Madden NFL 07 Superstar Spotlight

We hit the gridiron with a position-by-position look at NFL Superstar mode in Madden NFL 07 for Xbox 360.

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News that the Xbox 360 version of Madden NFL 07 would include the superstar mode found in the Xbox and PlayStation 2 games was welcome for fans of the long-running NFL series. The mode, which was first seen in last year's Madden, has been upgraded for this year's game and puts more of a focus on individual performance than ever before. Instead of simply choosing a player and then playing Madden games as you normally would in any other mode, superstar mode puts you in the shoes of that superstar and his position for the entire game. When your player isn't on the field, you are a spectator watching the action unfold. When it comes time to lace up your shoes, you'd better have your A-game together because you are solely responsible for your position. As a result, your team's success or failure might come down to just how good you are playing your role on the field. In this preview, we'll take a look at the different positions on the gridiron and how they play in the Xbox 360 version of Madden NFL 07's superstar mode. We'll start with arguably the most important position on the field.

The lower perspective on the field really adds to the pressure of being an NFL quarterback.
The lower perspective on the field really adds to the pressure of being an NFL quarterback.

Quarterback
The quarterback position feels the most like a traditional game of Madden, with a few important differences. First of all, as in the rest of superstar mode, you won't be calling the plays that come your way, although you do have the leniency to call an audible on the field if you don't like what you're seeing from the defense. Second, the point of view is much lower than you might expect, especially once you snap the ball. You can still use the coach cam to pull back and check your receiver routes or get a better look at the defensive coverage, but once the ball leaves the center's hands, the camera zooms down right behind your player, and it's up to you to find an open receiver. Finding that open pair of hands, however, is a bit trickier thanks to the lower perspective--the sense of pressure from the defensive backs and linebackers is more immediate, as well. It's in those moments of intense pressure, as you're scouring over the heads of the beastly linesman, that you really start to feel for guys like Doug Flutie.

Halfback
Another position that will feel awfully familiar to Madden fans is halfback. When your number is called, the quarterback will get you the ball, be it with a handoff, toss, or throw, and then it's time to turn on the magic using the standard Madden trick bag. You can use the right analog stick to pull off special moves such as jukes or put your head down and pound through defenders. Of course, the halfback position isn't always about gaining yardage. Sometimes, you'll be little more than a decoy on a counter run; other times, it will be up to you to pick up the block on a blitzing linebacker to give your QB the extra time he needs to find a receiver. You can't move your halfback before the snap, which is in stark contrast to the linesman, where encroachment and offside calls come often if you aren't careful.

Fullback
The big brother to the halfback, fullbacks act as a bulldozer for the running back in most NFL schemes. NFL teams usually have a few plays that involve the fullback directly, but for the most part, the fullback position requires a superstar physique and a selfless disposition. In superstar mode, the fullback position is an on-again, off-again affair--you'll go stretches in the game without getting much playing time. When you are playing, you'll be spending the vast majority of your time blasting through the offensive line in front of your halfback and generally making things happen.

Wide Receiver
Perhaps no position exemplifies the "superstar" NFL lifestyle better than the scoring machines that are wide receivers. Whether you choose to act like T.O. or Hines Ward, the position on the field is still one of the most challenging to be found. On the plus side, you're on the field for almost every play, even during running plays. On the other hand, you won't be seeing the ball every snap--in fact, you might go five or more plays without a ball even being put in your direction. Colored lines on the field indicate the route you should run, and while you don't have any choice on what play is being called, you can make yourself the primary receiver by holding down the right trigger and pressing the receiver button associated with you, which means your QB will more often than not look in your direction first.

As a wideout, your routes will always be clearly marked on the field.
As a wideout, your routes will always be clearly marked on the field.

When the quarterback throws the ball in your direction, an orange icon shows up on the field, indicating where the ball will land--if you manage to get your receiver open and to that spot, you'll usually wind up catching the ball. From there, it's a matter of getting as many yards after the catch as you can manage. Interestingly, the quarterback vision cone helps to give you an idea of whether your QB is focusing on you or not. If you're within his vision cone, you might want to make sure you spend that extra effort trying to put some space between you and your defensive back. Then you can call for the ball by pressing the left bumper to give your QB a heads up. Both the receiver and the tight end should make frequent use of the "ball camera" option, which is executed by pressing the B button. This camera angle gives you a sideline view of the action--and a better view of the quarterback and the ball--as opposed to the default behind-the-back camera view.

Kicker
Without question, the kicker is the most important position on any football team, usually populated by the grittiest, toughest, and most talented athletes on the football field or, in fact, in any professional sport. Okay, just kidding. Everyone knows kickers suck, and you won't be playing them in Madden NFL 07's superstar mode.

