STAFF REVIEW of Madden NFL 09 (Xbox 360)

Monday, August 11, 2008.
by Rick Wallace

Madden NFL 09 Box art It's kind of hard to believe that it has been 20 years since Madden football was born, but that is the case. EA Sports delivers Madden 09, which is the 20th Anniversary edition and features the newly acquired NY Jets quarterback, Brett Favre as the cover boy. EA has decided to release a regular edition Madden for the cost of $59.99 which will feature Brett on the front. They are also releasing a Collector's Edition which comes in a hardcover trifold DVD packaging that features a black cover and the Madden 20th Anniversary Logo on the front. The CE version comes with Madden 09, an early copy of Head Coach 09, and a special NFL DVD which contains special video footage. The CE edition is worth the $89.99 price tag alone, if you are planning on getting Head Coach which releases a stand alone version in early September. You'll save yourself $20 and get a jump on the competition by being able to play Head Coach for almost an entire month prior to its release. The Bonus Content disc has some cool video, but in all seriousness you'll probably watch it once, skip through the stuff you actually want to see, and then it will never see a disc tray again. Most of the footage that is captured on the DVD can be seen on NFL Network. There is one feature in the Collector's Edition that does stand out, that is the inclusion of a playable version of Madden 93. The teams have been tweaked to reflect the current NFL teams, but overall the gameplay is just as you would expect and remember. Man, has video game football come a long way!

So, onto the boiling question in most gamer's minds, is Madden 09 worth it, and is it better than Madden 08? The answer is plain and simple, yes, and honestly this could be the best Madden title to date. The graphics are gorgeous, the gameplay is smooth, and the defensive AI seems to be tweaked a bit where they actually react to the ball quicker than in the past. The running game has also been streamlined, and it seems in combination with the tough defense, running the ball seems so much more natural and gives real life results more times than not. Madden 09 is chocked full of features and new gameplay elements that definitely make this a must have for any football fan. The games commentary features Tom Hammond and Chris Collinsworth. I honestly would have rather had Al and John in the booth, but in my opinion, its great to have TV style commentary back in the game after experiencing the radio style commentary. John Madden is relegated to half time duties rather than booth commentary, but at least he is a visible and audible part of this 20th anniversary celebration.

When you first pop Madden 09 into your Xbox 360, you'll be greeted by Mr. John Madden himself. He will begin to describe the new feature of the Madden IQ that is included in the game. You'll have the opportunity to set your IQ at that time, or you can skip it for the time being. The Madden IQ basically helps the game adjust to your skill level. If you are a heavy runner and do it well, then the AI is going to become smarter and learn your tendencies. If you are great with the passing game, the AI will again adjust itself to your level to be able to give you a challenge. For the most part, this works fairly well, but it could probably use a little tweaking. Madden IQ is basically in essence a custom slider set up to your style of gameplay and ability level. Something that I found to be extremely cool is that your IQ will fluctuate with each game you play versus the AI based on your performance in the graded areas. Some folks will be happy to know that this is just a perk in the game and does not have to be used. You can turn the Madden IQ and use the normal difficulty levels for the AI such as Rookie, Pro, All-Pro and All-Madden.

When it comes to gameplay, Madden 09 has impressed me for the most part. The running game has tweaked and the defensive AI has been solidified quite a bit. The defense seems very proactive, more than reactive, which means making dumb passes will probably cost you more times than not. From the games I have played it seems that the AI now has the real smarts to jump routes, especially on out patterns. So if you are not paying attention you could end up seeing quite a few defenders taking your passes the other way. Tackling seems extremely sound and the defense really flies to the ball and makes solid tackles. The collisions and the animations that go with those collisions are spot on and there will be times you will cringe from the impacts and results of the play. The defensive controls are simple enough for the average player to grasp, but they have enough technicality to allow the veteran player to make all kinds of adjustments on the fly. I did notice that a few times the AI offense seemed to have some ?dumb? moments such as the QB dumping off to the half back in the flat and the halfback catches the ball and just runs out of bounds even when a defender is no where near them. It didn't happen a lot, but when it did it would be one of those scratch your head moments. It had nothing to do with the way I was playing defense or the formation I was in.

On offense, the play calling is very similar in style to NCAA football. You'll be able to choose plays via Madden suggestions, formation, type of play or player. Prior to the snap you can of course call audibles, assign hot routes, switch run directions, etc. The running game requires patience and technique this year which is a welcome addition. You'll be able to shake off would be tacklers with the highlight stick, but with the reactivity of the defense you find quite a few defenders approaching you after the first miss. The passing game is pretty familiar to everyone and there is not a lot of difference between this game and past years. One very cool feature is the inability to recognize your receivers downfield if you drop back to far. The button icons disappear at a certain point once you run back to far. Fluid animations allow the user to transition from catch animations back to straight gameplay without missing a beat. This helps quite a bit in trying to avoid those big hits.

EA has introduced the new ?rewind? system into the game which will allow you to learn from your mistakes. You'll be able to use this backtrack feature by pressing the ?X? button to rewind the previous play and replay the down. While some may enjoy the tool for truly learning and understanding how offenses and defenses work, and whats calls work best in each situation, mostly its a tool most folks will not use more than once or twice. Or to quick reverse a bad play they may have had in franchise mode.

You'll be treated to many game modes which has become common place for Madden. From the initial start up screen you can play a quick play game, start a franchise, play superstar mode, play some mini games or take your game online against the world. You'll also have the opportunity to select the Madden 93 option if you bought the Collector's Edition and head off into retro goodness. Its fun for a while, especially for reminiscing about the good old days, but you'll quickly want to get back into the present to play some of the best Madden to date.

