Quarterback vision control and NFL superstar mode will help sell the game.
By VICTOR GODINEZ
DALLAS MORNING NEWS
When gamers heard that Electronic Arts had mopped up exclusive rights for all NFL-branded video games, they weren't happy. Who would provide the competition that breeds better games?
But far from killing innovation, EA clearly took its time to add new features to the latest version of its venerable Madden franchise.
"Madden NFL '06," which is coming out on a mind-boggling eight platforms, although I only tested the Xbox version, has two major, new selling points: quarterback vision control and NFL superstar mode.
EA proclaims on the Madden box that this is the "Year of the Quarterback."
No kidding. More than ever, the QB is the focal point of the game.
QB vision control creates a cone-shaped field of view that indicates where the quarterback is looking after he hikes the ball.
As in real life, it's much easier to throw the ball to a receiver when looking at him than when improvising, spinning around and blindly hurling the pigskin.
Lock on to a particular receiver before hiking the ball and the quarterback's vision cone will stay focused on that receiver, making it much easier to accurately pass to that receiver. However, if you lock on, and that receiver gets blanketed, it's much tougher to find another open man.
If you don't lock on to a receiver, your vision cone will move as your QB runs around the field. You can then sling the ball to any player who happens to cross your field of vision. This means more room to improvise, but you have to react much faster to players who dart in and out of your vision range.
Elite QBs (the Mannings, Favres and McNabbs) have much larger vision cones, giving them more receivers to target and more time to target them. Of course, you can still heave the ball to any eligible receiver outside your vision cone if you get desperate, but incomplete passes and interceptions are much more likely.
Additionally, when you hit the button to pass the ball, you can nudge the control stick up if you want to throw your pass a little high to avoid interceptions.
Push the stick to the sides and your pass will either lead or trail the receiver, helpful if you don't want your player to break stride when he catches the ball, or you want him to cut back across the field.
Throwing low at his knees is also an option, if you just like making your receiver work extra hard for his paychecks. The superstar mode is also fun but kind of silly at times and has much less of an impact on the game.
This mode starts from the most basic building blocks: the player's parents. It allows you to select from a variety of genetic couplings to determine your lineage.
Do you want a smart dad who taught literature and a middlebrow mom who's into video games? How about a dumb dad who eats dirt and an astrophysicist mom who invented time travel?
OK, that last one isn't really an option, but it's about that absurd. Once your DNA is set, it's off to Dr. Frankenstein's lab to determine the height, weight, appearance and hairstyle of your rookie.
After that, you move into your crib, where you can tweak your uniform styles, hear from your agent, conduct interviews, enter the draft, practice and play games. Eventually, you'll garner endorsements, buy some bling and establish a reputation.
The interviews are a good way to build a rep, depending on whether you're a 'Show me the money!' player or team-first kind of guy.
Bottom line: As for the rest of the game, hey, it's Madden. If you like football, you won't be disappointed, and the new stuff should placate some of the more rabid EA critics.
X"MADDEN NFL '06": For PC, Xbox, PlayStation 2, GameCube, Nintendo DS, Sony PSP, Game Boy Advance and, eventually, Xbox 360. Suitable for all ages. $49.99