Getting it Right
Another year, another Madden. That seems to be the mantra surrounding the franchise. Every year EA puts out an excellent football offering, but never does the series breakout of its well-trodden conventions. Of course you know what they say, if ain’t broke… Still, there are enough additions and refinements in Madden NFL 10 to make it the best entry to date – maybe not by a long shot, but the best nonetheless. A big reason for this is the development of the much-touted Pro-Tak technology, which certainly lives up to the billing and actually has a significant impact, honing gameplay to an even finer edge. Also, the sheer care that’s gone into the creation of the title is readily identifiable throughout.
The graphics are particularly good this year, with even more detail, player-specific animations, realistic crowds, and spot-on gameday ambience. The quick pans to post-play cinematics that capture the emotion of the fans and coaching staff are great, and the slightly out of focus filter applied to crowds actually gives the impression that each individual fan is unique. Also, the pre-game shot of the action outside the stadium brings the feeling of Sunday to life while also getting players ready for the day’s weather conditions. Players will be amazed at just how much care has gone in to making this title shine.
There are a couple of things that did annoy me about the presentation this year, however. The new half-time report is far too slow! While I thought it was nice to get the lowdown from across the league during Franchise Mode, I found it to be long and cumbersome whilst playing a pick-up game during Play Now, even though it’s actually much shorter than it is in Franchise. Still, I found myself mashing through the shield logo with great consternation when all I wanted to do was return to the game and run back a ball with Hester.
The second problem concerned the voice work. Naturally, John Madden and Cris Collinsworth are perfect, but the duo of Fran Charles and Alex Flanagan, during The Extra Point Show featured in Franchise Mode and during half-time, need a lot of work. In fact, I’d rather they weren’t asked back to camp next year. Fortunately, the soundtrack selection seems to make up for it. The mix of solid rock bands with just a pinch of quality hip hop is definitely pleasing to the ears.
Without a doubt, Madden NFL 10 features the best reactive animations in any sports game ever made. Not only do key players move in ways reminiscent of their playing styles, but gang tackles, stiff arms, hurdles, jukes, big hits, blocks, contact over the middle, etc. all look astoundingly fluid and realistic. I never had a problem with players getting stuck in clunky animations – the action on the field always seems to play out exactly how it should.
This is all thanks to the great lengths Tiburon went to while creating their new Pro-Tak animation technology. If you haven’t been keeping tabs on this development, know that it takes the speed, weight, and angle of approach of up to nine players at a time into account. That means pileups, scrums, and gang tackles are finally possible and realistically rendered. This technology also has a massive impact on the action at the line of scrimmage.
To me, offensive linemen have always been more or less a wall to try and outmaneuver in previous Madden titles. As such, I’ve always been partial to making a defensive impact with linebackers and corners in order to get around the obstacle. This year, that’s all changed. Selecting defensive lineman and getting a good push with them makes closing gaps to protect against the run a breeze. On the other side of the ball, countering the competition’s defense is also natural. Though holes don’t readily open up for backs, an honest to god pocket will form around your QB within which you can step up and wait for your receivers to actually progress through their routes in order to pick apart the secondary.
All in all, I love Pro-Tak, but it does seem to skew gameplay more towards those who prefer to execute a West Coast offense. I’ve always tended to use running as my bread and butter to set up the deep ball – this year I found myself passing on first down and setting up lots of draw plays and counters. The new physics have had a great effect on gameplay – mostly to the player’s benefit, though there are some who will find the running game somewhat hampered. Hopefully next year greater balance will be struck.
Controls in Madden have always been really precise. Building on that precision, the development team has apparently slowed down the action just enough to put even more control into the hands of the player. Rather than relying solely on flawless knowledge of the button layout and then reacting appropriately with twitch reflexes, players now have just a bit more time to see the play develop. This makes angles of approach on defense and the execution of the running game more accessible and integral. Controls in Madden NFL 10 are the best they’ve ever been, and that’s saying a lot.
In addition to standard exhibition play, the devs at Tiburon worked extensively on honing the Franchise Mode in Madden NFL 10. According to EA, “over the past few years it [Franchise Mode] had not received the amount of improvements” the developers wanted. Considering this is the most played single-player feature in the entire game, it’s good to know that it has been overhauled. The new Franchise Mode is as robust as always, but the new gameday, half-time, and around the league presentations draw the player deeper into the game than ever before. Also, deep features such as custom draft classes, franchise upgrade bonuses, and better out-of-game CPU logic make building a franchise more realistic and engaging. I also really liked the way drafted players grow under your tutelage exponentially in their first few years as professionals. This really makes it feel like you’re leaving your mark on the team.
Outside of single- and local multiplayer, a couple important online additions keep the series’ sticks moving forward in terms of multplayer action. For starters, the Online Franchise mode allows up to 32 players to join in on the action. Online Franchise features live drafts and player transactions, and league message boards which can be managed via your console, PC, or even through an iPhone/iPod Touch app launching on August 18, 2009. For the first time ever, online co-op has been introduced to the Madden frnachise. Unfortunately, the tweaked camera views and occasional glitches make this a less interesting prospect than it otherwise could’ve been. Nevertheless, it’s nice that the option has finally come about despite its shortcomings.
Bottom-line? As it was with all of the game’s recent predecessors, there isn’t a substantial need for casual fans to upgrade to Madden NFL 10. If you’re content with the version you already have, you can get by without picking this one up on day one. Nevertheless, it is definitely an outstanding game – the best the series has ever seen. A great technical foundation has been laid with this year’s outing, and true Madden fans will appreciate the package EA has put together. Likewise, if you’ve patiently waited for a true next-gen football title, now’s the time to pull out your wallet.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 5.0 Graphics
Minor framerate issues can’t really hold this game’s visuals back. The reactive animations and upgraded physics are the best we’ve seen. 4.5 Control
Smooth as can be. The slightly slowed down gameplay allows the play to develop. While passing is improved, the running game seems to have suffered a bit. 4.2 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The soundtrack is of very high quality and Madden and Collinsworth are a star pairing. Too bad the aural presentation takes a big dip when Charles and Flanagan pop up. 4.5 Play Value
This is a great game of football with countless hours of content both off and online. My only real quip is that a bit more balance needs to be struck next year in terms of running and passing. 4.5 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.