As we near the end of the life span of the last generation of consoles, key franchises that have appeared year after year begin to wrap up their yearly development cycle. Crazy as it may sound, Madden NFL 07 could be one of the last times we see Madden on the Xbox, PlayStation 2, or the GameCube. With that in mind, it's not altogether surprising that Madden 07 doesn't really push the envelope terribly far. The game includes a few new control features and some mode tweaks (nearly all of which are also available in the Xbox 360 version of this year's game), but for the most part, it feels like the result of a series pushed as far as it can possibly go on a given platform, and you definitely get the sense that Madden on current-generation consoles is beginning to wind down. However, for at least this last year, the veteran player outraces the up-and-comer in the Xbox 360 version, and there are certainly enough compelling reasons to check this year's game out on the older consoles.
Madden NFL 07 brings back practically every feature that was in Madden 06. On top of that, a number of new gameplay upgrades have been brought to the table, the majority of which are available in all versions of the game. By themselves, none of these individual changes or upgrades is particularly game changing, but taken as a whole, they add a nice dimension of depth.
These features include the highlight stick, a new kick meter, and lead blocking controls. The highlight stick is a new version of the truck stick used for runners on offense. Here, you can use the right analog stick to pull off the sorts of crazy jukes and steps that star running backs are so well known for, and on top of that, depending on the type of back you're playing, you can opt to use more-powerful moves, or more finesse-based maneuvers. This feels like the natural evolution of last year's truck stick, though most experienced Madden players will be able to get by just as easily using the button-based moves rather than making liberal use of the stick. But if you take the time to learn the stick and figure out how to use it and the button controls together, you can be a very hard runner to stop.
The new lead blocking controls are likely to inspire some new tactics from all types of players. Here, while on offense, you can opt to switch your controlled player to any of the available blockers during a running play. This includes offensive linemen, tight ends, fullbacks, or whoever else might be blocking on a play. When blocking, you can just do standard blocks, or you can even get dirty and do some mean-spirited cut blocks. This is an interesting mechanic, because it stops you from having to rely on CPU blockers, which as any experienced player will tell you, are not always the most reliable players on the field. You can also quickly switch back to control the running back once you've laid down your block, which is good, because the CPU running back doesn't always manage to find the holes you're creating. At first, you may find yourself unable to effectively use this feature, as setting up the right blocks isn't always the most intuitive thing in the world. But after some time, this control method gives the running game a really interesting new perspective, and those who love finding new strategies are bound to eat this up.
The new kick meter is probably the most accurate representation of kicking available in a game thus far. With this meter, you use the typical arrow to line up your angle and then press down on the right analog stick to set up your power. The meter quickly fills up, and then you press forward on the right stick to set the power as well as your accuracy. The accuracy is based on the angle at which you press up. If you press too far to the right or left, the kick will get away from you. If you land it within a set space, it will go pretty much right where you want it to.
Beyond that, the changes from 06 to 07 are mostly ancillary, and fundamentally, the game plays very much as its predecessor did. On defense, there are a few more available options in terms of positioning your defensive players, and you can commit your defense in a certain direction the moment the ball is snapped. On offense, the quarterback vision cone, which made its debut last year, is still available, though it's not a required feature. You can just tap the right analog stick after snapping the ball, and it will pop on, letting you use it for a little accuracy boost. No, it's not any more fun to use than it was last year, but that's not altogether surprising. Otherwise, pretty much every control feature you've come to expect from Madden is front and center once again. Potentially, some people could play through Madden 07 and never really partake in the new running control features, but there's definitely enough in all the available upgrades to add a significant layer of depth to the experience.
