhaul too, such as blockers that magically suction defenders to themselves from several yards away, receivers and defenders that get a Superman-esque burst on the ball at the very last second (as if the game suddenly realizes they aren’t in position and teleports them there), defenders that are slow to respond (or do so awkwardly) to commands to jump up and bat down a pass, far too many dropped interceptions (and too many passes in general going into defender hands), crowds that don’t truly behave like crowds would in real life (although this is slowly improving), and many other nitpicks too numerous to name here. Honestly, above all else I would love to see Tiburon simply blow the series up, and come back next year with a rebuilt engine and some fresh ideas. I know there’s no way they would attempt that in a mere year (waaaaaay to many dollars at stake), but there’s always the option of doing another incremental release next year, while continuing to work on a brand new engine in parallel for release two or three years down the road. The Madden conversion on Wii seems to have gotten EA Canada at least thinking out of the box (although how that will work out in the end is still unknown), so hopefully some of that will rub off on the Tiburon team in the years to come.

That said, there is still a lot to like about the changes that were made in this year’s edition, several of which show that the team at EA Tiburon hasn’t given up all hope of improving the Madden experience. Gameplay-wise, the addition of lead blocker controls is an intriguing new way to play the game. Before the snap on any running play, the player can press the LB button to choose a blocker to control. Then after the snap, the player can use him to pancake any defender standing between the running back and daylight. After the block has been made, simply pressing the B button allows the player to resume control of the running back.

To be honest, at first I thought the lead blocker controls were a silly addition to the series and avoided using it, but after trying it out a few times I became hooked. It creates opportunities to really adjust blocking schemes to your liking, and more importantly actually makes offensive linemen significant for the first time in a football game. It can also be used as a good way to bluff human players into thinking you’ve called for a run, since control will automatically switch back to the QB at the snap during a passing play.

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Posted: 2006-09-25 08:02:00 PST