Tight End
A hybrid position, somewhere between an offensive lineman and wide receiver, the tight-end role will have you not only opening up holes for your running back, but also hauling in a pass every once in a while. From a control standpoint, the tight-end superstar position is firmly weighted towards receiving--the blocking controls that are the central component of the offensive line duties aren't found when playing tight end. That said, when you do lock up with a defensive lineman or linebacker, your player transitions nicely into blocking animations. When it comes to gameplay, the biggest challenge for a tight end will be navigating through the traffic that typically piles up in the middle of the field to get open and haul a pass in.

The job of an NFL linebacker is never done.
The job of an NFL linebacker is never done.

Linebacker
Even though linebackers such as Brian Urlacher and Ray Lewis are often referred to as the "quarterbacks of the defense," playing as a linebacker in superstar mode doesn't give you the ability to call defensive plays. That's still handled for you by the coaching artificial intelligence. Still, you have plenty of opportunities to change the tide of a game at linebacker, whether by making a crucial tackle or sack at the right moment or snatching a pass out of the air and getting the ball back for your team. Your assignment on the field is always noted by a line connecting you to the player you're responsible for (be it a tight end, receiver, running back, and so on), and for zone coverage, a colored oval will indicate the area on the field you cover. By pressing the right trigger, you can see the coach's cam, which will give you a better idea of the entire field, as well as your assignment. From there, it's up to your ability to move and react quickly to the play that will determine your success at this position.

Offensive Line
Most football games are won and lost in the trenches, during the battles of the beefy linesman. Whether you're playing tackle, guard, or center, your goal is at once simple and complex: protect the quarterback and open up holes for the running back. Control-wise you'll have two blocks in your arsenal to make this happen: up on the right stick is an impact block and down on the right stick is a cut block. You'll also be able to strafe left or right by holding down the left trigger button. While the anonymous nature of the position might not make it an ideal role for a superstar, it's definitely a different take on football. For one thing, the perspective is considerably different--depending on the direction of the run, you might not even know what happens during a play, especially if the play unfolds at the opposite end of the field. Knowing when to push forward or maneuver a defensive lineman left or right to open up a hole, dropping back slightly during a draw play, or slowing down a blitzing linebacker as he charges in for the kill--they're all examples of the different kinds of responsibilities shared by the o-line.

Defensive Lineman
As a defensive lineman, you get to pull one of the most satisfying plays in the game--sacking the quarterback. That is, provided you can make your way past the pesky offensive line, which is intent on impeding your progress the entire way. The standard defensive-line controls that you've played with for years in Madden are the focal point here. You can swim and spin your way past linesman using the left and right bumpers or stick a paw or two up in the air to knock down a pass by pressing the Y button. As a result, playing linesman on defense is a bit more satisfying than the same position on offense, if only because every once in a while, you'll get that satisfying thump when you put a big crunch on a puny little QB.

Defensive Back
Possibly the most challenging position in the sport, and certainly one of the most difficult positions in Madden NFL 07's superstar mode, is that of the defensive backs. Whether you're playing as a cornerback or safety, your responsibility will be to cover (and hopefully shut down) some of the most athletic players in the game. As when playing linebacker, a handy red line ties you to your coverage assignment (when in man coverage), while a colored oval indicates your zone-coverage duties. As well, you'll want to make frequent use of the ball-camera option, which will let you know when the quarterback is looking your way or when the ball is coming within your reach. In our experience, keeping a wide receiver locked up tight in man coverage was one of the most difficult things to do in the mode, and for fans looking for a real challenge, this position will probably be for you.

Perhaps the most difficult job in all of football: the defensive back position requires speed, strength, and lighting reflexes.
Perhaps the most difficult job in all of football: the defensive back position requires speed, strength, and lighting reflexes.

No matter what position you play in Madden NFL 07's superstar mode, you'll also be responsible for dealing out influence points, which are earned based on your play on the field. Catch a big pass as a receiver, and you'll earn a bunch of points; drop a pass, and you'll watch your influence-points total drop. Before each possession, you can dole out points either for your player's attributes or, depending on your ability, your teammates. Great players will even be able to intimidate members of the opposing team with his influence. You'll also have roles to play on the field--a rookie, for example, has the option to either play as a rookie (which will let you apply points to stamina or toughness ratings) or as a lone wolf (which will let you apply points to most any attribute). Presumably more roles will show up the longer you play the game mode, which will give more power over who you can influence.

We've really only seen the tip of the iceberg with superstar mode for Madden NFL 07. Expect to see more on this mode, and the rest of the game on all platforms, in the coming weeks. For more on the game, be sure and check out GameSpot's official football gaming union The Huddle.

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