Football video games used to be so easy. You controlled the quarterback and avoided the blitz while waiting for a receiver to get open before pressing a button. It didn't matter if your quarterback threw the ball off his back foot or to a receiver he wasn't looking at -- the end result was usually a tight spiral.
But those days are over in Electronic Arts' Madden NFL 06 ($49.95 for Xbox, PlayStation 2, GameCube; $39.95 for PC) because the game's "QB Vision Control" makes it challenging to move the ball through the air. Every quarterback has a vision cone, a ray of yellow light that begins from the quarterback's eyes and illuminates his field of vision. For the Colts' Peyton Manning and the Vikings' Daunte Culpepper, the cone has the girth of nearly half the field, but for lesser-talented quarterbacks such as the Ravens' Kyle Boller, it's maybe half that size.
Now, if your quarterback throws a pass to a receiver who isn't in his line of sight, don't expect it -- or the outcome -- to be pretty.
You also have to decide what type of pass to throw, which is done by using the joystick. If your receiver has a step on his defender, be sure to lead him. If the defender is playing the receiver close, throw the ball short, allowing the receiver to come back for the ball -- a style that makes Oakland's Randy Moss and Philadelphia's Terrell Owens two of the game's most dominating players.
The game's best mode is "Superstar." That's when you choose the parents whose attributes will give the player you create the best DNA for being an athlete. Your player grows up, takes an IQ test, hires an agent and gets drafted into the NFL. The next step is to become an icon by playing your way to a lucrative contract and working on your virtual interview skills to land endorsements and movie roles.
The staple of the Madden franchise, which has spawned 16 editions, has been its ability to put a new spin on the same sport. What sets this game apart is the passing game, which casual gamers can disable if they want to remain in the past. But serious gamers will welcome the next phase of video games.
-- Jon Gallo