I always know Madden has been released, not by the review copy that arrives at my doorstep, nor the messages left by my editor asking me to review the game; No, I know Madden has been released when all of my friends magically appear outside my apartment with boxes of pizza, bags full of chips, and more beer than I can hold in my pint-sized fridge (one of my friends thought ahead and brought an extra cooler - good thinking mate). Ah yes, September is once again upon us, and that means another season of Madden. While my first few hours with Madden remain a blur to me, once some water hit my bloodstream and the crowd finally dispersed - without cleaning up might I add - I put on my thinking cap (which is actually more like a toque as it's 50 below in my apartment), and delved into the pigskin mayhem that is Madden 07.
If you remember last year's Madden on the Xbox 360 then I'm so very sorry. In the mad rush to release as many games as possible on the 360 for its launch, EA forgot to include the game. Instead, we got a DVD disc with a few play modes, most of which felt as though they were coded and finalized the night before, not to mention a steeper price tag. Apparently paying more for less was the name of EA's game.
This year's outing, though not without its flaws and its fair share of gameplay omissions, is an incredible improvement over last year's debacle and boasts one of the most engaging, deep, and hour-consuming features in Madden history - Superstar mode. While 07 is hardly a huge leap in the right direction when directly compared to the current-gen versions, it's certainly is a step, and I'll take that over a stumble any day.
There are a number of new gameplay modes added to this year's Madden that are worth highlighting - namely the ability to switch to a blocker on the fly during a run and the handy highlight stick - but Superstar mode is by far the game's biggest attraction and best addition to the series in years. The idea is to create your superstar from scratch and earn a spot in the Hall of Fame. But before that can happen, players are prompted to pick their parents, which ultimately affects your position and to some degree, performance. Don't like that your mom is a rock climber or that your dad is just an average quarterback? No problemo, just press 'X' to randomize your parents until you've got the desired results. This can of course take a bit of a time, as some couplings appear far more often than others. Getting a good set of parents, or any set of parents for that matter, who carry the genes of a halfback, can be like trying to win the lotto.
Every position, with the exception of being a punter and kicker - an option which is unsurprisingly unavailable - offers players with a completely unique experience. Want to be a quarterback? You better have Montana-like eyes to find the open receiver. What about the next Barry Sander? Finding the open hole is the name of the game. Or if being a part of the defensive game is more to your liking, then guarding the QB and HB with your life is priority number one. When not on the field, you simply watch the action as it happens. Or if you'd rather not be a spectator, you can easily fast forward through the plays and get yourself back on the field in a jiffy.
First though, you have to tweak your player's appearance, including his height, weight, and what type of gloves he wears, before heading off to train and earn your attribute points through a series of position-specific mini games. Here you'll partake in a quick sprint, then hit the bench press (I got to 42 reps before my fingers broke) and depending on your position, a skill-based drill where you earn points for successful plays. Aside from these mini-games, you'll have to take a time-based IQ test and put up with a few interviews from a few very annoying reporters to determine your intelligence and influence with your team, before being randomly selected in the NFL Draft. And when I say random, I really do mean it. Performing poorly or well on your tests has no bearing on what team you end up with, contrary to the way in which the real draft is designed. In American football, teams with the worst seasonal records are rewarded with the chance to sign top draft picks before any other team. In Madden football, signings are based on the luck of the draw.
After you've got your team (I got stuck with the Bills my first play through - talk about bad luck) it's off to training camp. Here you can practice any number of plays to help improve your team's stats and build upon your team influence.
Once you've completed the practices (auto completing the practice rather than doing it for real will save you some time), the real fun starts. On the field, you have no say on what plays are picked, that's the coach's job after all, but must carry out the plays assigned to you. Some positions obviously offer you more play time than others, but in my case, as a halfback, I got equal time on and off the field.
Before the very first play during each possession of the ball, you'll have a chance to use your influence to upgrade certain attributes. If your leadership qualities are enough to influence the team, you can improve individual stats for individual players as well as improve upon your own game, which can actually be more of an annoyance than a blessing as it completely interrupts the play before the snap and ruins the flow of the game.
Each position offers a distinctive camera system that is both poorly implemented and extremely frustrating. Take the halfback position for example, the camera is zoomed in on the player and positioned a bit to the left of him, making it next to impossible to see anything other than what's on your right side, which can be completely disorientating. As a wide receiver, the camera's a bit forgiving, but the lack of the ability to tinker its position is, at times, infuriating.