LOS ANGELES--In a year when the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii versions of Madden NFL 07 will probably get the lion's share of the attention this year, don't forget that EA Sports is still intent on releasing the Xbox and PlayStation 2 versions of the game this year (and probably for years to come). We had a chance to check out a playable build of the PS2 version of Madden NFL 07 to get a feel for how the new running and blocking controls have changed the game.
Building off the success of the truck stick (which gave running backs the ability to bowl through defenders) the new highlight stick is a slight twist on the formula, allowing smaller, more nimble backs such as Warrick Dunn to get in on the action. By pushing the right analog stick in one of four directions, a running back can pull off a number of different moves, including spins, duck unders, and the aforementioned power moves. Which move is chosen is dependent not only on the move you make, but the context of the situation. In practice, we found the highlight stick effective and fun to use, as long as you had quick reaction times--get too close to an oncoming tackler and you won't have time to pull off a slick move, almost to the point that things can feel a bit sluggish. After all, you should be able to pull off a spin at the moment of impact, provided the runner's body is in the right position; this didn't always seem to be the case with the game.
The other big addition to the ground game is the lead blocker control, which game producers tout as a way to take control of the fullback or tight end during a play. In fact, you can actually take control of anyone on the offense before the snap, including offensive lineman. By using the right analog stick you can pull off a number of different block types, including cut blocks, or push a defender to the left or right and open up a hole for the running back looking to blast his way through the hole. One of the interesting aspects of this feature is that the game camera zooms in to focus on the player you're controlling during the play, which can be a bit disconcerting at first. If you're controlling a fullback on a misdirection play, for example, the camera will follow you to the left while the play unfolds to the right.
Other touches we noticed included the ability to hold the R1 button and make adjustments to either the linebackers or lineman on the fly with the right analog stick. Of course, you can still shift those groups left or right to get a jump on the play; you can also make general coverage assignments for your linebackers, assigning them to zone or man coverage by simply pushing up or down with the right analog stick. For the lineman, you can also assign the direction in which the line will move off the line during the snap, also by using the right analog stick in conjunction with the R1 button.
The improved kicking meter in Madden NFL 07 reminds us of the swing stick controls in the Tiger Woods PGA Tour franchise; by pulling back and pushing forward with the stick, you control the power and accuracy of the kick. The control is sensitive while still easy enough to find success right away, though a straight up-and-down motion is ideal for getting the most out of your kick. As for the old timing based button-mashing kicking meter, we say good riddance once and for all.
Other features, such as franchise, season, and the new-and-improved NFL Superstar mode, weren't playable in the E3 demo of the game. In fact, the updated player and team ratings didn't seem to be in there, either, so there's still plenty more of Madden NFL 07 to discover. We'll be bringing you much more coverage of this game in the coming months, so stay tuned.