Itâ€™s the beginning of the new season, and with stadiums around the US filling with the smell of carpark barbecues and large sweaty men in body paint, comes the latest release in Electronic Arts' Madden NFL franchise, that is now into its twenty-first year. Although the latest offering has plenty thatâ€™s familiar, thereâ€™s also a fair bit thatâ€™s new. However, new or not, you know it will look great, it will bring on the big hits, and there will be plenty of opportunities for tactical planning and online bragging.
To begin with, Madden 10 looks fantastic. The intros are dynamic, the menus are clean and user friendly, and there are a few nice additions to the cut-scenes with air-force flyovers, crowds, cheerleaders and complaining coaches all getting in on the act. On field, where it really matters, the stadiums and players have never looked better. The first afternoon game you play is a revelation. As the sun sets and the stadium lights take hold, the atmosphere it lends to the on-field action lifts the experience to a whole new level.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the commentary and The Extra Point, an in-game show that recaps news and scores throughout the game. Without John Madden, the play-by-play has a lack of insight and little personality. While the idea behind The Extra Point is good, the execution is not really up to scratch, with the presenter introducing little more than a list of scores and a highlight or two, both of which are easily accessed through the gameâ€™s menu system.
However, as Iâ€™ve mentioned, itâ€™s on the field of play where it counts. Quarterbacks and kickers now have a wider number of unique characteristics and this addition is a nice step along the road to breaking up the feeling of sameness that has been the bane of every video game ever made. While EA sports has been built on motion captured animations of star players, this may be changing, with one of the biggest additions to the Madden experience the new Pro-Tak control system.
Players on the field now respond much more accurately to your input. Gone are tackles and fends that are automatically played out at the touch of a button. With the right stick you will be fighting your way past offensive linemen or holding up running backs until help arrives. On the offensive side of the ball, the system is just as effective. Stiff-arming corners, or stepping past the strong safety to score the winning touchdown is as thrilling as ever. But now slipping through the defensive line, or simply struggling forward in the tackle, is just as essential to gaining that extra inch to keep the drive alive. This progressive tackling system is wonderfully intuitive and manages to be both instantly effective, and at the same time nuanced and complex enough to provide great depth of gameplay. The Pro-Tak feature feels like a skill that can be learned, mastered and continuously developed.
The other skill that you have to master is play selection. Although this is one of the aspects of the game that hasnâ€™t change much over the years, there have been plenty of yearly additions to the standard playbook. This year you get to call wildcat plays, where you can snap the ball straight to the running back. But if searching through the playbook for the perfect game-breaking play takes too long, then calling timeouts and asking Madden for suggestions are as important as ever. As are choosing recently run plays and setting and calling audibles.
While you canâ€™t slow down the play clock, the game speed has been reduced slightly, a small tweak that has made reading formations easier, therefore making good play-calling that much more rewarding. Swinging the ball out to your tight end when the corners blitz, or handing off to your fullback if the linebackers drop back into coverage, works just as well as it always has. Itâ€™s funny, but immensely satisfying, how that extra fraction of a second gives you a greater feeling of control over the plays.
The other notable changes are a couple of additions to the online options. Now there is co-op play where you and a friend can play on the same team. Also you get to create and compete in an online franchise. The new franchise mode runs congruently to the real NFL and makes player transactions, live drafts and message boards not only available on your console, but also through a dedicated webpage. Once you create a franchise you will be become the commissioner and take control of the league and owners. For example, as commissioner, you can ban owners who continually quit games before finishing by only allowing access to players with an acceptable DNF percentage. At the same time inviting new owners to join is as simple as hitting the start button on the franchise hub. But, now for the bad news. The online franchise mode is a downloadable add-on that costs $15.
Madden 10 enters the strange new world of purchasable on-line cheats. Thatâ€˜s right, for the price of a scoop of chips you choose from a long list of upgrades. If you have the spare cash you can pick any NFL player for your superstar, upgrade all your stats by ten percent, immediately heal an injured player or, for a little bit more, you can buy a new All Madden difficulty level, for those who find the game too easy, called Elite Status. With this revolutionary marketing strategy, and an undeniably innovative take on DLC, it looks like we have the beginnings of an all new evil empire. Thanks Electronic Arts.
But, if online isnâ€™t your thing and finding the game too easy isnâ€™t likely to happen in the foreseeable future, donâ€™t worry because Madden 10 is simply packed full of options. All the modes youâ€™re familiar with are still there. You can now fight for fumbles by mashing buttons, and listen to plenty of old school rap and metal while youâ€™re doing it. Training and quick-play options make getting started simple. For those who enjoy a longer challenge there are the player creation and franchise modes that will see you playing multiple seasons, building careers, building stadiums or, if the fans and local government donâ€™t play ball, you can up and move your team to a new city.
There may be two kinds of people in the world. Those who play the EA sports games, always have and always will, and those that donâ€™t. For those that donâ€™t it is hard to explain the joys of filling rosters, designing sweatbands, and getting stuffed 35 - 7 by German speaking teenagers. But, with the Madden franchise stretching back more than twenty years, weâ€™re talking a lifetime of sacking quarterbacks and throwing from the shotgun with two minutes to go. Madden 10 is still, in almost every way, a quality title. Itâ€™s a game packed with detail, drama and fun. So donâ€™t be surprised if itâ€™s around for another twenty years.