To call Madden a modern mainstay would be a severe understatement, as this series is basically the definition of a video gaming dynasty, bringing up twenty years this NFL season. This isn’t to say that it has been a bed of roses for the gridiron title, as it has had its fair share of detractors, bemoaning its similarity year-to-year and the ‘apparent’ lack of any new features. But for every detractor there has been a defender, as the sales charts will attest to, and these fans are the rabid core that EA caters to, as well as trying to foster the ‘casual crowd’.
And that’s where the majority of the New Zealand audience squeezes in. It’s fair to say that as a country we’re more accustomed to first-five-eights and opening batsmen, rather than defensive ends and corner backs, but scratch below the surface and you’ll find a hardcore player base, once again illustrating the conundrum facing EA as it attempts to appeal to both audiences.
So does it appeal to both sides of the fence? Put simply yes, as this year’s title features some of the most accessible gameplay ever featured over Madden’s lifespan. This begins the very first time you insert the disc, as you’ll undergo a series of tests designed to measure your Madden IQ. Although not entirely 100% accurate, this does a sufficient job of recognising your gameplay ability and adjusting the games sliders accordingly, and this will create a difficulty known as ‘My Skill’. A more accurate measure of your ability will appear as you start playing, as your IQ is tracked across your games, allowing My Skill to change as you get better, or likewise it can stay at a set level via the options menu.
The beauty of all this is that it doesn’t matter if you don’t know your playbooks from your protective cup, as the option to simplify playbooks based on the type of play will allow you to be calling the shots just like an offensive co-ordinator. Also when you commit an avoidable error, such as an interception or a sack, a replay will appear with a voice-over, telling you options you could have taken to negate the situation, allowing you to boost your awareness on both sides of the ball, and even re-run the play using the BackTrack feature if you wish.
This will ensure that they don't stop their routes short of the first down marker, forcing you to punt or gamble on getting the ground needed for a new set of downs. While that may sound like gibberish to most people, it’s little nuances like this that make Madden an appealing package to NFL fans.
One of the new modes is Online Leagues, something that caught several online-eyes when people first heard of it, but it’s way too much of bare bones setup to seriously consider. Thirty-two players can participate in a league, complete with its own championship trophy, and can play in a series of games as their favourite team, yet that’s about it.
No play-offs or Superbowl to speak of, and if you can’t fill your league with all 32 teams then it’s just player controlled teams only, which makes the optional draft quite farcical, especially when you’re deciding to start Favre or Manning come the start of regular season. The games themselves play quite well depending on player locations, with gamers based in this part of the world having clean games with very little lag or none whatsoever.
Madden 09 is definitely the best looking Madden title thus far, and is surpassing the level that was promised when the next-gen videos of it were released before the 360 and PS3 consoles released. The detail contained is mind-blowing, as the game features highly detailed stadia, while the weather is as accurate-looking as an Auckland downpour, or a central Otago snowstorm, with the players’ uniforms reflecting the conditions they’ve just played in.
The animations and frame-rate are also extremely smooth, with the only possible quip being that the animations sometimes tend to glide, rather than run what would be a natural action, but this doesn’t affect what is an excellent overall package. However the menus are beginning to look quite archaic and a touch up for Madden 2010 would definitely be an improvement.
Play-by-Play calling is handled by a pair of American TV sportscasters, and is a definite improvement over the radio-cast style of previous next-gen Madden titles. On-field effects are as vivid as ever, with the authenticity of the grunting and groaning of the scrimmage line matched by the sounds of a big hit, or the usual banter and trash talk after a play.
While non-NFL fans might sweep this under the rug as another cash-cow, Madden 09 is definitely befitting of its 20 year anniversary, and is the most accurate description of American Football on a videogame console that I’ve ever seen, despite its own high standards it has set from being such a long running series.