Next Tuesday, Aug. 22, is a holiday in the videogaming world, an event as eagerly anticipated as any Hollywood blockbuster’s premiere. It’s the date of release for Madden 07, the latest iteration of the best-selling sports franchise in videogame history.

For sports geeks, the release date of each year’s Madden is like Christmas. Last year, the game sold 1.7 million copies in its first week of release, the largest number in its 17–year history.

And, like childhood Christmas mornings, each year’s Madden carries a risk of disappointment. The 2006 innovation to the game, the “vision cone” for quarterbacks, either made the game infinitely more realistic or was the worst idea ever, depending whose opinion was asked.

For Madden 07, the vision cone is still there, although it’s turned off by default and is gone from online play, the element which makes the game much more fun than playing against the computer’s AI.

This year’s love-it-or-hate-it feature is the Run to Daylight mode, which gives users the option of controlling run-blockers from the snap of the ball, giving star running backs the opportunity to bust off large runs at will.

Players can cycle through the offensive line before the snap, choosing the one they’ll control. Once the play has begun, a variety of special moves for the blocker have been assigned to the analog sticks.

With Seahawks star Shawn Alexander on the cover, it’s obvious that Madden 07 is designed with the running game in mind. Last year’s game over-emphasized the play-action pass, with some teams completely unable to establish a rushing attack.

Last year’s Truck Stick, which gave bigger running backs the ability to break tackles but did nothing for the smaller, faster RBs, has been renamed the Highlight Stick. The difference is that backs such as the Dolphins’ Ronnie Brown or the Saints’ Reggie Bush will have signature juke moves, allowing them to clear the line of scrimmage for big gains.

Users who tried the Superstar Mode in Madden 06 but gave up in frustration, due to the faulty game design, can try again with Superstar Hall of Fame, which is a de-bugged attempt at the same thing: building an NFL legend from the DNA up, taking him through training camp and to a career in the pros.

Unlike previous career modes, the new-and-improved Superstar Mode lets you play only as your created superstar and doesn’t make you play head coach, quarterback or defense. If you’re a running back, that’s what you do. Run the ball.

By boosting your stats, you gain influence points, which increases your reputation and skill abilities.

Another addition to the game, one requested for years, is the ability to unlock legendary players. For years, the game has allowed you to play as, say, the ’88 Broncos, but your QB wasn’t John Elway. If you were playing as the ’85 Bears, your running back wasn’t Walter Payton. This year, developer EA Sports finally decided to fork over the cash to acquire the retired players’ names and likenesses.

In addition, EA Sports has promised online gamers a better, more secure environment for online play. With 10,000 or more gamers on at peak times, the servers would strain and struggle, causing dropped games that counted as losses for both players.

There was a glitch that allowed cheaters to block all kicks and punts, as well as a deadly pre-snap flaw that told your opponent whether you were running in every formation except the Weak-I.

Speaking of playbooks, they’ve been upgraded from last year’s game, with plays designed to utilize the star players more effectively.

For online play, you’ll be able to import your friends list from last year’s game and plug in a USB headset to trash-talk your opponent, as always.

Will this year’s Madden exceed the expectations of the millions who will buy it no matter what, or will it be a dud, like Madden 2005?

With certain stores placing the game on sale at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, consumers won’t have too much longer to wait.




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