The Madden football franchise has come a long way since its inception in 1988 when it became the first 11-on-11 football experience. With the release of Madden 09, EA Sports is celebrating the 20th season in Madden football history, something that is unheard of in the gaming industry. Not only has Madden released on a year-to-year basis, but the series has consistently been a top selling title within the business each season.
Many diehards have been waiting patiently for EA Sports to deliver a true next generation football experience. Madden NFL 09 has proven itself to be that deliverance. The title, which some feel is a rinse and repeat occurrence, has implemented various new features to not only freshen up the franchise, but to bring it to an entirely new level.
This year, EA has crafted Madden into a more 'pick up and play' experience, primarily through the newly implemented Madden IQ Test. The test, which allows users to display their skills in order to create a custom difficulty setting, creates an atmosphere in which the casual gamer can pick up a controller and compete competently in a challenging environment. This newly created feature allows the Madden franchise to be more accessible to new users than ever before.
While this idea sounds fantastic, it unfortunately doesn’t work as well as one would hope. The custom difficulty provided usually ends up being far too easy. Luckily, they have also added the ability to customize the difficulty beyond the IQ test. If gamers are willing to put in ten to fifteen minutes of their time, they can create a perfect blend of four sliders that will offer them the playing experience they’re looking for.
The Madden IQ test isn’t the only open-arms welcome that Madden NFL 09 offers to newcomers. Madden 09 features a completely new “Game Styles” option that gives the user a lot more control over how difficult the game plays. The Game Styles are broken into four categories: Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced and Hardcore. Beginner has the computer select plays for you, while you execute them. Intermediate lets you choose between a non-specific run, pass, or special teams play. Advanced gives you the ability to select between formations in order to find your play of choice. As indicated, Hardcore is for the player that needs no help at all. These simple play styles have turned the Madden franchise into a universal title that can be played by gamers of all ages.
These new implementations for the casual gamer haven’t left the hardcore Madden players completely in the cold. EA Sports has brought back a ton of features from the last generation that these players will appreciate such as slide protection, formation subs on the fly and rivalry games. This great mix of hardcore and casual additions have allowed Madden to become a much more sound title overall.
As for the actual gameplay modes, such as Franchise and Superstar, EA has taken the position of if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. That may leave some enthusiasts wishing for a bit more, but the franchise still offers the same in-depth style of gaming that it always has. Gamers are still able to take their favorite franchise and build it from the ground up or continue its gloried history of consistency to win the Super Bowl over the course of 30 seasons.
The same can be said for the Superstar mode, as users can expect the same as last year. There are a few new additions like the ability to perfect certain Madden Weapon skills through individual workouts prior to the draft, though that's pretty much where the change stops. Everything else is ultimately the same as it always has been, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but much like the Franchise mode, gamers do deserve to have something added in order to freshen up the general experience.
For those of you looking for an entirely original mode, you’ll find yourself enjoying the newly added Madden Moments. There are 34 Madden Moments overall that have been pulled from last season in which users will either have to replicate history or change it forever. One of my personal favorite moments involves taking the Browns down the field with 26 seconds to go and no timeouts. You’re faced with driving the offense 80 yards for the win. A tie or loss will result in failure. If you’re a Giants fan, you’ll probably love reliving that last drive of the Super Bowl, which just so happens to be the final Madden Moment that you’re able to complete. Madden Moments blindsided me and I never thought I’d enjoy or play them as much as I have.
All of these pretty touch-ups and additions won’t mean anything if the gameplay itself is trash. That is why I’m pleased to confirm that Madden 09 is head and shoulders above the prior installments on the next generation platforms. Not only does the gameplay seem to handle a lot tighter with a perfect touch of responsiveness, but it seems a lot of issues that plagued the title last year are no longer around. If I had to choose a negative aspect to discuss about the pure gameplay of the title, it would be that passing seems to be far easier than running the ball. Trying to get a good ground game going sometimes feels impossible, however, I occasionally found myself getting a rhythm that allowed me to destroy defenses on the ground. A great mix between passes and runs definitely allows you to utilize the rushing attack as it’s supposed to be used.
Speaking of the running attack, running and juking have been drastically improved. The fact that you can now initiate your own broken tackles after being wrapped up by a defender gives you a sense of accomplishment. When you’re wrapped up, if you press the correct face button or juke analog, your running back will break free or fight for that extra yard for the much needed first down. This doesn’t mean the wide receivers were left out of the patch up as the way they extend to catch the football is now more realistic than ever.
My biggest gripe with Madden 09 is what most hardcore fans will find their largest gripe with as well – online play. The online portion of the game is just more of the same. In this case, that's not a good thing. The games are never quite smooth, which is beyond shocking considering how EA Sports can manage to release solid online titles like their FIFA and NHL franchises. Madden 09 is still the victim of disconnects, glitch quitting, and sometimes complete freezing when trying to challenge a ridiculous call on the field. While these problems do not happen consistently, they do happen often enough to be a cause for concern. I’m still awaiting the day that the heads of EA will come together and realize that online gaming is a majorly important aspect of any title that offers it. I will admit, the online portion isn’t entirely poor, as EA Sports has added in the ability to play in online leagues with the option to actually trade players.
Back on a positive note, the game looks astounding. The new grass textures, player models and dynamic lighting make Madden 09 a thing of beauty and give users a “new feel” for the game. While the presentation is still being worked on, I can finally say that EA Sports is slowly getting it right. The excitement and action that the new camera mode brings to the table is a breath of fresh air. The only problem with the presentation though was the dreadful decision by the develop team of bringing in Cris Collinsworth and Todd Hammond to call the action on the field. These two guys are as stale as one-year-old bread. I couldn’t believe that it only took me one quarter of play to either mute my television or just mute the announcers. It was ridiculous how monotonous and boring these two guys could make the game all on their own. EA either needs to teach these guys how to call a game in an exciting fashion or bring back John Madden in order to provide us with respite from the stale announcing.
Overall, Madden 09 is a definite step (if not leap) in the right direction. With a franchise that is constantly criticized, you can only expect things to get better from here on out. EA Sports has stepped up this year in delivering what gamers have been asking for over the last three years - a true next generation football experience unlike any other.
-The Final Word-
Madden 09, EA Sports' 20th installment of the franchise, has proven that the series only gets better with age. The publisher has finally outdone itself by releasing the premiere football title of this generation thus far.
|Platforms reviewed : PlayStation 3|