One of the longest running and most successful franchises in the videogame world is back. John Madden Football has returned to the Xbox 360 with a whole slew of added features and functions to make it truly worthy of the Madden name. Everyone knows that last year’s incarnation was rushed, hell you couldn’t even challenge a call on the field, I guess it wasn’t “in the game”. Regardless, the EA juggernaut franchise is back and thankfully developer Tiburon has taken notes from last year’s misstep and added in all the bells and whistles that gamers have grown accustomed to on the past consoles. Match this with the superb HD visuals and you have an almost perfect gridiron package that is sure to appease the masses.
Let’s start with the basics: last year’s game was pretty much stripped of all features outside of traditional franchise mode. This year, EA has added in a mode called Superstar that allows players to become an NFL star and directly follow their career, and only their career. Original Xbox players are already familiar with this mode as it was introduced last year, but for 360 only players, this mode adds so much more to the game. Creating your superstar begins with you choosing your parents, this in itself is actually pretty cool as you can even choose what they do, their hobbies, etc. Of course, if you are not happy with your choice, you can simply hit a button and presto a new set arrives. Imagine if real life was like that.
After you’re done compiling your DNA, you will be able to customize your player’s look and feel. This is very similar to the standard create-a-player where you design the look of your avatar by selecting different facemasks, gloves, and so on. Every position in the game is playable outside of punter and kicker, so all of you out there dreaming of being the next Sebastian “Seabass” Janikowski will have so sit on the sidelines.
Each position plays extremely different and really allows the user to focus on one task. In fact, in SS Mode you will never call a play, and when you are not in the lineup you will sit on the sidelines and cheer on your team just like in the NFL. While very realistic, this can also become very tedious after a while, especially if your Superstar isn’t a starter. You will end up spending most of your time just watching the game.
Now before you can do any of this though, you must first craft your player’s abilities in a series of mini-games. They include running the 40 and lifting weights to determine physical attributes as well as a timed IQ test to let you know just how intelligent your 200+ pound juggernaut is. There are also specific drills based on the position you are playing that will determine how fast you move up the draft board. Once you finally get selected, it is off to training camp where you will even be harassed by members of the media, good stuff.
Every decision you make will also affect you and your teammates. So if you come in as a loud-mouthed rookie expect your fellow players to ignore you until you prove your worth. As you progress through your career, you will also fill up a Hall of Fame meter. Fill it all the way up before your career ends and you will be inducted and have your bust sit right alongside Madden’s in Canton.
The other new feature to this year’s game is called Run to Daylight, and for the first time the focus is certainly on blocking as opposed to fancy spin moves. In this mode, you can select a lead blocker, usually a fullback or tight end, before the play and take control of them after the snap. If you manage to make the necessary blocks, your halfback will get a boost and earn some extra yardage. This is actually very well done and adds another layer of depth to the running game. It can also become quite addicting and finally give you a reason to use your fullback for more than pounding the ball in on the goal line.
The highlight stick is also back, but this time it is tailored to fit whatever running back you are currently using. For instance, if you are playing as a power back such as Rudi Johnson flicking the stick will cause him to plow directly into people whereas the same motion would cause a much smaller back such as Tiki Barber to simply try and slip the tackle. Every back in the game has their own unique running style; and it really shows that EA did their homework on making each one of them play like their real-life counterparts.
There are a few missing options from this year’s version however. The most notable is of course the absence of Owner’s Mode, which basically allows you to take on the role of team owners and do things such as relocate franchises, and even change the price of concession items in the stadium. There is also no fantasy draft, which is odd, but probably the biggest issue is with the fatigue system. Apparently, it doesn’t work like it should and it never displays the players correct level of tiredness. EA has stated the players will grow tired after so many plays, but if you can’t tell how low it is, what is the point?
Continuing to add another layer to the already stellar franchise mode, EA has added the ability to play your franchise games online. Basically, if you are playing through your regular season you can hop online and play one of your 16 games against a real opponent. This idea is very cool and really adds to the community aspect of the Madden franchise. You can also play standard and ranked matches online; however, there is some noticeable lag, but not quite enough to keep you from enjoying the game. EA should definitely fix this as I am sure many gamers will not like missing a key tackle because of crappy servers.
In addition to all the other new features, EA has also added what is called a Madden Gamer Level. Think of it as a gridiron RPG that tracks every single thing you do in your game. From that 91-0 blowout in your opener to those 12 interceptions against Peyton Manning, the game will track each and every stat and award points towards your gamer level. There are a total of 50 levels and you can even wage your points online in order to reach your goal.
For the achievement whore in all of us, EA has done a great job of creating some stellar things to accomplish in this year’s game. A whopping 46 total items can be unlocked that range from increasing your gamer level, to single season and game records such as interceptions, to being able to shut out the CPU on All-Madden difficulty. Needless to say there is plenty to keep you occupied and playing for a very long time.
The visuals in 2007 are a step above last year, but I still feel they could use some improvements. The animations have been significantly enhanced, players now link moves together much more realistically, and the game runs at a solid 30 frames per second. The stadiums now also have 3D grass that deteriorates as the game progresses which is actually a really cool effect. For example, I played a game where we stayed mainly on one end of the field and you could easily identify the difference by half-time. The players themselves have also received a great amount of attention. Tiburon has added tons of new player faces and even hair animation for some of the more eccentric players out there. Now I just wonder if Chad Johnson has the gold mohawk under that helmet? As far as the sound goes, I am still not happy with the radio announcer as it does take away some of the presentation, not to mention he can tend to go mute on some pretty big plays. The on-filed noise is pretty standard and fits the bill, but audio wise the game isn’t much different from last year.
While Madden 07 is far from perfect, it really does take plenty of steps in the right direction. EA has given 360 owners a reason to rejoice as they finally have a pigskin title worth playing. The addition of Superstar mode alone makes Madden a worthy purchase for fans of the series and the online component really seals the deal. If EA can fix the lag and perhaps give next-gen gamers all the same features that their older console brethren have we will certainly be in for a treat. While everyone will buy this regardless of reviews, I can honestly say that EA has really made some great improvements to make up for last year’s rushed effort. It is definitely worth checking out if you are a fan of the series or football in general.