Madden NFL 10 (360/PS3) Review
Friday, August 28, 2009 1:48 PM
The best Madden yet could entice new fans to the sport of American football.
"The time to make history starts right now!" bellows John Madden at the start of the game, shining the light on the real star of the NFL gaming franchise. Known by fans to be Captain Obvious when it comes to commentating on match-ups every Sunday, he's pretty true to form: Madden 10 has made history by being the most realistic release yet.
And yet American football usually gets a bad rap in the UK. Is this the title to finally push it forward?
It wouldn't be too surprising if the NFL's unique game finally became popular with a strong release on the console front. With a couple of cracking Super Bowls in the last two years for sports fans of all interests and ages, not to mention this October's third straight NFL match at Wembley, American football is gaining pace as a well-liked game in this country.
The problem is, the game itself still hugely confuses people. Even in previous releases and with prior research on a back-to-basics tutorial website, Maddens had always brought on panic attacks with some players not quite knowing what to do, often feeling a passenger as the other ten men on your team did all the work for them.
So, will the masses like the all-new Madden approach and accept it as a viable title to invest in?
Well, it's certainly out with the old and in with the new in terms of gameplay, with EA gradually putting its foot on the brake pedal to make its major noticeable change: slowing the game down from previous arcade-like levels.
It's almost a Pro Evolution take on the FIFA world of gaming, except EA's done it all by itself instead of leaving it to a rival. It's a genuinely likeable experience after a few hours because the slower, more realistic approach to American football - similar to Konami's take on regular football - pays off.
It's tough to get used to, though. Sometimes it feels like players are pulling invisible trucks when you're running with them, but it's because we've come to expect faster from the Madden series, not the real-life game. You will adapt, though.
Takedowns are more of an issue now with Pro-Tak (allows nine-man tackling on the field) being introduced. As a result, more stock has been put into how well you land diving strikes on the other team when on defence; sometimes you can just get enough on them to slow them down for someone else. There's a smaller pot luck element to player interaction and you won't simply jump past them and miss completely.
Passing is a strange one too, as balls will no longer fly out of the QB's hand like a shot from a Tesla Cannon, yet still seem to maintain an element of pace down field. Loft and pitch are also much more believable in terms of the realistic approach.
These elements are all made clear in between plays, successful or not, via the excellent EA Backtrack; a replay function that goes through each play meticulously, analysing routes and highlighting the ball's trajectory and the players it's going to. What's more, the commentary is ridiculously deep, in one case highlighting how the tight end was aware of how the secondary was encroaching his position and how he duly adjusted. Classic.
The tutorial - Madden Test - sounds like an NFL pub quiz, but it's a highly-stylised way of learning how to attack and defend against opponents using everything at your disposal. It even guilts you into putting in more effort when it docks your in-game IQ should you fail miserably at beating the quick-fire practices, again getting more gamer involvement from the start. Of course, the mini camps return, though that's more for trophy winning than learning for much of it. All-in-all, the Madden Test is truly hands-on.
Ever bored? If the flashy menus, good music and in-depth analysis don't grab you, little facts are regularly displayed and you'll learn some really interesting things. The gameplay is sometimes so good that even when you want to put it down, the spectacle that Madden 10 creates will make you seriously reconsider your actions.
Some other little modes have been added alongside the mainstaple franchise and superstar offerings, with Madden Moments perhaps being a favourite, giving you a huge choice of last season's games that truly shaped the season, starting with Ben Roethlisberger's wonder pass to Santonio Holmes to put the Steelers up 27-23 against the Cardinals with two minutes left of Super Bowl XLIII. Each has accompanying pictures and dialogue for true immersion.
The graphics are a difficult one to call. There's no doubt that they look sharp for the most part, particularly in the opening sequence with fans outside the stadium and the huge monolithic team badges at the start, but somehow they feel like they could be better.
It becomes clear early on that the backgrounds are still relatively poor. Fans and players alike still visibly move in packs of a dozen or so, which has been annoying for the last ten years in sports games. Additionally, cameramen at the side of the field don't seem to have any detail at all, looking like poorly-painted toys from a 1990s box of cereal.
The worst is perhaps the unused players on the sidelines, which all share the same face if they have a matching skin tone. The dough-like faces have such soulless detail that they'd even look shoddy on a PS2 title. They're only made worse when they continue moving in the same way when you pause the game between downs, despite the wonderfully rendered in-game personnel freezing.
However, the in-game clipping is largely excellent, making the slower tackles look much more realistic and, therefore, more brutal. The camera angles enhance this and even change completely when you break away to score a touchdown, panning out and shaking with the runner before the zooming money shot of showboating completes the run.
Sound still continues to be of high quality. The soundtrack itself is unsurprisingly excellent, featuring anything from Pantera to Rage Against The Machine, making play-calling a little more involving. The commentary, particularly in the EA Backtrack sections, is continually well-observed compared to previous outings and doesn't seem to repeat that much.
In terms of multiplayer, EA has finally engineered a decent Xbox Live/PSN American football title and one you can finally play with a friend on the same team.
Still, you might end up preferring the altogether more wholesome and traditional multiplayer mode with friends against the CPU or just on your own, because the computer AI is so much more fun in the context of what EA is trying to achieve: a more realistic title.
AI was one of the few things in the Madden series that never really seemed to need tweaking, and with the usual barrage of Hail Marys you'll no doubt have to defend (poorly) from most gamers on Madden, it's more welcome for the most part as it operates like a real title with punt teams, field goals, two-point attempts and all.
Still, the big question: will Madden finally break through into a bigger annual purchase market, or will only die hard fans continue to invest in the flagship American football game from EA? While it's certainly the title to tip new fans over the edge, anyone downloading the game's demo with an open mind will not be disappointed.
While many presentation issues may still need work for the next release, the largest part of the workload has been done. It's easier to control, a more believable speed and the gameplay is immense. It's the best Madden yet and things can only improve.