In the last year or so, Madden has made the leap to next-generation consoles with two installments on the Xbox 360. These latest titles, while lacking certain key features that Madden fans have come to know and love over the years, have brought to the table vastly improved visuals and presentation. So it's with mixed feelings that we find ourselves with Madden NFL 07 on the PC. For all intents and purposes, this is practically the same game released last year on the PC, still using the old Madden engine found on current-generation consoles, and even missing a couple of key updates from the current-gen console versions of this year's game. Certainly, the updates it does include make it a richer game of football than Madden NFL 06, but it's hard not to look at the game on PC as something of an afterthought in the grand scheme of Madden's release calendar.
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 and lead blocking controls. The highlight stick is a new version of the truck stick used for runners on offense. Here, via a dual-analog USB controller, 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 from 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 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.
One feature found in all the home-console versions of Madden 07 that's absent here is the new kick meter. It's unfortunate; this new meter was probably one of the most accurate representations of real kicking put into a football game to date. One would have to assume that this was axed from the PC version as it effectively requires a dual-analog controller to line up both the power and accuracy. Obviously, not everyone who plays Madden 07 on the PC is going to use a controller. Still, some kind of toggle or option for those who have invested in a peripheral controller would have been nice, since the new meter is markedly better than the old one.
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.
Madden 07's feature lineup is almost identical to that of 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 PC online features present, like clubs, tournaments, leaderboards, and basic leagues. Online performance seemed a bit spotty in most of the matchups we played. Lag got in the way on a frequent basis and forced us into some bad plays we probably wouldn't have had to suffer through had the game been running smoother. Still, things tended to even out as games went on--but be aware that you may run into some unpleasantness here and there.
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, 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 or a possession receiver for a wide receiver to 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, 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 almost 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. But this does beg the question as to why PC owners are still stuck playing the same version of Madden they have for the last several years, when a visually superior version exists on a home-console system. Plenty of 360 games have PC counterparts that look as good or better, so why shouldn't the PC versions of Madden get the same treatment? With any luck, the move from the old Madden engine to the new one won't be too far off in the future.
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.
Though PC owners aren't likely to be thrilled at the small number of changes they're getting with this year's Madden, compared with practically all the home-console versions, there's still enough new and different about Madden 07 to make it worthwhile. Features like the new running and blocking controls, as well as the improved superstar mode, are enough to keep the experience reasonably fresh. Still, if you own any of the home-console systems that Madden appears on this year, the PC version probably shouldn't be your first choice.