STAFF REVIEW of Madden NFL 10 (Xbox 360)

Monday, August 10, 2009.
by Rick Wallace

Madden NFL 10 Box art The dog days of August are upon us and the sounds of crashing pads and helmet to helmet collisions can be heard on any football practice field in America. From Pee-Wee football to the Pros, the preseason has officially started and with that comes the arrival of the newest Madden game. Madden 10 hits most store shelves on August 14th and is one of the most anticipated titles year in and year out among most football fans. Each year since coming onto the 360 platform, EA has taken baby steps to upping the ante on their title, and this year is no different but there is one exception. This year?s Madden has taken more than baby steps towards being the ultimate football game for all football fans to enjoy. Why is that? Well, read on and find out. I?ll touch on some of the main new features and what is good and not so good about Madden 10. If I tried to include everything, we?d have and encyclopedia on our hands so I will keep it simple.

Madden 10 offers you a wide variety of game play tweaks, changes and animations that ultimately contribute to one of the best NFL licensed games we have seen in a long time. While there are still some quirks and stiffness to the player models when they move, EA has really revamped their animation system to give a more natural look and feel to the movements of players on the field. Ea has literally replaced many of the old animations with completely new and improved versions such as running styles, passing styles, tackling, etc. Runners now seem to have a more natural lean to them when running rather than looking like they have a vertical pole running from the back of their neck straight down to their tailbone. The whole game has been tinkered with in one fashion or another and all of which is for the better of the game.

Field textures look fantastic and the stadium renditions are beautifully mastered. This year?s Madden really focuses on presentation and television style broadcasting. The integration of the NFL Network presentations and just general on field animations give you the look and feel of what you may actually see on any given Sunday. Referees will have conferences on possible touchdowns while the chain gang will make their way onto the field to measure possible first down conversions. After a while these extra goodies do get old, and thankfully can be skipped with the press of a button.

As I stated, EA has also tweaked the actually game play. The running game seems a lot smoother than it has in the past and while it?s still not perfect it is a step in the right direction. The blocking for the most part on running is pretty good, but there are times when your run blockers run off away from the play as if they are locked onto a certain player regardless of where that player is on the field. When it comes to pass blocking though, the folks at EA have really come through an actually created a pocket. Now some pass rushers, dependant on ability, can bust through of course and they should be able to. The pocket will break down when you roll outside the tackles for sure, and the defense is very quick to react to a rolling QB. One of the great new features in this game is the added pressure on the QB that he actually feels. Your controller will rumble when pressure is approaching if that QB?s awareness ratings are good. If you try to throw the ball when getting hit, expect a duck to come flying out of his hands which more times than not will be intercepted by an opposing player within 10 yards of the ball. I can see this animation happening a little too often against real life opponents only due to players whom run their defensive ends around the outside and quickly get pressure on the QB. So the jury is still out on that one.

The overall game speed has been slowed giving a better feel for thing happening on the field and a much more realistic experience. While isn?t perfect by any means, it?s very close to being the game everyone wants to play. EA had even mentioned that they used 2K footage to help establish a better game and build upon things 2K has done in the past. The game speed is a great start and while some will say that a few of the animations are still over the top, I think they look great and feel very natural compared to previous renditions of the game. The specific QB throwing animations definitely look great and feel natural as well, and you?ll have to adjust for each QB you play with in the game.

The defensive AI in this game is a lot smarter than it has been in the past which is great. Sure every once in a while the AI will just leave you scratching your head, but for the most part it?s very good. Defensive backs react to the ball and will actually jump routes or even knock the ball out of players hand when they make a catch. The infamous ?rocket catch? seems to be gone, but I am a bit skeptical because videogame football always tends to bring out the folks that like to exploit everything and anything they can just to get a win. Then again, that goes for any video game in general.

The biggest addition to the game is the new Pro-Tak animation system. This new innovation allows up to 9 person gang tackling and all new player animation steering, branching and real time manipulation. Some players can break out of or even truck through gang tackles, but of course a skill like this is based solely upon their rating to do so. Another on any given Sunday option is the ability for referees to blow the whistle even if the runner hasn?t gone down. If forward progress is stopped, the refs will blow the play dead as they do in real life. To me this is a huge feature that has been added because it impacts things such as fumbles and injuries that should not have occurred which can greatly affect the outcome of a game.

One of the downsides in Madden 10 is the commentary and voice over acting. Almost all of the voice interaction seems to be very fragmented, whether it is in the NFL Network highlight show or the in game commentary. While some fragmentation could be expected with the Extra Point Show, it really is unforgiveable with the in game commentary. Especially when compared to the likes of NHL 09 with Gary Thorne which had amazing on the fly commentary that never seemed fragmented and always rolled smoothly with what was happening on the field. Hammond and Collinsworth literally sound like they are in 2 separate booths at times which can be a little annoying.

The only other extremely annoying new feature in the game is the fight for a fumble. While it can be turned off in some game modes I still tend to think that this mini-game should not be there to begin with. When a player puts the ball on the ground, both teams must fight in the pile to gain possession of the football. A mini game comes up on screen and you must mash the appropriate buttons matching the on screen command to pull the possession bar your way. The button you are pressing changes at certain points during the scuffle and the team which mashes the correct button the most will be the one that ends up with the ball. Now I completely understand the concept of the mini game, but in all honestly this is something that should be left as a random result and we should be kept in suspense as the players scramble in the pile to gain possession. I think you should just watch a small cut scene and then the game presents you with the results. That is just my opinion of course.

