Madden NFL 09 Review
To most gamers August of every year means one thing, the beginning of the Christmas games rush, starting with the annual sports updates from EA. First on the list, Madden NFL 09.
American football titles are always daunting to UK gamers with most (including myself) only really watching one game of the sport a year, The Superbowl. With that said, those unfamiliar with the sport may find themselves starting the game up to discover if the game could help ‘teach’ gamers the sport and have a better understanding of the different plays. The result is thankfully a fantastic success, thanks to the introduction of Madden IQ, a key feature for introducing newcomers to American football.
The concept of Madden IQ is simple. As soon as the game loads up for the first time, you are given the option (which can be completely skipped) to perform a series of training drills, passing offence/defence and running offense/defence. Depending on how successful you are during these exercises, you are awarded a Madden IQ, which then customises the game experience to suit your skill level. Clearly, from the picture above, I need some work on my passing and defence game, whereas I have some serious skills in my running game. Madden then tinkers with the game options behind the scenes and makes the A.I. easier to play against for passing plays, but provides a more difficult defence when I decide to run for the ball. And it doesn’t end there, as novice players can let John Madden select the most appropriate play, Intermediate players can choose from basic play sets (e.g. Pass: short, medium, long or fake and Run: Left, Right, Centre, Fake) or you can choose the ‘Hardcore’ difficulty and have full access to every possible play in the game.
Once you’ve got your Madden IQ up and running, you’ll want to hit some of the game modes to improve it. Franchise mode is, as ever, where most of the fun lies, as you have countless options to customise your NFL season with your favourite team on the road to the Superbowl. Other popular modes such as Superstar have returned, which sees you control a single player during the entire match in an attempt to become an NFL legend, and mini-games such as passing and running drills have also made a comeback.
Online is an area where Madden has seen decent improvement from last years outing, thanks to the introduction of 32 player online leagues which has huge potential for groups of Madden players who play regularly (good luck finding those in the UK). However, the same goes for quick play ranked and player matches, most matches seem to be played by “quitters”, “glitchers” and “laggers”, a lethal combination that will probably put off most casual players from going online, even with dedicated rooms for new players. As with recent games in the series, the ESPN ticker at the bottom of each menu screen can be customised to bring you news, results and match odds for just about every sport, in every country. For example, as I was playing Madden during the closure of the FA and SPL transfer window, I was reading about the last-minute signings from the likes of Manchester United and Manchester City in-between games of my franchise.
Every year EA Sports go all-out to ensure that Madden is the best possible looking football game on the market, and this year is no exception. The graphical details on the players and stadiums is simply phenomenal and although the fans in the stadium don’t share the same attention to detail as players, this rarely becomes a factor that effects the enjoyment of the game. The soundtrack is also fantastic, with some heavy hitting rock tracks in addition to some rap music there is sure to be some tracks to appeal to everyone. Commentary is also flawless, although as-ever repetitive, which sees John Madden make a return to make studio introductions and provide you with a rundown of your personal Madden IQ.
When it comes down to the nitty gritty, 2009’s Madden iteration (and the series 20th) hasn’t seen the evolution that was expected from the next gen jump. Sure, there are some nice online improvements, some new features such as rewind (undo the last play), “Backtrack” which analyses a mistake such as a fumble or interception and teaches you how to avoid them in future games in addition to the (gimmicky) area-based end zone celebrations. But all in all, this is a fantastic American Football title but there really isn’t enough here to catch the attention of the UK audience. Why not put Wembley in there as a playable stadium (an official NFL game was played there last season)? The game was released almost simultaneously with the highly anticipated US version, if EA were to put a small delay on the title and include some UK/Europe specific teams or features, we might see this title go much further in the UK sales charts.