Hating on Madden

I’ve been debating whether to review the new Madden and NCAA games, or if yes, how. I’m leaning toward not, because it seems silly to treat each iteration as if it’s an actual new game rather than a minor update of new rosters, a couple new moves, and maybe a new or tweaked gameplay mode.

In my review of the games last year, I said:

The next-generation console wars couldn’t come at a better time for makers of annual sports games like Madden and NCAA 06.Another year of updating rosters, adding some fantasy-sports- geek role-playing elements, sticking in a few revised player animations and calling it new might finally get people fed up with the $50 price tag. But with sure-to-be-ridiculous graphics on the way starting with Xbox 360 in the fall, EA Sports knows that its money demographic won’t bother to complain this time around.

I still feel the same way. Especially with Xbox Live’s downloads and the PlayStation 3’s coming, it’s ridiculous that EA isn’t offering $5 roster updates or $10 roster and fantasy mode updates. I know Madden is the company’s cash cow besides The Sims, and it’s not like they’re forcing millions of people to buy the full version, but why not experiment? Surely millions would still buy the whole thing. Why not at least admit the charade of bundling a half dozen minor updates together and calling them a $50 or $60 new game?

Here’s some of the video game sites playing along:
–1up.com’s Wellington Moreaux: “As expected, the base gameplay of Madden 07 is the same as last year, but with some improvements. But even though it’s still the top football game on the market, there may not be enough innovations in Madden’s lastest incarnation to help it stand out from its own shadow.”
–GameSpot’s Alex Navvaro: “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 to the gameplay experience.”
–IGN’s Jeff Haynes (on the PS2 version; he’s more positive on the Xbox 360 version, mostly because it includes an RPG mode not available in last year’s bare-bones 360 Madden): “Considering that many of the gameplay features are extremely mild remixes of previously included gameplay options, this year’s Madden comes across as a solid title, but one that’s starting to show its age.”

Why admit all that but still treat the game as something new? It’s like if Mission Impossible III had been the exact same movie as MI:2 except the characters had new costumes, two actors had switched roles, half the CGI scenes looked slightly more realistic, and Tom Cruise’s stunt doubles added an extra somersault and drop kick to each action scene.

Last year I said, “If these two games were EA’s first football titles for PlayStation 2, Xbox and GameCube, they would be among the best of all time. … But these aren’t EA’s first tries. At this point, the great graphics already seem dated, the game play faults are even more annoying, and the new modes can’t justify the price.”

Until EA stops repackaging the same old and calling it new, that bears repeating. And I’m not sure there’s anything else ultimately worth saying.

— August 23, 2006

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