Franchise mode is pretty much the same as it has been in the past. You'll be able to draft players from your imported draft classes using NCAA 09. You'll start with the current season and work your way through multiple future season with drafts, preseasons, and training camps. Not a whole lot can be said about new innovations for the franchise mode. And no, unlike NCAA 09, there is no online franchise mode. Another unfortunate oversight on someone's part. Superstar mode is pretty much the same as it was in Madden 08, and as with the franchise mode, not a whole lot to speak about when it comes to new features. Overall, I have loved the franchise system over the years and enjoy this one just as much and will probably play it on a regular basis.

Virtual Trainer and Madden Test are two new options you will find in the game modes menu as well. The Madden Test is the game mode that allows you to determine your Madden IQ. You can choose this option if you chose to skip it when you first started the game, or you can retake the test if you like to establish a new IQ. The Virtual Trainer becomes available once you play your first game and every game after that, and allows for you to train using specific simulated scenarios on areas you need improvement according to your game performance. You'll be able to set up scenarios with or without blockers, defenders, etc. Its a pretty good tool for training purposes.

Of course the Mini Games are present as they were in last years version. You'll be able to compete in the following events against the AI: 40 yard dash, Bench press, QB Challenge, RB Challenge, Coverage Challenge, and Lineman Challenge. You'll earn points for performing well at each task and your goal is to obviously earn the most points to win. You can select the difficulty level and the events you would like to participate in as well.

Madden Moments is a mode that allows you to play in specific real life game situations from the previous NFL season, including the final minute and a half of the Super where the Giants pulled off the big upset over the Patriots. These moments have specific requirements in order to complete them such as beating the Ravens using the Dolphins by scoring the game winning TD in overtime. A field goal won't complete the challenge for you.

If you are into Fantasy Football then you'll find something in Madden 09 as well to wet your whistle. EA jumped into the Fantasy Football arena a few years back and now has integrated their tools and draft kits into the game. You'll be able to keep track of your team in the game as well as play with your team in the game. There are already draft tools available for download on Xbox Live marketplace. From what I have experienced from playing EA's Fantasy Football, this should prove to only get better and better and may actually be my primary choice in the future when it comes to playing Fantasy Football.

One of the new and most anticipated features in Madden is the addition of online leagues. Online leagues can consist of 2 to 32 owners total. That's a plus! So you would think that with 32 owners that the league would default to an NFL style league set up with divisions, conferences and the current schedule. Well, that is not the case. No matter how many teams you have in the league, you will be confined to one division and one linear type of schedule. The schedule boasts a flex style which means you can play any opponent on your schedule at anytime you are both online, but thats about all the good that the schedule system has to offer. When you set up your league you will be able to choose 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 or 11 games. You would think that is the number of games in your season, but alas its not. It's the number of games you play against each opponent. So, if you have 10 teams in your league and you select the 11 game schedule then that means you will have to play 99 games to complete your season. Do the math, that is 11 games against each opponent. To some, including myself, this is a flaw in the schedule system.

Another problem in the league feature is the lack of being able to create divisions and conferences. So how are the 2 super bowl teams determined? Well, dependent upon the number of teams you selected to participate in the league, the top certain number of team pertaining to the overall amount of teams gets a playoff spot. In other words, if you have a 32 team league, the top 12 records gets a play off spot. No division winners, no wild card spots, etc. Honestly, who even thought this concept was a good idea? Now you have the option to turn off the playoff system as well. So that pretty much means the guy with the best record at the end of the season wins the trophy. All I can say is.. huh?

On a very positive note pertaining to the league system, you will be able to assign trophies to your league which winners will be able to display proudly in their EA profiles as well as in the game accomplishments. You'll also be able to use unique rosters which will allow for fantasy drafts. Injuries and fatigue can be turned on as well as the weather can be set to random, game skill level can be set to a certain difficulty.

The bottom line is, while the online league system is welcomed to the Madden series, it falls a bit short in its overall design. This system more represents an extravagant ladder system rather than a league system with the exception of the trades. There will be plenty of folks that will use it without gripe since they are playing the game online anyhow and the trophies give them something to strive for. But its just extremely disappointing to real football fans in the end that had hoped for an online NFL system. Its a great first try and hopefully EA will implement an NFL model into the mix in next year's version. I am glad that EA has ventured into the online league arena, now get back to the drawing board and use those great talents and ideas that are displayed throughout the rest of the game.

When you decide to take your game online for regular matches you'll find the familiar lobby system that you have come to know with Madden games. EA is on the ball right from the start with roster updates and hopefully it will continue through the life of the game. You'll be prompted to load the current online roster the moment you create a session or jump into an online game. At the time of playing this game for review purposes the servers were smooth as silk with no lag at all. Games played online just as they do offline, but that could change once the masses hit the servers after launch day. From what I see though, if you have a good connection with your opponent you should see very little to no lag at all. You'll also be able to upload videos and snapshots from your both your offline and online games for everyone to view at easportswolly the game is jaw dropping with fluid animations, field degradation, weather and excellent player models. The sounds are authentic and bone crushing in some high impacts. As stated, the commentary is good even with Collinsworth as the analyst and the soundtrack should please both the rockers and the hip hop crowds. I could go on and on about the improvements and strides that Madden 09 has made and it all boils down to the fact that this is a must have title for any fan of video game football. The game will satisfy the appetite of both casual and hardcore football fans and its mixes those two worlds together very well. If you were on the fence about purchasing Madden this year, I would say its time to get down off that fence and head on out to your local retailer and pick up a copy today.

Please redo the online league system to reflect the NFL format. Include divisions, wild card, a custom schedule creator or even random schedule creator based on the number of participants.

Overall: 9.3 / 10
Gameplay: 9.5 / 10
Visuals: 9.5 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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