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.
EA Sports Backtrack is a telestrator segment where Cris Collinsworth will dissect the previous play. This feature does not activate every time, but it will after many key plays. This commentary element does a great job of hitting home the gameday feeling, and it also helps players identify where they went wrong on the play. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work the way it’s supposed to. Many times, Collinsworth will tell you that you should’ve picked out a receiver that was never actually open. Nonetheless, it’s a cool idea that works well most of the time and should see a lot of improvement next year.
The Virtual Trainer is another tool that will help players work on certain aspects of their game from both sides of the ball. This VR experience is good at helping players master basic concepts, but working on individual plays and more complex execution is not an option. As such, this is really only a feature for the uninitiated.
Stepping away from the newbs, Madden 09 introduces the Madden Test, Madden IQ, and My Skill difficulty setting, which are all interrelated. At the beginning of the game, a holographic John Madden will introduce you to these three new concepts. By taking the Madden Test (a series of offensive and defensive drills that gauge your ability), players will receive both a Madden IQ score and a My Skill level.
The IQ score will increase or decrease as you continue to play games while logged in with your user profile; this should serve as a badge of honor for players whilst online. The My Skill difficulty level is broken down into various categories such as passing and run-stopping ability. This will customize the way the A.I. reacts to you on-field according to your score in the various categories. For example, if you continually tear through opponents with your backs, the game will adjust by increasing the A.I.’s run-stopping capability. The My Skill difficulty is a good way to constantly test yourself, but it does get a bit frustrating when the CPU begins to outstrip your quality deep into a season. Mercifully, My Skill is just one of the difficulty options. Players can still choose any of the classic difficulty modes or even customize a difficulty setting to their liking.
Other new features include Madden Moments (bite-sized gameplay that has you reenact or thwart key moments from last year’s NFL season), Online Leagues (a 32-player online multiplayer league that has gamers battle it out for custom trophies), and Franchise Rivalries (rivalry matches that increase the difficulty during league play). Madden Moments are fun and challenging, and they provide an additional mode for single-player fun, but you’ll likely breeze through them. The Online Leagues could be great fun for Madden veterans that have a stable full of Madden-playing friends (who can fill out all the league spots and provide a competitive challenge). If not, then you’ll have to deal with rounding out the roster with unknown players, because 32 human teams must participate in the league. Finally, taking a cue from NCAA Football, Franchise Rivalries are a great way to increase the challenge during Franchise Mode by making rivalry matchups meaningful through increased difficulty. As a Bears fan, I love heading into Lambeau, shutting down a supped up Pack, and making my own Lambeau Leap with the brand new touchdown celebration feature.
As you can tell, there are a lot of new features this year, but none of them are of much consequence. If you own Madden 08, there is no truly outstanding aspect that makes a repurchase necessary. In fact, the Superstar and Franchise game modes are nearly identical, and the Online Leagues aren’t impressive enough to outshine the excellent online play of last year. However, if you’ve got money to burn, Madden 09 is a great game to have in your collection.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.6 Graphics
The visuals are nearly perfect. Other than the lackluster crowd effects, the game is a thing of beauty. 4.6 Control
If you’re used to Madden, you will excel. Improved audible calling is an improvement over last year. 4.2 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Cris Collinsworth pulls off the most impressive sports game voice work of all time. Too bad his booth mate Tom Hammond sounds like an android! 4.2 Play Value
This game is great! However, the old Madden adage still holds: If you own last year’s, there’s no significant reason to rush out and buy this one. 4.4 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.