1989: The Simpsons’ first season, Sega Genesis gets released, the Berlin Wall fell. It was also the first year of football games with Madden’s name on them. Yes, Madden NFL 10 marks the twenty first entry in the video game franchise. Electronic A pumps out sports games with such regularity that it could mark the change in seasons just as surely as the leaves changing. This leads to one of two feelings toward the games: eager fan-boy anticipation for the next release or passive aggressive “why-should-I-buy-the-new-one” credulity.
Even though the die-hard fans already have Madden NFL 10, many others are still wondering what to expect. Do the hyped features make it worth your hard earned money? Let’s kick off this review by starting with the first thing you‘ll notice when loading the game.
Presentation in this year’s edition is nothing short of spot-on. Playing the game really is a treat because Madden NFL 10 does an excellent job of making you feel like you are watching a live NFL game. The pre-game shots show fans grilling out, playing corn hole, and being ushered into the stadium. When the game camera points toward the stands during the game you’ll see crazy shirtless guys, fans holding a “D” in one hand and a fence in the other, others getting up for some drinks.
This attention to detail permeates the actual football game. If your receiver was taken down on the goal line, watch the refs talk it out and make the call on TD or not. The chains are called in to measure if your last play made it to 1st down. EA boasts more detail on player models, hand warmers, and towels; these are certainly present and add to the experience at a subconscious level. Overall, you’ll probably not notice too much of a difference in the graphics from last year. High-definition football still looks pretty.
However, not everything will be “rainbows and butterflies” and this becomes increasingly apparent with each successive game. This year you‘ll see players without helmets on the sidelines. Frequently the player’s hair will flicker or a shadow will be around his head where the helmet should be. On the field, players will occasionally get stuck in an animation loop and just stand locked in a stuttering repetition until the play begins. These small things would be easily overlooked if the anomalies stopped there.
How does the game sound when you‘re playing it? The music this year is extensive and is comprised of a healthy mix of metal, rock and hip-hop. While playing the game, you’ll hear the crowd react positively or negatively to the action on the field and stadium announcers giving away dates with cheerleaders. The problem comes in with the play calling.
Asking Madden for a suggestion on which play to use can yield some odd results. He might make an inaccurate statement about how the opposing team is only two scores behind when you are really up by 30. Or Madden and Cris Collinsworth or Tom Hammond will start talking at the same time with the obvious result making neither understandable. Speaking of Collinsworth and Hammond, the play calling is rather unimpressive. You hear some personality pop up sporadically but you’ll be turning them off after a few games.
Madden fanatics might be annoyed that the game is a little slower this year until they find that the game speed can be adjusted back up to their liking. However, this and other changes under the hood make for a much more satisfying game. The main buzz word on everyone’s lips for this iteration is “Pro-Tak.” It’s a beautiful thing and is one of the most persuasive reasons to buy Madden NFL 10. This new system leads to gang tackles, dragging light defenders behind you, or pushing past someone completely. Fighting for a fumble adds a burst of excitement; you have to press the right buttons to snatch up a loose ball to either save a costly mistake or capitalize on one made by your opponent.One thing that is hard to understand is why receivers are not aware of something called “out of bounds.” They love to run out of bounds and your QB is more than happy to throw to them. This is much more noticeable than in previous years. A small gripe, sure, but some semblance of perception to stay in bounds would give their real-world counterparts a bit more credit.
Lovers of football will want to pick up the game for one of the biggest additions: Online Franchise. This is a feature that will keep the disc in your Xbox’s drive all year and will make you think, “Why didn‘t they do this earlier?” This mode allows you to commission a 32-team league with any mixture of player or AI controlled teams. Since most of Online Franchise is handled server side, a web site is created that will give you access to standings, depth charts, trades and more from any computer with internet access. Not all is perfect here (example: a computer controlled team is forced to accept any trade your propose) but it’s strong addition to this year’s entry.
Co-op can be fun but puts the decisions for both offensive and defensive plays in the hands of one person. If the person in control is unfamiliar with the game or is just bad at it, that leads to a painful experience for both paries. Speaking of being unfamiliar with the game, one thing Madden NFL 10 has trouble with is the virtual trainer. This certainly needs some more attention as the guidance it gives is minimal. EA Sports Backtrack, a feature that shows you what you did wrong and what would have made it work, seems like a natural fit for this mode.
Offline Franchise, Mini Games, and Madden Moments all make a return this year. Not enough has changed here and they handle pretty much as expected. Madden Moments is one of my favorites because if gives you situations that happened in the real world and challenges you to come out with a win. This is simple enough and becomes addictive as you want to beat them all.
The Extra Point Half Time Report and weekly “episode” might have looked good on paper but is poorly executed. At first you’ll be intrigued by seeing the best plays of the game, hearing stats, or seeing who gets selected as the players of the week. Once the rose colored glasses are off, though, you hear a very jerky delivery of information. EA hasn’t had enough practice to get this right yet? Really? There are noticeable pauses and generalizations that make The Extra Point more painful than pleasurable to watch.
Are you noticing a theme here? EA delivers an extremely solid football game that will give you lots of football fun for your money. The challenge is scalable to cater to rookies and uber-veterans alike. On the other hand, the game feels like it hit a wall in development and missed out on a good coat or two of polish. Graphical glitches, flat announcing, and jerky Extra Point episodes are a disappointment and are just rookie mistakes. If you haven’t picked up a new Madden game in a few years this might be worth your while.