EA Sports is taking a little bit of a different approach to their beta "code" these days. Well, maybe not different, but more strict I guess you could say. Instead of sharing oodles of videos and screenshots, which you all have become accustomed to over the years here at OS, we are under a huge embargo and cannot release anything -- that is until today. But we still can't release much in terms of screenshots and videos, so most of the information will be in written form.
I will try to cover as much as possible leading up to Madden's release date -- or at least until the hardcore guys get their sweaty little hands on an early copy from the mom and pop stores, which seem to just pop up everywhere at this time of year.
Let me also preface this hands-on preview by writing this: This is beta Xbox 360 code, so a few things may be slightly different when you pop your game into your console of choice.
I'll probably be coming from everywhere in this preview, as I have much to say about it. So as things pop into my head, I'll just write about it. With that said, let me bring you your Madden NFL 10 fix.
Let's talk about the game options first. Most of it is standard fare, but I will go through them all, just so you don't think something is missing. (This would be so much easier if I could just post the screenshots).
There is an option to pick your favorite team and the team-specific offensive and defensive playbooks. You can also choose a play-call style -- there are four different styles (beginner, intermediate, advanced and hardcore). Quarter length runs from one minute to 15. You can have the play clock on/off, as well as accelerated clock with clock runoff ranging from 15, 20 and 25 seconds. (I have been using 25 seconds for most of my games, and I'm seeing anywhere from 115 to 140 plays called.)
The camera options are standard, wide and zoomed. There is an injury slider (ranging from 0-100), which controls the overall chance of injuries in a game. There is also a fatigue slider (ranging from 0-100), which controls the amount of fatigue applied to players in a game. There are five options for game speed: very slow, slow, normal, fast and very fast. There is a player-minimum speed threshold option (ranging from 0-100), and lowering this will create a greater speed difference between the fastest and slowest players in the game.
There are options for auto instant replays, coach mode, EA Sports Trackback and fight for the fumble (all of which can be turned on or off). Speaking of fight for fumble, I think it's something a lot of people will eventually turn off, as I've been completely on top of a ball, only to lose the "fight for fumble" and come away pissed off. Sure it happens, but I for one, would rather stick with the old way and turn the feature off.
Next up is penalties. There is offsides, false start, holding, facemask, def/off pass interference, KR/PR interference, clipping (I've seen quite a few personal foul clipping calls), intentional grounding (have yet to see the AI do this yet, even at 100), roughing the passer/kicker.
When I played with the sliders cranked up to 100, I witnessed quite a few penalties. But if I put a slider at a maxed-out level, I think I should see a penalty every single play, then I can adjust the sliders accordingly. For that reason it's hard to really get a gauge on the amount of penalties in the game, but I can definitely state that there are more penalties when the sliders are maxed out. Either way it would still be nice to have more control over them.
The penalties I'm seeing the most are holding (mostly on FG/XP attempts), facemask and clipping. Rarely do I ever see any other penalty -- just an occasional pass interference call, but I still haven't seen the AI false start. For the first time ever, I saw the AI get called for delay of game.
Next up is player skill. You have the usual presets for rookie, pro, all-pro, all-madden and custom. Of course you have "My Skill" which automatically adjusts based on your in-game performance.
In CPU skill, for passing we have QB accuracy, pass blocking and WR catching. Not to beat a dead horse, but again, if I set QB accuracy to 0, I should see a horrible ball on every single throw. Not seeing it here, but the sliders do work. I slammed them all to 0 just to see how inaccurate Brady would become. He was definitely off target more than on, but a 0 should mean, well...
Anyways, let's move on to rushing. Broken tackles, run blocking and fumbles. I really saw quite a few drastic changes when playing with the run blocking sliders. I think the slider guys will have fun with this one. Pass defense has reaction time, interceptions and pass rushing. The reaction-time slider is an interesting one, as it adjusts AI reaction time in pass coverage -- still playing around with this one, as I have had some mixed results when tweaking it. Rush defense has reaction time, block shedding and tackling sliders. I was seeing the same mixed results when playing with the reaction time here as well.
The special teams options have not changed. The field goal/punt power and accuracy sliders are still here, as well as kickoff power. AI field-goal kickers have not been automatic this year, which is nice because I haven't even touched that slider.
When it comes to visual options, you can turn the presnap menu on/off and show player names on/off. There is also a banners option, where you can select show all, moderate or minimal.
There are 27 items you can purchase in the Madden shop, but I am not going to go into detail about these right now.
On the Field
Now that we have that out of the way, I can start talking about some of the things I've noticed about the game over the past two weeks.
The game has very nice graphics. There is only an occasional hiccup in the frame-rate department, but I haven't noticed any of those hiccups during actual gameplay. Unfortunately, I haven't seen any progressive lighting in the game, something that was done very well in NCAA Football 10. The way the players move, especially the captured animations of almost every starting quarterback and kicker in the game, has to be seen to be believed.
The way players fight for extra yards by spinning, churning the legs, diving for a extra few after losing their balance, and so on is very impressive. Players also slide in inclement weather. When quarterbacks get hit while throwing the ball this year, you will notice that this mechanic has been significantly improved -- in previous generations the QB tended to just tuck the ball and take the sack at the last second. Now you will see dead quails and all that good stuff when getting hit.
Breaking out of tackles, including a few Pro-Tak tackles, looked incredible, and so did the mid-air collisions. Batted balls are in the game, but it would be good to see some deflections at the line, much like in NCAA Football 10. After all, batted balls are cool and all, but the ones that get deflected high into the air and float up there for what seems like forever, are an exciting part of football. Maybe that type of situation is in the game, but I haven't seen it yet. I have seen it quite a few times in NCAA.
