Look at that gloss. Great meaty beasts of men dripping in vibrant colour. Why isn't Rugby done like this? It's a much more exciting game than this padded American poppycock. Who doesn't want to see high-definition ear biting and ball stamping, or hear a giant Welsh hooker whispering scabrous dirt about his opposing number's mum across their surround sound set-up? Well, apart from the Americans.
Of course, Madden hasn't changed that much, as it never does. However, the different versions (we were playing the Xbox 360 version) have definitely changed in different ways. The Xbox 360 version is chock full of new modes if, under it all, they're all the same. Of course, it looks better than last year, though the high-def improvements are already starting to tail off and the limits of the Xbox 360's technology are already becoming apparent.
The main Madden game itself hasn't changed that much from the usual strategy-heavy NFL sim we know, but it sees the return of several elements that were cruelly dropped from last year's NFL 06 to cram it into the Christmas release schedule, including Superstar mode and online play. In terms of straightforward, in-game, differences, you've a little more control over your lead blocker, you can choose to jump start play at the risk of getting penalised if you go off too quickly, the running game has been improved slightly, with a highlight stick that makes it easier to avoid tackles, and a few other tweaks have been introduced.
Amongst them is EA's patented training session bit. It plays just like a cut-down version of track and field. So there's a running bit, where you have to bash the sticks before hitting another button to stick your neck out for the line. There's a bench press bit, which is straight out of Fight Night 3. Then there's a variety of challenges, involving simplified sections cut out of the main game (quarterback, running back, coverage and lineman challenges to be precise).
All this points to there being something interesting about Madden 07, and EA's game-making policy in general; there's no redundancy, nothing is wasted. Everything is recycled over and over. So the mini-games mode reprises the track and field training mode, and it's also used in three different spots in the Superstar mode (pre-season training, the performance institute, and match practice). If you've played one EA game, you've played them all. Except, that is, if they've introduced their yearly "new mechanic", which was the character creation tool in the year of the Sims, the Tiger Woods swing a couple of years back, and the aiming mechanic of last year, carried over into the new kicking mode here.
So, look! You can kick the ball in a slightly different manner! By slightly different we mean that same mechanic EA is using in all of its many sports games this year, after it got bored of the Tiger Woods / Fight Night / Godfather right-stick swinging technique. .
That said, the new Superstar mode is a notable expansion, turning the game into something approaching an RPG. You create your superstar from a NFL-playing dad and a random sporty mom [this is American, after all] and then follow his career from his initial draft to his eventual retirement. You deal with your parents, get multiple choice interviews and IQ tests, do the aforementioned practices and workouts and play elements of games. After a while, we were getting a little bored of it though. It does seem to repeat somewhat and there's not really the flexibility of, say, Football Manager, in dealing with your other team members, your coach, and your agent, or the character-tweaking depth of an RPG. You are mostly doing training sessions or watching the computer play games while you're stuck on the sidelines (especially if you've created a very specialised player.) Also, receiving periodic emails from "Mom" isn’t immersive, it's just creepy.
On the Xbox 360 side, 46 new achievements have replaced the laughable ones of last year's edition. These are more varied and tie in with the Gamer Level EA have introduced; from doing well in the different modes (Franchise, single game, superstar and the mini-games), you level up unlocking the higher value achievements and also Hall of Fame players with their own show reels and histories. In fact, in the superstar mode there's an enormous list of EA's own Gamer Achievements. Players can also gamble these EA Game points derived from playing well against each other when playing games, though only on the same console. The usual selection of 'Trax' music is in there, normally pretty good and surprisingly quirky, if you like American College rock and the like. Downloadable content is also promised for 360, including old-fashioned team strips and historic stadiums to use in your games.
Meanwhile, let's take a moment to condemn EA's tendency to cut off the Live connections for all its games on a yearly basis. Big companies like EA are protected in law over their possessions to an enormous degree, copyrights, patents, trademarks, licensed data, all of which serves to maintain them in an overly privileged, some would say monopolistic position in their particular, very popular, markets. As more people move online (65 per cent of Xbox 360 users use Live and take-up levels with the Wii and PS3 are likely to be higher), multiplayer and online modes become more important, more key to the game. Yet these are the elements of the game EA will be cutting off after a limited period. We are not renting this game, we are not licensing it from EA; we are buying it for up to fifty pounds and we expect to be able to use it as long as we like.
As always, all you're paying for here are some minor updates, a couple of simplistic new modes, and that new season / franchise data. Unless you're an absolute addict, there's no need for this game. If you are an absolute addict, there are better games out there. If you insist on buying this, just remember; if you want to play any multiplayer, in a year's time you'll probably have to buy another one.