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Madden 07
Publisher: EA
Devloper: EA

Marv Levy, the most thoughtful coach the NFL has even seen, said something stirring in his autobiography, Where Else Would You Rather Be? The erudite coach wrote, that on game day, "a wave of ethereal serenity will wash over you, or—at the other end of the spectrum—you will become the victim of a despair so gripping that you can feel it physically."

This year, Madden 07 lets you feel what Marv Levy felt. That's because the developers paid attention to the details that make football seem authentic. Its high definition visuals are full of cut scenes that make you feel part of a hyper-real football experience. The in-game scenes look like something out of Oliver Stone's Any Given Sunday, except they're better.

Sims: Life in the fast line
image: Courtesy of Electronic Arts
Sims: Life in the fast line

That's right. Some of Madden is better than a highly stylized Hollywood sports film. You see the gritting of teeth as the line strains just before the ball is hiked. You see what goes on in the huddle. One camera angle even looks up at the huddling players from the ground, making them look like mythical gods planning a Grecian war.

On the Xbox 360 version, the audio makes you feel as close to being in the huddle and on the line as you're ever going to get—unless you're drafted by the NFL. The chatter, the crowd's excitement, the trash talking of the opposition: I've just never heard in-game audio that is this thoughtfully executed. And there are audio options, too. Don't like Madden's folksy charm? Use EA's excitable radio announcer. Don't like him? Try just the stadium announcer and the crowd with the players talking.

In fact, Madden is all about options. This year, you can control your lead blocker individually at the line. In fact, you can pretty much control any player you like. You can even see the game from their point of view.

What about Madden, the man? Madden himself makes more sense this year. When he helps you choose some play you've never encountered even if you played college ball, he'll explain why it will work for you. For instance, defensive plays with the word "Spy" in them lets your players keep an eye on a quarterback who has running abilities. No matter what your level of football knowledge you have as a fan, Madden will give you more.

Want to take a break from the game? There's a virtual Hall of Fame here. Not only do you get biographies of greats like YA Tittle. Many of these player sections have short movies rife with their finest plays. Again, you'll play and have fun. But you'll learn something, too, something you can talk about with your friends.

Yet Madden 07 is not without its glitches, especially when it comes to issues of what game makers call artificial intelligence. For instance, when I was on third down, had inches to go for a first down, and was 21 points ahead of the New York Giants, Madden suggested that I throw the ball. Now, Madden in real life is a fairly conservative guy. He'd surely suggest a running play in such a situation. Plus, your EA radio announcer makes mistakes, saying things like you had an interception in the last series of downs when you didn't. These things are not game breakers. In fact, they don't stop a great game from being great. But the mistakes are indeed disappointing, especially when you're paying $60 for the Xbox 360 version.

Additionally, the game isn't completely updated as far as players and coaches go. The injured Curtis Martin is still playing for the New York Jets and the Buffalo Bills have the wrong quarterback. So do the Jets. You can change the players easily with a few presses of your controller buttons. But you wish you didn't have to, and that this function of player updates was available with a click of the button online.

If you want to take Madden 07 with you, try the PSP version, which is also compatible with your PlayStation 2. Even the Nintendo DS version makes better use of the touch screen than it did last year. Even if you hate Madden, EA may have a football game for you. This summer's release of NFL HEAD COACH makes you the leader of the team. It's not just about playing; it's about simulating everything that happens around a team. Plus, you can even communicate to your players on the field via a headset.

If you haven't bought Madden in a few years, this is the time to get it, especially the Xbox 360 version. Despite the apparent flaws, it makes you feel the tension, the passion, and the camaraderie that go into the best games of football. In other words, with "Madden 07," each game of the season has the palpable excitement of a playoff game. Even Marv would love it.

Dead Rising
Publisher: Capcom
Devloper: Capcom

In Max Brooks's The Zombie Survival Guide, the author asks, "What will you do—end your existence in passive acceptance, or stand up and shout, 'I will not be their victim! I will survive!'" You'll need that kind of tough-minded, Gloria Gaynor-endurance philosophy to deal with Dead Rising for the Xbox 360.

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