Another day, another down.
Yet another reason video game football is better than the real thing: In reality, Terrell Owens isn’t playing for the Cowboys, he’s just playing them. Today in an online game of Madden NFL 07
, though, he caught three beautiful touchdown passes from Bledsoe, making my opponent look like a punk instead of acting like one himself.
I rest my case, and move to open one for Madden NFL 07. While not as smooth as its current-gen counterpart, it is distinctly better than last year’s fumble, and when was the last time we were able to say that about a Madden game?
Not that that’s saying much, actually, because the 360 version remains a couple drop-steps behind the others due to its relatively anemic content and uncharacteristically sloppy presentation. The Madden
games were always diametric opposites of the big man himself – smart and sharp as opposed to vague and flabby – but with its broken stamina meters, defunct online Franchise games and rickety presentation, Madden NFL 07
resembles its namesake more than ever before.
At least it’s still Madden, and it benefits from most of the new content found in the current-gen versions. The biggest of these new features is Superstar mode. Introduced in last year’s console version, this lets you don the cleats of a rookie NFL player of any position, catching, tackling and hopefully not fumbling your way through an entire football career that may or may not be immortalized in the Hall of Fame, depending on the fullness of a meter.
Unfortunately, the process involves playing the same, awful mini-games over and over and over. The worst is a new forty-yard dash game, where you shake your thumb sticks to get your player to shake a leg across the finish line. If you screw up, your player will trip. You can’t make him completely wipe out, which to me seems like a logical progression. Anybody can run forty yards; real men run it on their faces.
Then again, even real men have trouble benching 230 lbs forty times, but as soon as you get the hang of the Bench Press mini-game, your upcoming star will do it with ease. Pushing and pulling on the L andR sticks to do reps is tiring; by the time you get to forty, your player won’t be the only one visibly sweating. You will be the only one audibly cursing, though, which should happen around the sixth time in a row the game asks you to run a forty and lift weights.
Things either get much better or much worse once you actually begin playing your position. If you make a running back or quarterback, Superstar mode can be about as fun as any other mode in Madden for most of the same reasons, except you can earn roles for yourself like “Deep Threat” or “Team Leader,” giving the players around you varying statistical buffs when you’re on the field. There’s more to the mode, including horribly written interviews, an IQ test, and a meter that measures your status as Legend, but at its best, Superstar mode is really just a virtual pat on the back, a compliment to you from the game, you Hall of Famer, you.
At its worst (meaning, at any position other than QB or RB), Superstar mode is an insult. The controls are completely underdeveloped and the camera is about as reliable as the real life Terrell Owens. Scratch that - sometimes Terrell Owens works out, so a better comparison might be to Madden himself. Like the Big Man’s crazy rants, the camera doesn’t follow any logical course, throwing one visual non sequitur at you after another. Playing a Defensive Back in Superstar mode is simply not fun.
While this is all new for Xbox 360 owners, it’s old hat for everyone else. What is
new is the ability to play as a lead blocker on running plays. Before the snap, you can choose a blocker, snap the ball, and lay one of four different hits on a defender. From there, you can quickly switch to the running back and make for the hole you just created. It’s simple and effective, and it’s yet another reason to dig Madden
Running as a back has also received some minor tweaks. You can still juke or plow through defenders as well as attempt a new double move, which looks like a stutter shimmy. This new double move isn’t quite as effective as it could be, since defenders in the open field aren’t that fooled, though it works wonders at the line of scrimmage, allowing you to quickly slide through a knot of blockers and would-be tackles. Hey, helluva play.
The passing vision cone is still in the game and provides an accuracy bonus, although your throws won’t miss their marks anymore if you choose to forgo the cone altogether. The other new feature is the Madden Gamer Level, which basically gives you a ranking based on how much stuff you’ve unlocked through play. The ranking is based on points that you can wager in offline games, although oddly you can’t bet these in online contests.
That’s a little disappointing, though it’s nothing compared to the still weak Franchise content. Franchise mode is missing all the cool trappings of the current-gen versions; it's mostly just an ugly menu you can tool around with while making trades. There still isn’t much to it, although now outside of Franchise you can create custom players, fans, teams and playbooks, which is much more interesting than screwing with your rosters or playing through the ho-hum career of a linebacker.
Otherwise, Madden NFL 07 for the 360 is the same Madden football you’ve been enjoying for years and years, minus a couple coats of polish. This is especially obvious when navigating menus and between plays, when the game hiccups and sputters like a fat man choking on a turkey leg. The actual gameplay is smooth and the players animate well and look great, but everything else is inexcusably chunky and inelegant.
To add insult to injury, a couple features don’t work. Your players all have stamina bars displayed between plays, but these never diminish because they’re simply broken. You’re also supposed to be able to play Franchise games against online opponents, but we’ve never been able to get this feature to work. That hurts.
We expect to say the same thing about the menu music, although some of it is actually pretty good. The commentary, though, is confusing. The play-by-play is provided by some random guy who seems way too enthusiastic about football to be taken seriously. His calls are usually spot-on, which is a rarity, but we wish he’d just calm down a little.
He gets the job done, though, which can also be said for the game’s online content. Since this is a 360 title, getting online is nice and easy, although what you’ll find there isn’t particularly different from last year’s game. That’s disappointing, especially when you consider that every position on the field is playable, even if it isn’t much fun. How about letting multiple people play on the same team, or even letting us play three-on-three matches? The series is probably headed in that direction, but like an obese ex-coach on a bus, it’s getting there slowly.
That’s par for the Madden course. While the series is definitely far from its prime, it manages to prove once again that EA and Madden know a good game of football, just not a very new one.