EA heaves new Madden into retail

Newest football foray features updated passing scheme, superstar mode, and enhanced online features.

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It's August, which means three things. The NFL preseason just started, every pigskin fan's favorite squad is in first place, and the latest edition of Electronic Arts' flagship football franchise is ready to tackle home consoles. EA today announced that Madden NFL 06 is now available for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube, DS, and Game Boy Advance.

This is the first Madden football game from EA since the publisher acquired the exclusive rights to the NFL. In doing so, EA is the only publisher that can take the field with a licensed NFL game on consoles, PCs, and handhelds. Last month, EA also reached a multiyear agreement with John Madden to use his voice, likeness, and name in future editions of the game. ESPN will also be going first and 15 with EA after signing a decade-and-a-half licensing deal that spans all sports games. The sports network's contributions to this year's version are very limited due to existing contracts with other publishers, but gamers can expect the ESPN-EA juggernaut to really roll out sometime next year.

In addition to the requisite updated graphics, current rosters, and sparkling new animations, two major additions to Madden NFL 06 have been made. The first is the advent of a revamped passing system, which takes into account a QB's ratings more effectively.

The QB vision control really brings the idea of quarterback awareness to the game, with a conical line of sight representing the field general's passing aptitude. The better he is at heaving the pigskin, the wider his line of sight will be, resulting in fewer errant passes. A precision passer such as league MVP and Colts' quarterback Peyton Manning will be able to "see" almost the entire field, whereas young gunslinger and Arizona Cardinal Josh McCown will see little more than a pinhole.

The new QB precision placement feature gives QBs the ability to put the pill where they want it. Got a high-flyer like Randy Moss on the squad? Flick the stick up, and let number 18 outjump his coverage. Andre Johnson has a beat on his man inside? Flick the stick toward the middle of the field to pick up some extra yards after the catch.

EA also hands off a new game mode for Madden vets. Titled superstar mode, the single-player mode puts gamers in the cleats of an NFL player from embryo (gamers can "choose" their parents for optimum genetic makeup) to All-Pro. After selecting an agent, gamers will enter the NFL Draft, deal with the media, and maybe land that coveted cameo in one of Tinseltown's finest productions.

Online, Madden still features the head-to-head battles over Internet-ready consoles. But a new feature gives fantasy football enthusiasts ways to stay hooked up through Madden. By integrating EA's new fantasy football service with Madden NFL 06 servers, gamers can receive fantasy trade proposals, check their scores, and even take advantage of the EA locker, a sort of online memory card that's provided by EA and can be shared with friends.

Madden NFL 06 is also scheduled to be released on the PC (August 17), PSP (September 20), and future next-gen consoles. All versions were developed at EA's Tiburon Studios in Orlando, Florida.

Madden NFL 06 is rated E for Everyone and retails for $49.99 for the PS2, Xbox, GameCube, and PSP, $39.99 for the PC and DS, and $29.99 for the GBA. To see if this year's version measures up to last year's, run a fly route to GameSpot's full review.

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