Yanks love A lot of things - burgers, fries, small oil-rich nations with pathetically weak defences - but there's nothing they love more than the overpadded, rules-heavy rugby rip-off that is American Football. Which is why EA's Madden NFL is probably the best-selling videogame series of all time.
And while we, as the British nation, might roll our eyes, perhaps pausing to tut disparagingly at any 'sport' where players run around with the number 69 on their back without the slightest hint of irony, it does mean EA takes Madden very seriously indeed. Which is clearly a very good thing, because Madden NFL 06 is probably the slickest sports game we've ever played.
In fact, it plays like an absolute dream. Fast, responsive, and dripping with the kind of TV-style production that proves the Americans are still years ahead of us when it comes to sports presentation, Madden NFL 06 is a dazzlingly polished bit of game. Even if you don't know the first thing about 'grid-iron', you'll want to play simply because it looks and feels so nice.
So what's new, then? Surprisingly for an EA game, plenty, but the most fundamental change is the addition of the 'Vision and Precision' passing technique. Put simply, your quarterback now has an on-screen vision cone. Throw to a receiver within that cone and you're more likely to complete the pass, the principle being that you now need to look at where you're throwing. True, it takes a while to get used to, but the strategies it opens up are great. For instance, throw to a player you're not looking at and you can fake out the defence, but that of course leaves you with a tricky, non-sighted pass.
The other big addition is the NFL Superstar mode, a single-player career/story game that involves steering your fresh-out-of-college football star to success on and off the pitch. It's a good idea in principle, but one ruined by EA's constant insistence on levering in a 'street cred' angle. When you're not going through offence plays, you're forced to hit the barbers for a 'radical' new look, or keeping fans happy by attending a movie premiere. Not so much Madden as The Sims: NFL Media Slut.
But, and this is the worst of it, EA has once again cut the Live element from the European release, leaving Madden fans in the UK without the opportunity to play online. Why? As the best and only official NFL game for 2006, why drop such a huge element for European Live subscribers?
Still, what do we tea-drinking, soccer-playing Brits know? Especially when some of the more complex defence plays left us staring slack-jawed at the screen, doing nothing as the CPU-controlled players ran riot. Maybe it's for the best we don't embarrass ourselves playing the Americans at their own game - that would truly suck. All together now: USA! USA! USA!
Easily the best NFL game ever, but it gets a big thumbs down (and marks off) for EA's shocking Live-denying shame.