Two days ahead of the official unveiling of the tentatively titled Madden Next Gen, we got to take a look at the commercial that will have sports gamers talking this coming Saturday. Scheduled to air during the first half hour of the 2005 NFL Draft, this 60-second commercial spot will be the public's first glimpse of EA Sports' biggest franchise, and indeed one of the most notable franchises in all of video games. While the producers of the game were careful to tell us that the footage we saw (the very same footage that will roll on Saturday) is not in-game--but rather, it's EA Sports artists' "target video" of what next-generation hardware will be capable of--they did claim the final product will actually be superior in quality to the footage in the commercial. Will this be the case? Only time will tell. For now, let's get to the nitty-gritty of the commercial's plot itself. Spoiler warning: If you want Saturday's airing of the next-generation Madden title to be your first exposure to the game, read no further.
The footage opens up with the outside view of a stadium (perhaps Lincoln Financial Field, considering the latter footage in the game) lit up on game night. The camera then cuts to the text "EA Sports Presents," which is followed by a camera shot that sweeps around the inside of the stadium until it finally stops on a tight shot of Philadelphia Eagles' quarterback Donovan McNabb leading his team out of the tunnel and on to the playing field. The rest of the Eagles follow him out of the tunnel to take to the field. More text follows: "The Next Generation of Madden NFL."
The rest of the clip is all football action, as a virtual referee blows a whistle to get things started. Giants' kicker Jay Feely rushes toward the football to kick off a simulated game, and the next shot shows the ball spinning through the air and directly into the waiting arms of Eagles' safety and special teams man J.R. Reed, who is promptly laid out by a stalking member of the Giants' special teams squad. A slick-looking injury graphic immediately follows the hit, showing a close-up view of a torn tendon (or the like). Then, an immediate diagnosis on the player's condition and the amount of time he is expected to miss is given.
Following this, we get an idea of how play-calling may be handled in Madden Next Gen. A left-hand vertical menu screen is shown, notating specific plays in the playbook. As the list is scrolled through, each play pops up in a smaller subwindow that demonstrates how each play looks on the field. Next, the words "sack cam" appear on a scoreboard, and we see a punishing tackle that ends with the player hitting the turf from a worm's-eye view. Then the ground shakes as a result of the impact. More play-calling screens follow, this time with an over-the-shoulder shot of an Eagles coach calling a play out to McNabb before he takes to the field.
With the play called, it's time for McNabb to take his spot behind the center so he can make a play or two. As McNabb walks up to the line, checking his progressions as he goes, we notice a sack-hungry Michael Strahan in the corner of the screen, waving an oh-no-you-won't finger in McNabb's direction. The camera then cuts to a close-up of Strahan's face as he twists it up in an intense snarl. The level of detail in the facial muscles is perhaps the most impressive graphical aspect we saw in the brief spot.
As the offensive play takes shape, Strahan makes a beeline toward the quarterback and even manages to get an arm around him. The slippery McNabb manages to spin out of the tackle attempt and continues to look downfield for an open receiver. Just before Strahan gets McNabb on a second effort, he's turned away in a spectacular follow-up block by an Eagles offensive lineman, allowing McNabb to toss up a spiral toward his receiver. The music quiets, and all that's left is the sound of the ball traveling through the air. Cut to a close-up of the receiver's face, who's watching the ball out of the corner of his eye. Desperately trying for the ball, the receiver we now recognize as Terrell Owens dives across the goal line to catch the pass, scoring a dramatic touchdown. The ref signals a touchdown, and the final shot is of Owens celebrating his score on his knees to the raucous celebration of the crowd.
So what can we tell from this 60-second spot, especially one that even EA Sports admits isn't necessarily completely indicative of the final next-generation Madden? Firstly, and most obviously, if the level of graphical detail found in this artists' rendering of the game is found in the actual game itself, Madden will truly be a sight to behold. Perhaps the game won't be the kind of graphical leap that came between the original PlayStation and the PlayStation 2 consoles, but there will be dramatic and noticeable differences in quality. Secondly, though EA was decidedly noncommittal about practically every detail of gameplay, it's clear the publisher is looking to shake things up with how its game is presented, especially in terms of menus. The play-calling screens, for example, were essentially fancy mock-ups, yet they pointed to a more dynamic menu system, one that is built into the "virtual broadcast" of the game. Instead of completely covering the screen with playbook options, it looks like the next-generation Madden team is looking to create a slicker menu interface, one that puts a premium on the game's graphical prowess. Will these menus be as functional as the ones we're used to on the PS2 and Xbox? Again, we'll just have to wait and see.
Beyond the rather generic background music, and the standard sound effects of slamming bodies and roaring crowds, so far there isn't much to talk about sound-wise. We didn't notice any commentary in the game, so it's difficult to say if the play-by-play and color analysis in Madden Next Gen will be getting the same kind of makeover found in the graphics.
So what about gameplay features? Will Madden Next Gen showcase features found in previous Madden games, such as the defensive hit stick? Will the vision and precision passing mechanics found in the upcoming Madden NFL 06 be found in the next-generation version of the game? Sadly, EA wasn't ready to comment specifically on Madden Next Gen gameplay modes, but it did say it "would be remiss if they were not to bring those [type of] features to the next generation, and even improve on them." The company was also mum on what specific next-generation platforms Madden would appear on.
While it was disappointing to find out that the footage to be found during Saturday's commercial won't actually be in the game, it will be interesting to see if EA lives up to its claim of exceeding, in quality, the sports-gaming world's first glimpse of this highly anticipated title. Will EA succeed? We'll find out in the coming months, as our coverage of Madden Next Gen continues.