Madden 07's feature lineup is almost identical to last year's game, with superstar, franchise, and online modes headlining. Online play hasn't seen any sort of change to speak of, with head-to-head play and the usual roster of EA Sports online features present. During our testing, both the PlayStation 2 and the Xbox online play ran just as smooth as it usually does, save for a few random connection issues at team-select screens. Obviously, the GameCube version lacks the online play, but on the flip side, that version is also retailing for slightly less than the other console versions, so that balances things out. The franchise mode is also mostly untouched from last year, with all the usual bells and whistles, such as the Tony Bruno radio show, newspaper headlines, minicamp games, owner mode, and the like. The one new addition to the package involves rookie scouting. You now have the option to play through the college all-star game, and to run individual rookie prospects through combined workouts to gain more statistical information about players prior to the draft. Getting more involved in rookie scouting is always a plus, and both these features are a nice touch.
Superstar mode remains largely as it did last year, letting you create your own rookie player, and letting you play every game specifically as that player for the length of a career. All the secondary concerns, like interviews, endorsements, movie roles, and the like are here again, and they suffer from the same problems as last year too. The same weird disconnects between what goes on in an interview versus the actual scenario you're in tends to rear its head at times, and the amount of menu trudging you'll find yourself doing throughout the mode is rather tedious.
However, one big, new addition to the mode makes it a significantly more compelling experience than it was last year. The goal for the superstar mode is to get your player into the Hall of Fame at the end of his career. Throughout your superstar's career, a menu will depict how far along your player is toward establishing his legacy as one of the best of all time. Apart from just throwing a lot of touchdown passes while playing as a quarterback, or intercepting a billion passes as a defensive back, and so on and so forth, you also have to interact with your team and establish a personality. You do this through various interviews, which give you specific answers that gear you toward a team-minded player, or a Terrell Owens-like brat, as well as through a new influence system. Every superstar has the ability to play certain roles on the field. These roles range from, say, a field general for a quarterback, a possession receiver for a wide receiver, a rookie for--you guessed it--a rookie, and so on.
These roles actually give you tangible bonuses and control over players on the field. A quarterback using the field general role, for instance, can upgrade his passing accuracy rating as well as the blocking ratings for his various offensive linemen. Another role he can take, the team leader, lets him upgrade the awareness, injury, acceleration, and agility ratings for all the other offensive players on the field. You gain these points by upping your influence rating. This rating goes up or down based on what you do on the field. Make a huge completion for a first down, and you'll get a nice bonus. Throw a lame interception that's returned for a touchdown, and it will drop through the floor. It's a great and addictive system that actually makes you want to play through superstar mode games rather than just simulate them. As annoying as some of the holdover problems from last year's superstar mode still are, this year's mode is exponentially more fun to play with, thanks pretty much exclusively to this feature.
Madden 07's graphics have not changed to any noticeable degree from last year's game, which probably isn't surprising to anyone. Player models, stadiums, crowds, grass--none of it has changed beyond maybe a few new tackles and other on-field animations here and there. Again, not shocking, since the focus seems to have been on developing for the 360 version of the game this year. However, it's hard to argue that the old Madden engine isn't looking a little crusty these days, even without the 360 version looming overhead. Predictably, the Xbox version still looks the best of the three console games, with the PS2 version coming in second, and the GameCube version coming in a blurry third. Audio also hasn't changed much at all. There's a new soundtrack filled to the brim with a mishmash of popular rock and hip-hop, and just like every other year, it's a wildly varied mix that doesn't really gel at all. Not to mention that some song choices, such as Spank Rock's "Backyard Betty," seem a little seedy for an E for Everyone game, even with lyrical edits. Madden and Michaels are still recycling a lot of the same commentary lines they have for the last couple of years, and the on-field effects still sound entirely decent.
Even though Madden NFL 07 doesn't have any big, game-changing features to make it an especially memorable iteration of the series, its roster of small, but useful changes are ultimately more compelling than anything Madden 06 had on offer last year. And while some people are undoubtedly over the notion of playing new games on old consoles, Madden 07 shows that it can still deliver some enjoyable football, regardless of what platform it's on. It's not a big step forward, and the similarities between this year and last year might be a tough sell for some. But it's those similar aspects that Madden 07 ultimately improves upon over its predecessor, and if you skipped out on 06, then there's no good reason to ignore 07.