You?ll also have some of the typical players running out of bounds, and just plain stupid AI at some points in the game. The overall feel and game play is leaps and bounds beyond what it has been in the past though, and these complaints I have mentioned while annoying will not detract from your overall experience. With the exception of the lame duck throw and the fumble fight mini-game, I think the game is very enjoyable to play. Madden reaches out to both the casual player as well as the hardcore guys that want to control every aspect.

There are online options galore in the game such as accelerated games to keep game quick online. Selectable weather allows you to select the weather you want to play in or go with a Weather Channel Live Feed to play in whatever the real life weather is at that current moment. How about being able to select mix-n-match uniforms? Now you can select how you want your team to look on the field when online. Want the Alternate Jersey with white or dark pants? Then do it. Very cool stuff indeed.

One option that I do have to mention is the Elite Status you can obtain on Madden. By downloading this option your online account gains Elite Status. You?ll be able to access VIP Lobbies, Leaderboards and the new Elite Gametype. Elite gameplay features All Madden difficulty and is tuned for exclusively hardcore players in ranked games. This comes at a cost of 400 MSP points which is equivalent to $5. It is your option to purchase this status, but it is not required. It does not affect the game experience if you do not purchase the extra. You?ll also be able to purchase ?Boosts? for your offline games. Rather than Boosts, let?s just call them cheats. Again, this is your option to buy and is NOT required. You play franchise as normal when you don?t have the cheats. The cheats will act almost as Madden Cards did in the past and given you extra ability to do things you normally cannot do. Say a player is retiring and you can?t talk him out of it. With a certain boost, you can force him to stay another year without question.

Not only has the game play been changed up and tweaked for the better, but Madden 10 introduces a new option that folks have been waiting for. Online Franchise is a huge new feature in this year?s game and will probably be one of the most played options in the game other than standard ranked games. Online franchise allows you and up to 31 other people to compete in a 10 year franchise mode with trades, free agent signings, injuries, rookie drafts and real NFL scheduling. Almost everything you can do in an offline franchise can be done with buddies in an online franchise.

We have to get one thing out of the way, and while its not?s a huge issue it could be one that upsets a few people in the gaming world. Before playing an online franchise you must activate the option in the menu. To do this, you enter a code printed on the back of your Madden manual. Once you have successfully done this, the online franchise mode is open for good. You are only limited to 5 different franchises at one time, but can play the mode for the entire life of the game. The thing that might tend to upset some folks is that the code can only be used once. So in other words if you rent the game and do not receive a manual, or someone whom rented before you had already used the code than the option cannot be unlocked or played. The easiest solution around this is to purchase the titles yourself. Now Ea will offer you a separate option if you purchase a used copy or rent the game. You?ll be able to purchase an unlock code online, but at the time of this review no price point has been specified. If I had to guess, I would venture to say it?ll cost you about $5.

I can only imagine though how the community will accept this. But let?s consider a few things that you get for that $5. You get a full live online franchise with other players and each player has control of their own destiny. Full web integration and even support with an iPhone App is available as well. Yeah that?s right, you?ll be able to access and run your franchise from a computer or even on your iPhone when not in the area of your console. The online franchise is laid out quite well, and while I would rather have seen some limits able to be set on signing free agents or trading players it all still works very well with a commissioner whom is on top of his game.

Also included in this year?s game is the online co-op. While its only 2 persons versus the AI, it?s still a nice advancement towards putting 2 versus 2 online or even more in the future with full 5 on 5 or even 11 on 11. The game is fun to play with a buddy, but camera angles tend to make the game mode a bit annoying. The camera changes based on your position and location on the field which can tend to give you bad angles and looks. On defense, due to the camera angle, you?ll also get some bad angles especially when changing players on defense since you are not locked into a specific position for the play like on offense.
For the offline folks, you?ll have plenty of game mode options at your finger tips. Franchise, Superstar Mode, Madden Moments, and Mini-games are all included. And of course, you?ll be able to import NCAA Draft Classes in franchise mode.

Overall Madden 10 is a great football experience for anyone who doesn?t have animosity for EA and isn?t a fan boy of the former competitor. I could go on and on about all the new goodies that Madden has brought into the gameplay and presentation, but this would end up being 10 pages worth of text easily. Everyone that loves the game of football should definitely give this game a try, especially for the online franchise part of things. The Madden guys have really turned the corner this year and on a path towards one of the best football games every in the next year or 2. If you are an NFL fan and do not hold a 2K vendetta against EA than you should be playing this game. Sure it isn?t the perfect football game and folks will find exploits to take advantage of or there will be certain things such as the activation of franchise or Elite status that will irritate certain individuals. But in the end, Madden 10 is the most complete NFL licensed console game to date and will provide you endless enjoyment until Madden 11 comes around next year. You have to have this title in your library if you are a football fan at all.

My main suggestion would be to tone down the ?lame ducks? that seem to appear way too often. What happened to the tuck rule? But I would also like to see more commissioner customization in franchise more such as salary caps to avoid players from signing every good player available and creating a super team in online franchise. Overall though?.Great job EA!!!

Overall: 9.2 / 10
Gameplay: 9.5 / 10
Visuals: 9.2 / 10
Sound: 8.5 / 10


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