The big off-season news, for fans of polygonal professional football: EA Sports is now the only company offering any. Which is pretty bad, really, since competition improves products and so forth. Luckily, being the last men standing hasn't kept the Madden NFL developers from forging ahead with the game's evolution.
Somewhat, anyway. Aside from the inevitable new rosters, the only real gameplay change for this edition is the "QB Vision Control" and "QB Precision Placement" system. QB Vision passing mode gives your quarterback a visible field of view during passing plays, the width of which is based on his skill and experience. This cone of vision must be directed toward the intended receiver with the right analog stick before the pass is thrown with the corresponding button. It's a cool idea. It also changes the button-presses required for a pass from the previous one to a maximum of six, if you count manipulating the stick. In most games, you have a little more than one second to throw. Cool idea or not, it's probably a good thing that QB Vision can be turned off. Not everyone's going to be able to use it. Far easier, and far more useful, is QB Precision, which allows you to float a pass exactly where you want it in relation to the receiver with one simple control-stick press. It's simple, it's transparent, and it works.
There's also a Superstar mode which allows you to design or import a rookie player, who enters the NFL draft and goes on to live the life, including getting endorsements and movie deals. It's okay, but it doesn't have much to do with football, so it's almost irrelevant.
Beyond the gameplay: EA Sports' soundtracks are notoriously bad. But in Madden NFL 06's audio submenu, you'll find pure football-fan manna: a load of classic cheesy-bombastic NFL Films soundtrack cuts—not set as the default music? Screw you, EA Sports licensing management.
Worth playing for: Once you have everything set up just right, Madden 06 is still the closest thing to realistic football there is, or that anyone really wants. And players who like QB Vision now have the most challenging, precise passing system ever.
Frustration sets in when: If you've played the Madden games since the PS1 days, learning a new control scheme will go against every well-honed reflex. Plus, tough defense is still there from the 2005 edition, but that's the good kind of frustration.
Final judgment: Not the quantum leap forward fans were hoping for, perhaps, but it's still a pretty good game. Which is fortunate—for pro football's foreseeable future, it's the only game in town.