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published Monday, Aug 31st

Madden NFL 10 Review (PS3)

Known as America’s Game, American Football, or as American’s call it ‘Football’, is one of the most watched sports in the world. The season’s climax, the Superbowl generally receives higher TV viewing figures than any other programme in America. As this is the case, it must have a computer game to compliment the real thing. Endorsed by John Madden, one of the greatest American Football coaches and commentators of all time, Madden 10 is the 21st instalment in the primary American Football video game series.

As per the norm, a game can be started pretty much instantly: choose a team to play with, choose a team to play against, maybe change your kit to a late 60’s throwback kit and then the fun can start. Stats for each team are provided on the loading screen, which gives an idea of who has the upper hand on the pitch. Snickers adverts are immediately apparent, cleverly manipulating words to create hilarious alternatives such as ‘statisfying’ and ‘chompetition’.

Once in a game, the graphics are simply stunning with brilliant replications of players and coaches facial features and near lifelike stadia, including the new $1.3 billion ‘Cowboy’s Stadium’.

The gameplay is better than in past years, allowing plays to be executed at any player skill level. The new pro-tak system allows nine-man tackles, with both offense and defense pushing the pack to gain those valuable yards. It is possible dodging tackles and sacks with the touch of a button, and a great addition is the ‘fight for the fumble’ where you have to press the button on screen as fast as you can to attempt to grab the ball when it is loose, although this is a rare occurrence. The blocking system is more effective, although it could still be improved further as on the occasion, three defensemen are let through to sack the quarterback. The right analog stick is used as a hit stick for the defense or for the offense to evade tackles.

American Football is known for it’s complex plays and, although they are all included within the game’s memory bank, it is not necessary to be the most experienced football player to pick up the pad. The game allows the player to amend the finer details such as turning off penalties and as always, Madden will give his tips on which play he would use in the situation, on defense he will generally suggest going for the blitz. All of this means that a rookie can have as much fun as a 21 year veteran.

One of the main advantages of Madden 10 over the last two versions is the change in the way plays are selected. It has been reverted back to how it was in Madden 07 where rather than moving the d-pad to select plays, triangle, x or square are used. This is a great advantage for multiplayer mode as it goes a long way to stop prying eyes ‘screen cheating’ as you can keep them guessing as to which play has been chosen.

As in previous iterations, Madden 10 offers many game modes, such as mini games, virtual training or just normal practice mode. Madden Moments provides a selection of real life situations from the 2008/09 season where an amazing comeback has been made or a defense has held onto a one point lead on the final drive and all the player has to do is replicate this, which is generally just a quick-fire thrill.

Madden Test can be used to supposedly create the perfect difficulty level for your playing skill, giving you a series of tasks on a virtual field, which then generates a difficulty level for Rushing Offense, Passing Offense, Rushing Defense and Passing Defense. Be warned though as if you excel in Madden Test, it can make plays impossible when transferred to the field.

Franchise mode is essentially the same as previous versions, however the usual calendar has been replaced with it now simming between games, which means weekly training sessions have been left out altogether. Franchise mode can be as in depth as you like, allowing you to just play games or tinker with all the finer details of an American Football franchise.

Be an NFL Superstar mode gives you the opportunity to create a player and follow him through his career in an attempt to win the superbowl. A slight disappointment was the lack of names such as Brett Farve and Michael Vick on the rosters, however a roster update is immediately available to amend this, and further updates are surely to follow in the run up to the start of the season.

All in all, Madden 10 is a brilliant game, with improved graphics and gameplay making it more realistic than ever before, however the commentary is still very artificial and needs work. Improved graphics on towels etc are a nice addition as well, but some may argue this is not enough to warrant spending another £40 if you already own Madden 09. This is a perennial problem when you already have a brilliant game in Madden 09.

published Wednesday, Aug 26th

Madden NFL 10 Review (Xbox 360)

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?