Madden NFL 10 Review: Rejoice… Madden Is Fun Again
When it comes to my sports video games, let’s just say this gamer doesn’t “play around.” I had high hopes for this year’s pigskin kingpin, also known as “Madden NFL 10,” as early reports said that this year’s game made tremendous strides in every aspect of the game, and I couldn’t agree more.
Up until this point in gaming history many football fans felt that “NFL 2K5″ was the Holy Grail of all football video games. Since EA acquired the exclusive NFL license they haven’t really blown anyone away. Well fear not Madden fans, EA has put the fun back into football; this was finally the year EA placed a lot of their emphasis on the game’s overall presentation. There are more crowd and warm-up cut scenes, refs that are finally on the field, and they even added jets flying over the stadiums. Get a three and out or throw a pick and you’ll get to see your quarterback on the phone with the coordinator trying to fix the problem. Included are more stat overlays, chain gangs on close plays, players of the game being interviewed… ladies and gentlemen, it’s all there.
One of the more subtle presentation effects added, which I personally enjoyed the most, was rain and show “touching” the screen during games in inclement weather. This makes you feel like your right there in the action. While overall the new presentation elements are great, they aren’t perfect. There are only two chain gang cuts, meaning that if you see it from one view it’s a first down, and if you get the other view it’s going to be just short, and that really kills the suspense. Unfortunately, there are also way too many instances where they call the chain gang out on plays that are clearly pass the first down marker, which gets a bit annoying. This even happens on the goal line, when the refs sometime huddle to see if it was indeed a touchdown. My issues aside, however you slice it, the presentation is much better this time around.
Another impressive update this year are the player animations. You will get to see receivers and cornerbacks jostling more on press coverage, offensive linemen and defensive ends battling, quarterbacks throwing after being hit. One animation that EA claims to have in the game is players dragging their feet as they try and make catches towards the sidelines, which is apparently rather hard to trigger, and hopefully that can be addressed in a future patch. One gripe I do have with the animations is there are way too many instances where your quarterback will get hit while throwing, and the ball will float in the air like a lame duck, eagerly awaiting to get picked off. While I understand this happens from time to time in the real NFL, it happens way too frequently in this game and needs to be fixed, since it really hurts the realism of the game.
On top of the presentation, and animations, the gameplay has been given some nice new additions as well. EA has actually made it possible to stand in the pocket this year, in what many call a “True Pocket.” In previous Maddens, blitzing corners or linebackers rarely were picked up, and you had to roll out to throw. This year that would be a mistake, as EA has placed a big emphasis on player attributes. For instance, if you have a quarterback like Matt Hasselback, who is a pocket QB, and try and roll out and throw on the run, it will severely hurt his accuracy. Stay in the pocket. Trust your line. Complete the pass. The game itself has also been slowed down quite a bit, which is a different, but welcome change. It’s most evident in the running game, as you can now see lanes open up, instead of the action being a big blur. Don’t worry folks, EA gave you sliders to speed the game back up if you’d like.
A new change in gameplay comes in the form of a mini game called “Fight for the Fumble”, which is triggered when multiple defenders are surrounding a fumble (the screen prompts you to press a combination of buttons to gain possession at the bottom of the pile). Also new is making the right stick into the quarterback avoidance stick while passing, which can help you break out of a sack with a simple flick. But the biggest new feature is a technology called “Pro-Tak” which allows up to 10 people to swarm around the ball; you will see bruising backs like Brandon Jacobs bulling their way through defenders, as the defense pile on top of him to bring him down. This even has a branching options which is pretty impressive; you may see a 5 man gang tackle, or you may see one of your lineman pushing from the back to get the runner that extra yard he needs for the TD or the first down, or he could shed defenders and go for a big run. There are even instances where the big running backs aren’t tackled at all, but the play is whistled dead. Nice touch EA. Nice touch.
One thing that needs to be addressed in gameplay is the ability to challenge different things, not just the play the computer THINKS you want to challenge. Perhaps they could have included an option scroll that lets you challenge different parts of the play. I have seen instances where the game challenges possession, when I wanted to challenge the ball spot.
EA also has to add new animations for the hurry up offense; far too often does the quarterback saunter up to the line of scrimmage like he has all the time in the world, when the clock is ticking down. They need to input scenarios that recognizes when a team is playing catch up, so that the quarterback animation hurries to the line, and gets into place quicker. It would be nice to see plays where you want to stop the clock, and the quarterback has an animation where he is motioning to throw it to the ground while he is running up to the line. I’m sure EA has a laundry list of things that will be added in next year’s edition, and hopefully that will make the cut.
Also on the list of changes is the Franchise Mode; the interface has received a brand new menu, and the programmer’s that worked on ‘NFL Head Coach” were brought in to design rookies, draft logic, trade logic and new additions to offline franchise. Players familiar with “NFL Head Coach,” will immediately see similarities, which is a good thing because Franchise has not been playable up to this point on the Xbox 360. Also added is the “Extra Point Show” which acts as a visual video hub for games and analysis on the current season. It is a nice start, but I would like to see this grow into the ESPN show “NFL Today” bringing Mel Kiper in as a draft expert, as well as some NFL players for analysis. I think for the most part this year was all about laying the foundation for offline franchise mode, which will hopefully be a big focus in next year’s game.
On the other hand, the Superstar Mode has seen some questionable changes, and none for the better. The new practice system makes little to no sense; you begin by selecting a practice day from the calendar that lets you run one play over and over and over again. There is no end to practice; you just keep running the same play. Not only that, but you don’t improve from practicing, so there’s really no benefit to even participating. The mini-camp drills have also been totally removed, rather than redone, which takes a lot of fun out of the mode. It would be nice to see EA take Superstar mode seriously next year and really add fun back to the game.
Fortunately, Online Franchise Mode has been introduced which will change the way people live their lives. I can tell you first hand, playing in a serious franchise league is one of gaming’s great rushes. Going up against 31 other live players, and having every game mean something really adds to the fun of the mode. Outfitted with a full draft year to year, player progression, and the ability to alter your rosters, trades, and see franchise info all can be done on your home pc or iPhone. All those additions are great, but there are several curious omissions. There are no contracts. Huh?? There is no salary cap. Huh?? There is no draft scouting option, which means you would basically be drafting names, praying that they are good. There is hope however, as the online franchise is being run from EA servers which allows them to add new features, fix broken ones, and continue to expand the experience without the need of a disc or download. There is also a feature for a co-op online game, which is virtually useless, because you can only play against the computer. Hopefully, next year they will allow 4 players to play against each other.
All in all, “Madden NFL 10″ is an incredible game; one that finally puts the fun back into the series. Hopefully next year will see the same amount of effort as this year’s did. Now go practice, Sunday’s game is just around the corner!
“Madden NFL 10″ was developed by EA Tiburon and published by EA Sports, and released on August 14th, 2009 for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, PSP, and Wii. This review is based on the Xbox 360 version.