|System: X360, PS3||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: EA Tiburon||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: EA Sports||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Aug. 12, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-4||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jonathan Marx
Another year, another Madden. This time, however, we're celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the franchise. Consequently, the team at EA Tiburon has done their best to make this a true diamond of a sports title. Yet, the perennial complaint that the annual improvements aren't significant enough to warrant a repurchase still holds. Nevertheless, this game is an amazing football sim that nails the look, feel, and excitement of the gridiron. Consequently, if you sat out last year, then it's definitely time to get in the game and pick up Madden NFL 09.
If you've ever played a Madden title, you'll know that Madden 09 is chocked full of extremely realistic gameplay. With spot on play calling, authentic stadiums, and dynamic A.I., this football sim is the cream of the crop (not hard when you're the only game in town, but I digress). Regardless, Madden 09 ups the ante this year by improving graphical details and animations, including a Virtual Trainer, EA Sports Backtrack and Rewind for novice players, a Madden IQ score and My Skill difficulty setting for veterans. Also, a bunch of subtle in-game mechanics like the Breakaway and ActionCams, formation subs, increased difficulty during rivalry matchups, and improved defensive and offensive audibles for multiplayer are very compelling. EA has also added Madden Moments and Online Leagues with mixed results. All in all, it's a great outing for the franchise that nearly nails every aspect.
The visual presentation this year is better than ever. Upon firing up the first game, the word wow actually passed my lips. That's because the game looks great! Much of the framerate clipping and unrealistic receiving animations have been completely smoothed out. Fan sprites and animations are still repetitive, but, overall, the stadium atmosphere is amazingly realistic. Furthermore, weather effects and turf conditions are outstanding. Also, player animations are incredibly detailed. For example, receivers reach out for the ball in realistic ways; no longer does it look like the CPU cheated you when you drop balls. Additionally, linemen and lead blockers engage their opponents dynamically and fluidly, tying them up just long enough to set your running back on a tear. Speaking of running backs, the highlight stick and face button dekes are dreamy; busting in and out of tackles with linked moves looks and feels great.
Unlike the greatly enhanced visual quality, the commentary has only mildly improved. This year, Tom Hammond and Cris Collinsworth have stepped into the booth. Unfortunately, Tom Hammond sounds like an android with hiccups; the stilted way in which he delivers the commentary is dreadful. In his defense, his poor performance is probably accentuated by the silky smooth delivery and insightful comments of Collinsworth. I'm not a big Collinsworth fan, but he has pulled off one of the best sports game voice work of all time.
For the most part, Madden 09 is essentially identical to Madden 08 in terms of gameplay. In fact, the most major game modes, Franchise and Superstar, are largely untouched. However, a few minor tweaks to the standard format can be found. For starters, the classic Madden cameras have been replaced by the ActionCam (don't worry, you can still access the oldies via game settings). The ActionCam does a good job of keeping the most important players focused on the screen, and I never felt as if I needed to revert to the old styles. Also, I loved the Breakaway camera. If you get significantly out in front of your pursuers, then the camera angle will slide behind your player and begin to bounce as if being carried by a trailing defensive back; it does an exceptional job of communicating the action and outstanding nature of the play. This is a feature that should definitely be here to stay.
Also, newbie-friendly additions like EA Sports Rewind, Backtrack, and the Virtual Trainer should get youngsters and those out of practice into the action more quickly. EA Sports Rewind actually allows you to take back a botched play by hitting the appropriate onscreen prompt at the end of the play. This certainly isn't the most honest way to make up for poor execution, but it does erase cheap turnovers and dropped balls that I like to label as "CPU cheating." Thankfully, the Rewind function is not available during online play, and it can be shutoff or amped up locally according to the player's desire. In my opinion, this feature is pretty much a gimmick. Accordingly, I never use it, but I guess it could be nice for handicapping purposes and as a learning tool.