Let’s travel way back to November 22, 2005. This was the day the Xbox 360 launched in the United States. It launched with 14 games in North America. One of those games was the now infamous Madden NFL 06. Before that fateful day, we had geared up for HD Madden by seeing a next-gen trailer showing a snow game with the Eagles vs. the Giants. This created so much hype in the Madden community just a year after finding out we would no longer be getting any NFL 2K games.
At the same time, it’s now easy to forget but for as good as 2K was at making football games, the PS2/Xbox era of Madden had its own loyal fans. So it would only be fair to say that most people thought that Madden NFL 06 would continue that trend on the Xbox 360.
Surely, EA would take their well received base engine and port it to next-gen consoles to make the game even better, not just graphically but gameplay wise as well. The Madden games before the 360/PS3 era featured a deep and immersive franchise mode with owner mode components, a fresh superstar mode, drills, the Tony Bruno Radio Show and you could even decide how much you wanted to charge for a hot dog. Yes, that generation of Madden was also a hot dog simulator.
Madden NFL 06 On Xbox 360 Was A Mess
I’ll give you my personal experience with Madden NFL 06 on the Xbox 360 because it’s pretty much like everyone else’s. I was lucky enough to get a console pre-ordered from Blockbuster of all places. I worked there at the time, so my boss — who was super cool — made sure I got one. I couldn’t contain my excitement.
Back at my apartment, I had some friends waiting to start a Madden 06 tournament. We had done similar sorts of tournaments in all the other football games around that time so I was excited. I hooked up the system to my archaic, but really good at the time, 27-inch CRT HD widescreen TV for some amazing 720p action.
Well, the game looked pretty good, but it was apparent from the opening kickoff that something was wrong, No John Madden or Al Michaels? Who is this voice and why does it sound like a radio broadcast? We were all pretty confused as to what was going on. The game felt so different, and not in a good way. We all expected it to feel like a better version of the PS2 and Xbox version of the games. The game was so bad, we didn’t even play a half. We put in NFL 2K5 in my original Xbox and had another tournament with that game instead.
How could they have screwed this up so bad? What happened to Madden? Well, if you look hard enough you can find an interview in Rolling Stone titled “‘We’re Totally F–ked’: Inside The Making of Madden NFL 06.” You can’t even see the full article now on Rolling Stone as it has been scrubbed from the site.
The summary of the article is that the developers were unprepared, tried to rewrite too many portions of the game, hired too many people too fast, did not get proper console specs in time, and were basically asked to do something that couldn’t be done. Remember that trailer I mentioned? That wasn’t even supposed to have been made public. It was meant to be an internal video for the art team to encapsulate the vision they were trying to achieve. However, some executives got a look at it and ran with it.
To sum it up, Madden developer Ian Cummings said, “You see this final product as a gamer and it’s a turd. But we slaved. That was the hardest I had ever worked in my whole life. To have to come up with that result was what was so crushing about it.”
From that point on, Tiburon struggled getting Madden up to the quality folks were used to. I like to call this generation of Madden its lost generation. It was a series of Madden video games that could never seem to get out of their own way. When you build something on such a poor foundation, it’s hard to keep it standing.
While there was always some year-over-year improvement, it wasn’t ever enough for most fans. Some of the games were enjoyable, but without any competitio, we were stuck with one NFL game. As the generation started nearing its end, it seemed like Tiburon was finally starting to make a turnaround. NCAA Football 14 was released in 2013 and was the biggest leap in gameplay quality for the entire generation. It took seven years to get a vast majority of critical acclaim from fans and media alike.
A Tidier Mess But Still Not A Great Generation
Madden would then find itself in a familiar situation. The dawn of the Xbox One and PS4 platforms were coming that holiday season. This marked Madden’s 25th anniversary, so they decided to start the new generation of consoles off with a new name and call it Madden 25. Many people expected the game to continue to get better, and be better than NCAA Football14. However, on the Xbox One and PS4, it was a solid upgrade from last-gen, but not a giant leap in quality many had hoped for. It scored a solid 73 critic score and an abysmal 5.8 user score.
However, I thought the game was better than a 5.8 — yes, that’s faint praise I know. I think EA did some things right by attempting to improve on the previous generation of games by not trying to re-invent everything by using a brand-new engine. The marketing department tried to say it was an all-new engine powered by Ignite, but most of us realized this was still mostly the same Madden we were already used to — for better or worse.
Over this current-gen span from Madden 25 to Madden NFL 21, there have been significant improvements to gameplay — depending on who you ask. That being said, you can still make a valid argument that the improvements have been at a snail’s pace.
This also leads me to franchise mode. If there’s anything that mimics the mistakes of going from the PS2 to Xbox 360, it’s the transition from franchise mode to CFM that happened during the cycle leading up to and going into Madden 25. Regardless of where you stand on CFM right now and the pros it has over the old franchise mode, the point is some element of magic was lost during that transition phase.
What Happens When The Xbox Series X And PS5 Launch?
This upcoming generation has to put as much emphasis on franchise mode as it does on MUT. The team at Tiburon can’t make the same mistakes again. The fix franchise mode movement actually went global enough to garner a response from EA. They have no choice or excuse this time to not drastically improve franchise mode during this upcoming generation.
If you played the beta of Madden NFL 21, you can start to see that if this game uses the technology of the new systems to the game’s advantage, and some of these AI and playbook improvements actually work out on the whole, some real progress can be made on the field. This leaves the challenge perhaps more outside the white lines than between them.
The team also does seem more prepared for this jump over the last two. Even though we’re light on details, it doesn’t seem like this is the same monumental shift going to the next-gen systems. We’re not hearing about a major wave of hirings or firings at the studio. We also know Frostbite engine is not going anywhere as of now, which removes another big component of the transition. At worst, you can say the pandemic has made things more complicated for the team, but that’s a universal issue in the US right now.
With that in mind, the hope is that the team can focus more on legacy issues and making next-gen Madden pop. I assume next-gen Madden NFL 21 will be similar to the version we get in August, but by using the power of the new systems we should at least get better graphics and our first taste of some worthwhile physics upgrades.
So will next-gen Madden finally start a new generation on the right foot and rise from there? I believe it will, and I think it has to this time around. It’s time for Madden to live up to its deal with the NFL.