In the past 20 years we have seen Mario go from side-scroller to space flyer. We have seen Sonic go from fast 16-bit graphics to a 3D adventure. In 20 years we have been introduced to a countless number of games and a numerous amount of consoles. Twenty years has shown us a lot, but this year in particular marks the 20th anniversary for the best selling American football game of all time - Madden.
The number one complaint, when it comes to gamers and Madden, is that there is not much innovation from year to year. One year gamers are introduced to defensive audibles, the next year we have a special “quarterback vision” that helps the gamer throw more accurate passes, and yet another year there is an option for offence and defence to “read-and-react” which is essentially changing your play at the line of scrimmage; something you had been able to do for two years already on current-gen consoles. For most gamers this does not constitute innovative thinking.
Finally, bring on Madden 09. The focus of this year’s Madden is that the game adapts to you. This is shown immediately when you fire up your PS3. Before going to the game menu, John Madden himself in all of his projector-like form comes on the screen and says his piece about a game that is near and dear to him, American football. He then proceeds to take you into a simulator where you will be tested on four aspects of the game: run offence, pass offence, pass defence, and run defence. After you complete each task you will see a meter that shows you what skill level you are at for each part of the game. For example, if you do extremely well on the rush offensive simulation, then your skill level for that will be All-Madden, which is the highest degree of difficulty. After you have finished all four categories you are then given a Madden IQ. The higher your Madden IQ, the higher the difficulty will be when you play the actual matches.
An interesting aspect about the Madden IQ is that the game literally does adapt to your skill level. If you choose “My Skill” level for your difficulty level, whatever aspects of the game you thrived in during the skills test will be more difficult, and whatever aspects you did poorly in will be easier. Example: If you did great on your run defence and run offence, but didn’t do so well on your pass defence and pass offence, the computer will be much harder against the run, and much harder when you are trying to stop the run. On the other hand the computer will be lenient, and easy when you pass or are trying to stop a pass. It’s just like giving each facet of the game a skill level between Rookie (easiest) and All-Madden (hardest).
After every game you complete, your Madden IQ can change positively or negatively. If you previously had a high IQ passing the ball against the defence, but had a poor game, your passing IQ might go down. If you had a low IQ for pass defence and you had a great game against the pass, your IQ might go up. So the game is constantly adapting to your skill level to give you the challenge you need to keep the game interesting, but it will also be lenient in your weaker areas so that you can continue to get better.
Another new thing about Madden is its graphics. The graphics this time around look stunning compared to previous years. They are not the best graphics that I’ve seen on a game by far, but they are better than previous versions of Madden. This time the graphics don’t just stretch the limits of the players, but the actual field looks that much more crisp and realistic. The easiest thing I can compare it to is to say that the field looks like you are watching a football game, live, in High Definition. Yeah, it’s that crisp. The players graphics themselves are not the best I’ve seen, but in the same way they look much more realistic. Linemen don’t look like they are taking illegal substances with overly huge muscles. Quarterbacks don’t look the same size as linemen, and everyone on the field seems a bit more realistic. The players look a bit more defined than in years past, but again, these are not the most amazing graphics I’ve seen in a video game, they are simply just better than previous Maddens.
When it comes to gameplay, nothing has changed very much. You can still call offensive and defensive audibles. The weapons system has returned. Briefly, a weapon is what a particular player excels at the most. A receiver might have a “hands” weapon that shows he is one of the best catchers in the league; a quarterback might have the “accuracy” weapon, which tells you that he is an accurate passer. The difference with weapons this year is that instead of only seeing four of your weapons on either offence or defence, you now see every player on the field who has a weapon. This was a nice addition in my opinion.
One new facet of the game that should be mentioned is the ability to rewind a play. Before you actually start playing your game you choose whether you want to have 1 chance to rewind, or up to an infinite amount of rewinds. A rewind lets you do the play over. If you throw an interception that you shouldn’t have thrown you can press the rewind button and go back to start the play over again. Rewinds can be beneficial for novice players to understand their mistakes and correct them, but if you do an infinite amount, rewinds can be annoying and can totally take you away from the game.
