After years of near-identikit Madden NFL releases, it appears that we could be about to see some sweeping changes that'll revolutionalise the series for next-gen consoles.
With the game set to ship on Xbox 360 at the end of August, Dale Jackson (executive producer on the Xbox 360 version) was keen to showcase the array of features that he believes will make Madden NFL 07, "the most immersive and most authentic [American] football game of the seventeen-year history of the franchise."
Amongst the multitude of new features on offer will be the ability to lead an individual player through an entire career, from a greener than grass rookie to a celebrated Hall of Famer. "NFL Superstar Hall of Fame mode allows you to play as a single character. You'll play uniquely from that position throughout the entire game," explained Jackson as he fired up the mode and showed us the customisation screen in which he configured not only the look and skills of his player, but chose his agent, too.
He then went on to show us a series of mental and physical challenges - which included IQ tests and sprints - which helped define and develop his player's traits. Best of all though was the on-field single-player gameplay that the Hall of Fame mode provides, tasking you to play from just one position throughout your entire career. "There'll be position-specific gameplay," said Jackson. "If you're a wide receiver, it's your job to make yourself open so that the quarterback can find you."
Jackson also revealed that Madden NFL 07 will come with a Mini Camp environment where you'll be able to build your character, rehab injured players in order to bring them back into the season and hone your gaming skills. There'll also be a feature called the Madden Gamer Level, which will track your accomplishments throughout the game - both online and off - so that you and everyone else can see what type of player you are. Great news if you're a Gridiron genius, but not so great if you're a cack-handed newbie.
After Jackson had finished his presentation, up stepped his counterpart on the Wii version, Jason Armenise, who wowed us with an impressive demonstration, during which he pulled off a variety of in-game moves by performing the corresponding real-world actions with the Wii's nunchuks. "We're using a system called Free-motion Control, which lets you use real world gestures for in-game actions," he explained while trying to catch his breath from the exertion. "If you want to throw the ball, you make a throwing movement with the controller. The harder you throw, the further the ball will travel."
He also showed us how you can use the Wii's controller to motion for the crowd to either quieten down or get behind the team, before gesticulating madly with the nunchuks as he scored a showboating touchdown.
"We think we've got a game here that caters to both the hardcore and casual gamer," he explained. "There's going to be millions of football fans who've never played a Madden game before, so we've added in a new in-game tutorial. So if you didn't know how to punt or kick, you'll be given a pop-up that'll tell you how to execute that move. You can try the move in the actual tutorial as many times as you want and when you're ready, you just resume the game."
If you're not an American Football fan, then this might just be the version of the Madden series that finally converts you, especially if it delivers on its wide range of exciting features. For fans of the series however, we're guessing August probably can't come quickly enough.