The next-generation has not been kind to the Madden NFL Football franchise. The first two entries were poorly received both critically and by fans, but when you’re the only football game in town you’re still going to sell a few copies. Madden 08 was a step in the right direction with more attention seeming to be focused on the field. Madden 09 continues that trend and shows why the NFL choose to go with EA with the license to represent their product.
Madden 09 first and foremost is clearly designed for people who have never played a football video game in the past decade. The game launches with a trainer where you perform several drills at varying levels of difficulty for the game to “adjust” to your skill-level. As you play in games against the CPU your game-skill will either decrease or increase in the areas you do respectively well or poor in. Tiger Woods employs a similar system which seems to be well received by fans.
With this “My First Football” approach comes one of their toted additional features this year, EA Backtrack which is a breakdown of the play (if required, like on interceptions or sacks) on both sides of the ball. This is EXTREMELY helpful for any level player, and adds a lot of presentation sheen to Madden. New announcer Chris Collinsworth of NBC’s NFL Coverage comes off very smooth and you feel like he knows what he’s talking about.
The other new feature is online leagues which I have yet to dive into. From what I understand though this isn’t a “real” fantasy league so don’t get your hopes up yet. It’s more so a place for players to setup a dedicated tracking system for standings amongst each other and I can see this being more used by individual communities of gamers as opposed to randoms on Xbox Live. But EA has shown huge bounds in terms of online gameplay in the last year, with NBA Live getting full team play and NHL getting full team and league play; so hopefully they will iron out a lot of these kinks. The first step towards leagues however is putting a competent product out which plays well online and offline.
Superstar mode once again returns, which almost feels like a precursor to training for massive 11v11 full team games. Unfortunately as with previous iterations, I didn’t spend much time with this particular feature. For those who might not be informed, Superstar mode is where you control an individual player on a team and only that player. Plays are called by the computer and your job is to execute your routes or the coverage appropriately. This combined with Franchise mode, Mini Games, Madden Moments (where you’ll play thru last season’s biggest moments) round out the single player experience.
On the field the “Wide-Open” elements of NCAA make their way to the pro game. This is the first time where Madden has felt so spontaneous. Instead of knowing your back is going down, EVERY grab has the potential to be a broken tackle. Now big receivers like Calvin Johnson and Terrell Owens will be able to muscle thru the secondary like they do on Sundays. It’s a welcome addition to the gameplay and honestly feels like the type of game they were promising us when Reggie Bush and Vince Young were first entering the league.
Off the field, EA has kept the same presentation style they’ve adopted since moving to the Xbox 360. The ring system is back. EA teams up with Josten (the folks who probably made your class ring) to offer exclusive Madden rings available to players who play through and achieve certain milestones like 100 yards rushing or a set amount of sacks in a single game. The rings are shown onscreen, as well as two trophy shrines; one showcasing statistical achievements and the other showcasing franchise awards and trophies as well as head to head matchup trophies. EA Highlights are back, which are user-created clips which run onscreen. The highlights are tied to EA Sports World this year, a community site where users can upload their Highlights for Youtube style playbacks. The system works as it does in other titles which have support it in the past, but I found the video conversions to be time consuming when I’d rather be running for that 1st down with my quarterback.
Sports games have always offer a very solid gaming experience and that tradition hasn’t stopped today. Madden continues to show improvements in some areas but the makeshift online play system really hurts this outing. There’s always next season I suppose.