Madden NFL 06 Franchise Spotlight
We set the franchise tag on Madden NFL 06 in our hands-on look at the game's franchise mode.
The Madden series has been out for nearly a month on consoles, the Nintendo DS, and the PC, but there's one gaming platform yet to go for the biggest name in sports gaming. The Sony PSP is getting a version of Madden NFL 06 all its own, and it's one that will feature some gaming twists unique to the handheld. We spent some time with the game, particularly on the franchise mode, which has been the beneficiary of some PSP-only additions that add some spice to the standard weekly franchise grind.
As in the real NFL offseason, a franchise season in Madden NFL 06 for the PSP begins with training camp, where athletes are shaped into football players. The handheld version of the game includes a number of new drills that are unique to the PSP. You can only run each drill once, and no player can take part in more than one drill. Practically every position on the field has a drill designed to test the player's skills on the gridiron, from traditional passing challenges for quarterbacks to coverage tests for defensive backs and safeties. Familiar tests, such as the pocket presence--which tests a quarterback's ability to make targeted throws under pressure--return, but there are some fun, new challenges to be had with some of the other specialized drills. The trench fight, for example, is a drill designed for defensive linemen where you'll be challenged to use every move in the book, from swim moves to shoves, to get by a couple of offensive linemen so you can grab the target flags on the field. Another drill, route running, plays like playground football, so your job as a receiver is to put some distance between you and the defender, catch the ball, and then gain as many yards as possible. You determine the route you run, when the QB throws the ball, and whether or not you wish to leap for it. If you happen to score a touchdown you'll get even more points for that attempt.
All these spring drills can be skipped, but because they give you the opportunity to improve your players' ratings, it's worth your while to go through them. Should you progress through the first round of a drill, you can choose to bank your points and move on to the next positional drill, or you can risk those points and continue to the next round--where there are more points to earn but the challenge is considerably tougher. The pocket presence drill, for example, initially has only three targets to choose from, and the pressure on the QB is light. The second and third rounds, on the other hand, feature not only more targets, but also more-consistent pressure.
Four exhibition games make up the preseason schedule, and they're a fine time to try out your rookies and test your depth chart. Once the preseason is over, you can view the progress your roster has made before heading into the regular season to make your bid for a playoff spot. Each week you can access your game plan, which features positional breakdowns you'll need to keep in mind when heading to the kickoff. While the breakdowns usually involve pointing out difference-makers on the other side of the ball, they sometimes include specific advice, such as doubling a certain wideout or emphasizing the importance of winning the battle at the line of scrimmage (as if you didn't already know that). There's also a weekly game plan that's similar to that found on the console version of the game--a trio of offensive plays you'll want to run against specific defensive sets.
An interesting wrinkle on the PSP Madden is the inclusion of both the practice squad and assistant coaches. The practice squad is a reserve pool of talent for your team that you can fill with unsigned free agents in the hopes of building them up before eventually adding them to your team. Players in this admittedly shallow talent pool can still improve during the season with the help of assistant coaches. By winning games and completing a number of week-to-week coach's goals you can earn assistant coaching points that can be used to either improve players on your regular roster (which lets you simply assign five points to whichever attributes you wish), or you can take a player on your practice squad through a drill that will similarly increase his overall ability. While it may be tempting to simply let your practice squad fall by the wayside in favor of the real business of winning games, a well-kept squad can be crucial to your long-term success, especially if you suffer a rash of injuries.
Taking Total Control
When playing the weekly games on your schedule, you have a number of options. You can simply simulate the games and let the CPU work out the end result; you can play the games out yourself; or you can use Madden 06's total-control simulation, which lets you call the plays on both offense and defense through a simplified menu screen so you can then read the results as they happen. It's not exactly gripping, but it's definitely a good way to speed through a game. If you don't like how things are going in the simulation, you can choose to jump into the game to take over.
Once the regular season and playoffs are over, you'll still be busy in the Madden 06 offseason for the PSP. After all, there's a lot of work to do, from re-signing your coach (or making an offer to another coach you've got your eye on) to going through the whole player-signing rigmarole. One nice feature in the PSP game is the ability to accurately read a potential signee's interest in playing for your club. Player interest breaks down into a number of different categories, from team talent and prestige to things like weather conditions of the host city, team need, and whether or not that player will be an icon on the team. When it comes to contract time, the interest meter will give you a great idea of how receptive a player is to your terms even before you submit the offer, greatly reducing the trial-and-error routine found in Madden franchises of the past.
With the NFL draft approaching, you'll be able to scout up to 15 players heading into the scout combine, where you can get performance numbers by players in the 40-yard dash, the vertical leap, and the bench press. If you devote some time here, you'll have a good idea of the talent you wish to make a play for on draft day, and your team will benefit accordingly. After the draft, the free agent signing period begins, where you can fill crucial team needs with overpaid veterans before heading to sign your draft picks, in turn creating an entirely new class of overpaid veterans. Before you know it, the season will be ready to begin anew, and the entire process will begin again.
For football fans on the go, Madden NFL 06 for the PSP includes the ability to transfer PlayStation 2 franchises to the PSP, as well as play out a week's worth of games. Once complete you can then synchronize the information to the PS2, thus keeping your franchise current no matter how far from your consoles you go.
Madden NFL 06 is currently scheduled for release in late September, which is just a handful of weeks after the real 2005 NFL regular season begins. With both ad hoc and infrastructure mode in place, the PSP version of the game is poised to be not only a handy complement to the PS2 version of Madden NFL 06, but also a full-featured NFL game in its own right. We'll have a full review of the game once it hits store shelves.
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