Running the football has a nice new twist when it comes to gameplay. Instead of trying to juke away from a defender, if you time the juke, spin move, or highlight stick correctly, you can actually break away from a defender’s grasp. Usually if you were getting hit by a defender in games past, that was it, you no longer had control of the ball carrier.
Passing can seem a bit hard at first, but then you realize that slant passes are a little easier to pull off. I wouldn’t go as far as to say they are too easy, because like in the NFL, if the player is running right in front of you it’s easier to hit him on a slant route than it would be to hit a player downfield who has a safety and a cornerback over them.
A major complaint I have with the gameplay in Madden 09 is the fact that there are no more “jumps”. In Madden 08, on defence, if gamers timed it right they could jump the snap. This would allow them to penetrate the backfield quicker because the defenders started to get out of their stance while the quarterback was snapping the ball. I have yet to be able to do that on Madden 09. I have looked in the controls, and tried to find the “jump the snap” option for R3, and for the life of me, it wasn’t there. This is very disappointing because jumping the snap gave the defence a bit more power in 08. If you played against someone who always snapped the ball right when they got to the line, then you knew you could jump the snap and either get in for a sack or bring down a running back for a loss of yards. In 08, jumping the snap kept the offence, whether controlled by human or computer, honest. Since that is gone it is now tougher than ever to get in the backfield to make a play.
One huge aspect of the game that has been poorly done over the past couple of years is the on-field commentary. Tom Hammond and Cris Collinsworth, do an outstanding job. But it’s not just them, the producers who put together their pre-recorded responses made each person, especially Collinsworth, appear as if they were actually sitting next to you watching the game. There is not a lot of repetition such as their was in previous Maddens. There aren’t just statements made about a random player, with said players name thrown into the statement. The commentating sounds so legitimate that I actually feel as if I’m listening to a pro football game. If there was a “most improved” section of this review, the commentary would be #1 on my list.
Superstar mode is what you would expect. Either build a character, or take an existing rookie and you can put them through an RPG-like character creation with practices, pre-season, and regular season games. This mode is for the most hardcore and patient Madden players.
Online has gotten better on PS3, there is not so much lag, and this time around you can actually create leagues with your friends to play out full seasons. The problem here is that if you only have four teams, you can only play with four NFL teams, not the normal 32. Another problem is that most of these leagues are private, so if you find yourself just wanting to jump into a league you are better off playing Franchise mode offline.
An added gameplay option that I particularly enjoy is the Madden Moments. These are moments in NFL history that any NFL fan should remember. Some are more memorable than others, but the point is, these moments were fun to watch, and hopefully are just as fun to play. One example of a Madden Moment is when the Green Bay Packers and the Denver Broncos were tied 13-13 last year and went into overtime and Green Bay drove almost the full length of the field to win the game with a touchdown. The game starts off with Green Bay getting the ball and you, as Green Bay, must drive the length of the field and score the touchdown. Some of the moments can be a bit difficult at times, but nonetheless it is a nice addition to the game.
Lastly, the tutorials are a great way for people who don’t understand the game of American football to learn how to play. This has nothing to do with your Madden IQ and everything to do with teaching you how to play the game of football. In one mode, you are taught how to use your blockers in a running game so that you can score. In another mode you are taught how to use the spin move, the stiff arm, and the highlight stick to avoid defenders; and then the last mode of running you learn how to use both of these aspects to avoid defenders and get to the touchdown. It’s an excellent way to be introduced to the sport.
Madden has gotten better, but it hasn’t progressed much in my view. Yes there are new gameplay ideas added, and new ways to play, but for some reason I kept wishing I could get the new gameplay with the same game I played in 08. Madden 09 is an incredible football game, but putting it next to it’s predecessors it does certain things right, and other things wrong. It seems to me that if new aspects of the game are added, old aspects have to be taken out. Whether this is because of space on the disc or because they just forgot about it (see my paragraph on “jumping the snap”); it’s not fair to the gamer. Overall, it’s better than Madden 08, but in my mind I wish that EA could stay consistent while offering new content.