IGN Review of Madden NFL 10
As leaves turn brown and the temperature drops the videogame industry knows that a new Madden game is just around the corner. Madden NFL 10 hits store shelves on August 14 and comes with new modes, gameplay tweaks and broadcast-style presentation changes that most football fans will appreciate. There are issues with some of the new aspects that have worked their way into Madden (and things that have been taken out), but there's no denying that this is the best pure football experience in videogame history.
Let's start on a positive note. This is the best looking Madden game yet. From the look of players on the field to new presentational elements, you've never seen a football game like this before. EA Sports has gone to great lengths to make the experience of playing a standard game of Madden as close to the real thing as possible and it shows. You'll see players getting yelled at on the sidelines, refs debating touchdown calls, and pre-game warm ups on the field with a bit of insight from Tom Hammond and Chris Colinsworth. It's all very conducive to convincing you that you're totally in control of a standard NFL football broadcast on Sunday. Yes, I'm even talking about the constant Snickers and Sprint sponsorships that pop up at certain times during a contest.
The new presentation elements permeate nearly every aspect of Madden NFL 10, right down to the menu configurations which are a strong deviation from standard EA Sports conventions. You'll see a newly organized franchise hub which houses the new Extra Point Show. Here you'll get a weekly recap of action in your franchise. The voiceover work by NFL Network talent is pretty atrocious, but the presentation is well done.
Not all is well with these new presentation elements, however. You'll see things like flickering hair textures and objects on the sideline that fail to load (phones in players hands, warm-up bikes). At the end of games, star players are approached by media for interviews. It's one of the first times we've seen Madden players in full detail without a helmet and I'd swear Peyton Manning has the mouth of a goat. So while most of the new broadcast-style additions pan out well, there are still issues that should be worked out by the time we see next year's game.
So, visual issues aside, the new presentation display certainly does help bring the Madden experience closer to the genuine article, but what about the gameplay? Isn't that the most important thing? Thankfully the gameplay in Madden NFL 10 is, in a word, fantastic. I can't tell you how many people walked by my desk as I was playing and wondered if the NFL season started early this year. The speed of the game has been ratcheted down only slightly so hitting holes while running and making jukes is just a bit easier than it has been. That's not to say that the game isn't difficult – ramp up the difficulty to find out for yourself – but everything has an excellent ebb and flow this time around.
I'm also very happy to see the Fight for the Fumble mechanic play out as well as it does. I was worried that every fumble would result in a button mashing frenzy, but that's actually not the case. EA Sports did a good job of tuning the mechanic so it only pops up when appropriate.
Most of the new moves available on the field are exemplary as well. On defense, you'll now be able to pull off things like swim moves with the right analog stick when grappling on the line. It's much more accessible than the bumper setup of the past. On offense, jukes are much more realistic looking, though defenders too often fall straight onto their ass when you fake them out.
The real change to gameplay, and the one that drives home the feeling of the NFL the most, is procedural tackling (Pro-Tak). It allows for massive pileups to accumulate on the field, just as you'd see on Sunday. This also changes the blocking system which now forms an adequate pocket around your quarterback, much like you'd see on Sunday. Are you starting to see a pattern here?
Quarterback avoidance is the one control change that I really don't care for. While you will see quarterbacks get out of some sacks and throw ducks when hit during their throwing motion, the fact that the avoidance moves are toggled to the right stick is annoying. Why would I use the right analog stick to avoid a defender – thus giving up my ability to pass to my receivers for a split second – when I can just use the left stick and the right trigger and still be able to hit an open man downfield?
When playing against the AI things could be a bit tighter. There isn't much of a leap forward from last year's game to Madden NFL 10, so you'll still see players running out of bounds when there's absolutely no reason to do so. AI-controlled players also occasionally run very unnaturally on the field. I once saw a wide receiver catch a ball, run up the field, then to the right, then up the field, then to the right again. He repeated the process until he was out of bounds.
