Electronic Arts, EA Tiburon
Available for the Xbox 360, PS3, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS, PSP, PS2 and Xbox
Even if you aren’t a football fan, as a gaming fan it is hard not to recognize what the Madden Football franchise has accomplished. This year EA Sports celebrates the twentieth edition of the series with the release of Madden 09 and even after all this time they’re still managing to keep it fresh and on top of the yearly sales charts. Versions are available on all systems this year including even the original Xbox system, but I checked out the Xbox 360 edition.
A common complaint about the Madden franchise as of late has been from casual players that don’t necessarily have the time to learn so much of the intricacies of the game. The inability to just pick up and play without getting smoked every single time has alienated those casual players into forgetting the series altogether. EA strives to bring these fans back into the fold this year with a few adjustments on how the game recognizes and adapts to a player’s skill level.
When first starting the game you’ll be prompted to take the Madden Test hosted by the big guy himself. This test will run you through a few basic drills, assessing your overall football skills and assigning you a Madden IQ from which the games skill level will be based around. If you are great at running the football the game adapts to this and your computer opponent will toughen up its run defence. Oppositely if you lack skills in the passing game, opponents soften up their pass coverage.
The Madden IQ levels the playing field even against human opponents with a better IQ score than yours which is supposed to bring a little more parity to the game. As you play more, getting better or worse your IQ fluctuates and the skill level changes. I found the IQ setting did not keep up well with my actual abilities, thankfully manual adjustments can be made to suit your needs. Further helping out the noobs this year, EA also added a rewind feature that lets you completely retry a fouled up play and “Backtrack“ which replays your mistakes and shows you what you should have done.
Hardcore Maddenites probably don’t care much about the introduction of the IQ feature so there is also plenty of gameplay enhancements this year to keep them happy. Slide protection, formation subs on the fly, bluffing plays and rivalry games are nice additions and a revamped and much more functional play calling screen moves things along more efficiently. The running game has improved with much more user control over breaking tackles, juking and the animations associated with them.
The successful core football gameplay hasn’t really changed that much over the last few years but it is the smaller enhancements this year that build Madden 09 into a better experience for fans. Aside from a much slicker TV style presentation there are also a lot of nice graphical touches that update the game with more details this year. Weather effects are a huge standout, especially how realistic a snow covered field looks now with piles of the white stuff building up on the sidelines. When playing in the rain the players jerseys can be so muddied that it almost gets difficult to tell them apart. Gameplay audio this year is also richly detailed both on and off the field. A new play-by-play team of Tom Hammond & Cris Collinsworth take over in the booth, Collinsworth is excellent but the robotic Hammond not so much.
Madden 09 offers several different game modes, Superstar, Exhibition and Franchise. All of which remain relatively unchanged from previous editions. There are two new additions this year, Madden Moments and Online Leagues. Madden Moments selects one memorable portion of a game from last season and recreates the situation. You can try and recreate the famous finish or be the guy that rewrites history. Online Leagues allows up to thirty-two players to form into a league, complete with its own championship trophy and players can play in a series of games as their favourite team.
Much like any sports games, Madden 09 isn’t without some obvious faults. A.I. quarterbacks are still way too accurate this year and stopping quick slant plays is nearly impossible. I also found using the quarterback sneak play on third or fourth down was much to easy to accomplish. On the flipside your own interception rate seems much higher, so pass wisely. Computer controlled receivers also inexplicably like to stroll out of bounds a lot even though there is plenty of daylight in front of them.
Small imperfections aside, overall Madden 09 is probably the best NFL football game to date released by EA Sports. The improvements made this year will most certainly continue to draw the perennial fans but more importantly they also really do give the people who might have given up on the franchise a reason to come back.
Rating: 9 out of 10