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Oct 15, 2009

Review: Madden NFL 10 & NHL 10

Madden NFL 10
Electronic Arts, EA Tiburon
Available for Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Nintendo Wii, PSP and Playstation 2.

Fall is a great time to be a sports fan with the MLB playoffs in full swing and both NFL and NHL seasons already underway. Two of the most popular sports franchise video games have been released and are being enjoyed by thousands of sports fans around the world and this week we take a look at those two perennial favourites, Madden NFL 10 and NHL 10 both from EA Sports.

For video game football fanatics the annual release day of Madden is always considered an unofficial holiday and this year’s edition like every other promises to improve on its predecessor. With EA Sports holding the only official license for NFL, video games players have come to expect a high standard from the franchise and every year there seems to be a little give and take. New features are added while other less successful ones are either tweaked or omitted entirely.

This year developers have focused heavily on improving the overall gameplay mechanics in several ways. Reducing the game’s speed slightly has opened up the running game tremendously and provided players with better abilities to time their jukes, avoid defenders and open up holes making it much more accessible and fun. WR’s and DB’s have noticeably improved route running and coverage and the all new PRO-TAK, or procedural tackling provides realistic blocking and massive gang tackles on ball carriers. Quarterbacks also have improved avoidance techniques at their disposal however they are based on the QB’s overall abilities so don’t expect to fling that ball up there as a last resort to avoid a sack without it being intercepted unless you are Tom Brady. What some might say is a long overdue mini-game that has players fight for fumbles via a new mechanic has been introduced and works well and at appropriate times. The passing game feels great though this year’s game still suffers slightly from your AI receivers running out of bounds at the most inopportune moments.

Madden 10’s menu system has been streamlined allowing you to get where you need to go fast within the game’s many modes. Long time fans of the series will be happy to finally see the addition of a deep online franchise mode where they can compete with up to 32 players following real NFL scheduling, live drafts and participate in online message boards. Other modes feature online co-op and a streamlined superstar mode with both providing excellent improvements and depth for casual or hardcore players. Creation and customization of teams and players is still around this time adding even more options for to play around with.

While the back to basics approach to gameplay is quite noticeable this year the attempted improvements in some of the presentation falls flat. The expanded TV broadcast style presentation featuring hosts from the NFL network is a great idea but is implemented poorly with slow and repetitive cut scenes, overused referee events and atrocious and often completely inaccurate play by play announcing. I long for the days of Al Michaels and John Madden calling the shots. On the bright side procedural awareness, the system which allows each player to realistically follow the ball using head, eyes, neck and shoulders looks great and so are many of the subtle graphical improvements on uniforms, stadiums and events happening on the sidelines.

Presentation aside this year’s Madden NFL formula is solid and should provide fans with enough improvements to justify the annual upgrade cost especially when it comes to the core football gameplay.

Rating: 8 out of 10
Buy it!

NHL 10
Electronic Arts, EA Canada
Available for Playstation 3 and Xbox 360

Last year’s edition of EA Sports NHL series won an astounding and deserving 12 sports game of the year awards so this year’s NHL 10 certainly has a tough act to follow. While there aren’t any major overhauls in this year’s game I suppose you could say if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, just tweak it. This series just continues to be the best hockey video game ever made.

NHL 10 does add some new features to its already rock solid gameplay and simplistic controls. NHL 10 emphasizes a new board-play component, where a defender can pin a player with the puck against the board temporarily restraining an offensive threat by taking him out of the play. Alternatively the pinned player can manoeuvre out of the pin by passing the puck to a nearby teammate or as a last resort instigating a fight. Board-play adds a welcome new element to the game without slowing it down and once you’ve become accustomed to it using it to your advantage creates entirely new strategies.

Also new this year is a revamped first person fighting engine, allowing fights to happen much more frequently and giving players more satisfying fisticuffs than in previous years. Your fighter inevitably ends up in the penalty box either way but hammering your opponent can have the advantage of giving your team a much needed boost in morale.

The very popular Be a Pro mode returns this year allowing users to either create his own hockey player or use an existing superstar and try to take him through the ranks of the NHL. New additions to this mode include the use of a prospect game to determine your draft position and the ability to be a “tough guy” player whose job it is to protect your team’s superstar. The EA Sports Hockey League or EASHL is back and lets you create an online Be a Pro and join other friends to form a team. Other new game modes this year include Battle for the Cup which drops you right in the middle of the Stanley Cup playoffs and Be a GM mode which enables players to build their own dynasty team through drafting, trading, and signing skaters.

This year EA has given players more options in customizing your style of gameplay from the casual to hardcore via additional sliders allowing you to follow your preference of simulation or arcade style play. Ever since I can remember first playing this series many years ago friends and I would take shots or check each other after the whistle and NHL 10 finally recognizes this trend by allowing opponents to instigate brawls and penalties when this takes place.

A plethora of new animations have been added to this year’s game from playoff crowds waving towels, players scoring spectacular goals from batting pucks out of mid air or shooting on their knees to the many new goalie animations of incredible saves and desperation lunges. In terms of broadcast presentation little has changed from last year but the play by play is still flawless though I had hoped for a little more new content. The awesome ability to use your own music for in game events like goals thankfully returns.

If I had one ongoing criticism of EA’s series, albeit a small one it would be the lack of heritage teams in the game. NHL features a ton of minor league and European teams that no one seems to want or care about. Perhaps they are included to help international sales but I for one would like to see more of the older teams like the Hartford Whalers, Winnipeg Jets and Atlanta Flames be playable. Adding a Montreal Canadians all star team last year was a nice touch but they re-appear the same in this year’s edition all alone.

This gripe aside, NHL 10 generally builds on the success of last year’s outing continuing to give players the entire package when it comes to a hockey video game. Everything comes together well, the pace, the crowd, and the presentation to really immerse the player in what it must be like to really play in an NHL game.

Rating: 9 out of 10
Buy It!

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