Off the field, the artificial intelligence wonkiness doesn't have a negative effect on trade logic, which is sharper than I've seen in the past. I have no doubt that some Madden diehard fan will crack the code and somehow get ten first round picks in the Draft, but it seemed as though it was tuned better than in the past. One odd part of working with trades and free agency is that there's really no "player tendency" stat to be found. That means you can't pitch them on playing time or coaching habits when trying to sign someone. It's a small gripe, but it's something that franchise freaks will care about.
Speaking of Franchise Mode, there have been a few notable changes to everyone's favorite time sucker. First off, there's no traditional calendar system this year. That means you can't schedule practices before a game and improve certain players. Instead you just hop between games. It's not a huge omission, but some will likely miss the ability to tune their skills before an important matchup.
Another change is the hub. You'll now have a constant stream of league news being updated during your downtime. You'll see trades, injuries and signings right when they happen. It's a small detail but one that I definitely appreciate. Other refinements include proper scheduling after year-one and details like correct Super Bowl patches extending beyond your initial year. Just about everything else that you remember from Franchise Mode is retained, including the ability to relocate your team, design a new stadium and make additions to your current digs if necessary. Those hoping to set the price of hot dogs and popcorn will be letdown as there's no true Owner Mode present.
Superstar Mode is also back, and has seen some questionable changes. I still get a kick out of playing on Sunday with my created player (provided you pick a skill position like running back, quarterback or linebacker) but the practice system makes no sense at all. Selecting a practice day from the calendar lets you run one play over and over and over again. There's no end to practice; you just keep running the same play. Not only that, but you don't improve from practicing so there's really no benefit to participating. The mini-camp drills have also been totally removed rather than revamped which was disappointing for me.
There are two new modes of play: Online Co-op and Online Franchise. Online Franchise is probably my favorite mode in the game and it's something I really hope the community clings to and uses appropriately. You and up to 31 friends can hop in a league and play through seasons just like you would in Offline Franchise Mode. You can propose trades, draft players, and even start things off with a fantasy draft if you like. There's an iPhone application that will be launching shortly after Madden releases, but it wasn't available for our review. It promises just about all of the functionality that you'll see on the Web.
Sadly, Online Co-op doesn't pan out quite so well. It's mainly an issue with the camera angle that's used. It's a zoomed in viewpoint on the player that you're controlling. While it works fine on offense, playing defense can be dizzying. As you switch players the camera slowly moves around the field to follow your selections. That means if you begin as a defensive lineman and decide to switch to a defensive back when the quarterback throws the ball, the camera has a very difficult time staying with the action.
Things are better on offense where one player can be a wide receiver and the other can be the quarterback. The wide out can run custom routes and find his own space, unlike the more-restrained AI. The fact that the second player is constrained to watching the play call by the first player is a bummer. I would have preferred a system that alternates play calling duties.
The gameplay package is hefty and is without question the most refined on-field experience I've seen from the Madden franchise. Everything looks and plays wonderfully, even if there are a few faults with the presentation set pieces. I would have really liked to see more added to the franchise mode and Superstar could've been pulled off with more substance. Thankfully Online Franchise is fantastic, it's just disappointing that co-op doesn't work as well as it should. Despite the flaws and absences in the feature set, the football is undoubtedly the best I've ever seen from a videogame.
Visually, Madden NFL 10 is the best looking game in the series without question. Player details are wonderfully articulated, even if their faces look a bit odd at times. Animations are fluid and nicely varied. I'm still seeing new moves on the field despite having played the game for weeks now. The only true downside to the graphics is that slowdown occurs on occasion when the action gets too frantic. I've had games without a single moment of slowdown, but when it happens you'll know it. My other nitpick is the texture issue that I mentioned before, but even that doesn't happen every time you see a player on the sideline.
Things don't work nearly as well on the audio front. The commentary from Colinsworth and Hammond is just plain bad. It's fragmented and doesn't sound natural at all. It's high time EA Sports found a solution to this problem and while the duo is better than the former radio broadcaster, they've made no progression since last year's offering. They have more to say to be sure, it just doesn't sound any better. The soundtrack services the game well and has tons of songs for your aural delight.
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