Football! American Football that is. Those that love it are obsessed, those who don’t have no idea what’s going on. To the untrained eye it may appear confusing, with large men in colourful outfits running into each other in a vain attempt to chase a ball, whilst shouting out numbers and unusual words like ‘hike’. In actual fact, beyond the initial confusion, American Football is one of the most tactical sports there is. It’s only fitting that there’s a tribute to the great sport, and that’s this year’s iteration of Madden: Madden NFL ’10.
The game plays out in a similar fashion to the numerous previous installments. It’s difficult to explain how the gameplay works without going into detail regarding the sports rules, especially to those new to it. However the gameplay is, in a word, fantastic. Controls work as expected and allow even the more complex plays to be pulled off, adjusted or faked with a touch of a button. Of course there is a downside, due to the games fast paced nature, in particular when defending, plays can result in a button bashing fiasco. Despite that in game options can be selected before hand to be as simple or as in depth as required. A tactical wiz? Then try manipulating each play down to the last detail, move players and/or alternate plays. New to the sport? Then just select a play ignoring all that fine detailing. The problem is that the game doesn’t make clear what options are important and which ones are for those who want a complete experience, which can leave newcomers lost in a sea of options. A little more guidance is all we ask.
Madden NFL 10 offers the usual extra modes that provide their 15 minutes, in the form of exhibition games, Madden moments, mini games and practices. Of course it’s franchise mode where the action is at, here entire seasons can be played as one of the professional teams. Seasons run from game to game rather than via a calendar. To some this might be a big omission, as it doesn’t allow pre-game practicing, however it does keep the whole process flowing. Like the main game, franchise mode can be a simple or as in-depth as required. Novices can stick to playing games; experts however can fiddle with team management, check NFL information, coaching options and finance information. All the information goes with (but isn’t vital to) a franchise mode. This mode is also where the biggest new feature is included in the online franchise mode, in that it pretty much runs the game as a single player franchise, except with up to 31 other people.
The obvious difference will be facing more difficult opponents. Other little additions have been made since Madden NFL 09, such as three to nine men tackles and an improved blocking scheme make for some hard hitting defensive action. However the most interesting addition is the fumble pile-up, which is as it sounds; a pile up to grab a fumbled ball. Simply bash the on screen button to grab it. Fun, but a rare occurrence. Although little has changed in terms of game play EA have gone some distance in attempting to make this a complete sporting experience. On a visual note this is the best Madden game to date (although we would feel let down if it wasn’t). Character models look immaculate, even when amongst a man on man pile-up. Stadia have been recreated in glorious detail and put across the grandness of 60-70,000 capacity arenas. Lighting is also well done; the light that casts reflections off the players’ helmet is a definite visual treat (and hot).
Games themselves are presented in a pseudo-television manner with ‘The Extra Point’, a TV-like highlights show which presents pre-game statistics, previews and players to watch all. This is continued into half time where the usual first-half highlights are shown. Of course with television coverage comes sponsorship, so expect product placement. While it does create a sense of occasion, all too often it’ll be skipped to get to the action. Perhaps the most engrossing new feature is the player interaction, where players and coaches alike can be heard shouting instructions and referees debate decisions amongst the crowds chanting, on top of the somewhat questionable commentary.
Like the previous installment, the Madden Test is available, where difficulty settings for each of the sport’s four main facets can be customised. That is offense rush, offense pass, defence rush and defence pass, in simple terms attack and defending. Each are presented in a series of in-game tests. So what’s the fuss about an aspect that was introduced in the previous game? Well it seems that the problems that plagued the test still do, in that the level gained in the test do equate to pitch. Do well in the offensive rush test, which isn’t to difficult, and it becomes almost impossible to complete a rush manoeuvre on the pitch. The same goes for the offensive pass test and defensive tests. In short, stick to the predetermined settings, but even then the difficulty curve can be steep.
Despite the steep difficulty curve EA deserve some kudos, the developers have managed to create a one of the most engrossing sports games. Crowds, team talk and coverage all create a unique atmosphere that will leave you hanging on each yard gained, or lost. Ignore those complex in-depth features and you have a fantastic sporting experience. The question is, does it improve enough on the last instalment? Well, no. While it is an improvement over Madden NFL 09, not quite enough as been done in the last year to warrant a follow up. But isn’t that a problem with most franchises?