E3 06: Madden NFL 07 Hands-On

We get hands-on with the lead blocking and minigame features of Madden 07 for the Xbox 360.

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LOS ANGELES--The Xbox 360 demo running at the show included a quickplay mode for the two Super Bowl teams only, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Seattle Seahawks. We tested out a game by playing as the Steelers at Heinz Field during a heavy rainfall. We noticed some nice graphic details with the introduction of the two teams on the field. The player models seemed to exhibit better proportions than in years' past, with the offensive linemens' bellies hanging over their belts, and their bulkier, less-cut arms than the skill-position players like the quarterbacks and wide receivers, who seemed to have thinner physiques and more-defined muscles. There was a nice shine on helmets and player shadowing on the ground. When the camera angle went wide to show a view of the stadium, we could see the Pittsburgh skyline in the distance behind Heinz Field. What's new in Madden 07 is how the weather can affect the field over the course of the game. As we played, we noticed the turf getting progressively torn up and mud puddles forming on the field from the steady rain.

We also got a chance to try out the new lead blocking feature. The way it works is that prior to the snap, you can press the B button to change control among different players. You'll usually want to take control of the fullback on lead blocking assignments, but you have the option of also picking any other player like a wide receiver, tight end, or tackle. If you hold down the left bumper button on the snap, the camera will center on your selected blocker and you have full control over him. You can just run into opponents to throw your block, but if you tap the right analog stick up, you can really throw your weight into the defender up high and attempt to pancake him, or you can toggle down on the stick to try a cut block. EA representatives mentioned that they're toying with the idea of letting you keep control of the blocker after you throw your first block, so you can attempt to throw additional downfield blocks. But the way it works now is that control automatically shifts to the running back after you engage the first defender.

Madden 07 will also offer enhanced control over the ball carrier by mapping juke moves to the right analog stick, which will make fakes and jukes a more intuitive, context-sensitive affair. The moves assigned to the stick vary depending on the size and style of the ball carrier. Shifty backs like Warrick Dunn or Reggie Bush will be able to duck under arm tackles, or use stop-and-go-type moves, while power backs will instead be able to lower their shoulders and truck defenders. In our testing, we noticed that the responsiveness of the right analog stick also varied by ball carrier. Tapping left and right while using Steelers' back Willie Parker resulted in some nifty cutbacks, while tight end Heath Miller wasn't nearly as nimble after we tossed him a pass on a short-out pattern. We tried to tiptoe along the sidelines as the safety came up, but tapping on the right stick didn't do much for the big tight end, as he was easily forced out of bounds.

We also had an opportunity to try out the minigames, which will play a big role in franchise mode. Much like the mini-camp drills in past Madden games, the minigames in Madden 07 will feature typical drills used in events like the draft combine. They're important, because having your players participate in minigame drills can speed up their recovery from injury or improve the base stats of players not only in the preseason, but also over the course of the regular season if you take the time to do them. The only drills available in the E3 demo were the 40-yard dash and bench press. While they are simple games, they also have a strangely addictive quality to them, hearkening back to classics like Track & Field. Running the 40 requires you to toggle down on the analog sticks in alternating fashion. It sounds simpler than it is, as you need to perfect the timing and maintain a good rhythm. Simply slamming down on the sticks as fast as we could didn't get us a very good time, as we staggered out of the blocks and stumbled to the finish. The bench press also requires some rhythm. You'll see a meter in the upper right-hand corner of the screen that shows a green bar up top (your stamina) and a blue and red area at the bottom. The height of the meter represents the range of motion as you push the bar up and down. You need to push both analog sticks up as the bar drops into the blue area, but allowing it to reach the red area at the bottom will sap you stamina even more as you push the bar back up. In order to keep up your stamina, you can tap rapidly on the bumper buttons as you drop the bar down. Once the green area depletes, your player gets fatigued and automatically racks the bar to end the drill.

Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to get into franchise mode at all to see how these drills can affect your players' skills or their recovery time from injury. But with just a few more months left in Madden 07's development, we'll probably get a better sense of this later on down the line. For now, stay tuned to GameSpot for all the latest Madden news and impressions as the game develops. The Xbox 360 version of Madden 07 is currently slated to ship late this summer.

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