Nevertheless, everything looks good graphically, and that makes it well worth going into instant replay mode to relive some of your experiences. Speaking of instant replay, though, there seems to be an issue replaying touchdowns in this build, as most get cut off as soon as the ball breaks the the goal line. I think it's annoying, but maybe it won't bother some of you. It doesn't happen all the time, but I'd say most of the time it does.
There are a few animations I could live without. I'm speaking mainly about the DB/WR animation where it looks like the DB has turned into a human backpack. During this situation both players jump for a ball and then fall back to the turf and land flat footed -- it just looks awkward. Another iffy animation occurs when a player getting tackled carries the ball like a loaf of bread, which just looks out of place. Speaking of out of place, I'm still seeing some sliding, where players sort of slide into a certain spot instead of actually moving there.
The game has finally introduced some much needed atmosphere and some great cut scenes. You will see plenty of these cut scenes, including just to name a few, referees having quick meetings to discuss whether or not the ball crossed the goal line or whether or not a receiver kept both feet in while making a catch in the back of the end zone.
You will also see coaches getting mad on the sidelines at players and refs; quarterbacks getting an encouraging pat from a teammate after a bad play; quarterbacks and teammates explaining what happened or what should have happened on a given play; quarterbacks talking on the phone before heading out on the field (the QB's faces are pretty decent here, until they open their mouths); coaches throwing the red replay flag for challenges; the chain gang coming out for a measurement (but I wish I could skip this cut scene sometimes); fans leaving early when their team is losing; and players celebrating after a big play.
Speaking of celebrating, there are a few cut scenes where a player will celebrate or teammates will celebrate with him, only he's not the player that actually scored. That seems odd to me. Another oddity occurs at halftime or when the referee is calling the penalty, as you will sometimes see players walking right through the zebra.
Injury cut scenes are available as well. Some of these include doctors and players looking on, and players limping off the field (haven't seen a stretcher yet or an ambulance running over anyone). Speaking of injured players, the commentating team will, on occasion, say the player won't be coming back this game, only to see him on the very next series.
Commentary in general isn't too bad. The commentators will say certain stats a player has gotten to during a franchise, for example. Collinsworth also talks about some interesting team-specific things during certain periods of the game. There are also still some weird commentary anomalies. The weirdest one that I've heard a few times relates to the punting game. The duo will say the kicking team did not get a good bounce on a punt, only the punt will be pinned at the 1-yard line. That issue aside, crowd noise might be the best in the series, especially in a surround-sound environment.
One thing that really annoys me is the way the CPU handles the extra points and field goals. You cannot set up for them. By the time you see the team line up, they are kicking the ball. You have no time to adjust and attempt to block the kick.
Another thing that stands out to me is the stat overlays. After virtually every single play, there is a stat overlay. If an offensive player is involved in a big play, stats of that player will be shown. If it's a defensive play, stats of that player are shown. During franchise mode some of the stat overlays will show where you rank in total offense, passing, and so on. It's a very welcome addition.
At the team select screen, you can choose various combos of pants, helmets and jerseys, so there shouldn’t be any complaints here. Teams also play like their real-life counterparts. The Patriots and Colts are pass happy, while the Viking and Chiefs like to run the ball -- and they will stick with that game plan even if things aren't going well. Of course late in the game, running teams will have to adjust their playbooks if they are down.
If the AI is up big and has the ball with under two minutes remaining, I have on occasion witnessed it still airing it out. But let's not get too excited about this because I've only seen it on occasion. One other thing that annoys me happens near the end of the game: The game displays the player of the game before the final whistle. The problem is that there have been countless times where I have made a comeback to win a game after the player of the game graphic was already displayed. So they should probably just display it after the game is over.
I need to talk about the actual gameplay. On offense it really does feel different when walking out on the field against a defense. It seems like almost every game there is a new wrinkle, especially with divisional opponents. I'm not sure if the developers programmed it that way or not, but I'm telling you it seems to be there. Playing the Eagles on the road was no picnic -- never have I been so dominated by the AI in any football game, ever. The Eagles were blitzing me from all sorts of angles, and I never knew where they were coming from next.
But while the AI had no issues getting pressure on me, I could not get much pressure on the opposing QB (this is where the slider guys can work their magic). I have tried a few slider settings, but haven't played around with them as much as I'd like to. For the record, I have not recorded a sack while using a defensive lineman. When blitzing with a linebacker, I have had more luck, but it still seems to be very hard to do. If I'm using DeMarcus Ware, I expect to get a little pressure with him, but I have yet to do so. I can understand this when controlling a regular player, but superstars should be more effective. Again, I haven't played too much with the sliders here, so upcoming articles will tell the story.
But at least the AI lets me set up my defense before making the snap -- I usually have five to seven seconds to adjust before the AI snaps the ball. I have not seen any super-human linebackers or unrealistic swats by the defensive backs either.
Also on defense, you can spotlight an offensive player to draw more attention to him. You can use the defensive lockdown feature and make sure your best defender covers the opposing team’s best receiver.
Pro-Tak really isn't a gimmick, it makes Madden feel like football. No longer do I see players just standing around when a player is getting tackled right in front of them. It's real football, and I'm so happy something like this was implemented. I also think it will help in other departments of gameplay next year. There are still times, however, when momentum and physics take a backseat, but the game has still come a long way. In case you are wondering, the most players I have seen interacting with each other during a Pro-Tak sequence is six.
When running with the horses like Jacobs and Barber, it is simply put, amazing. Going inside the tackles and bruising the linebackers and safeties just feels great, because of the way the game shows off the sheer power of these guys. But then you have the quick and shifty "All Day" which is a totally different animal that the defense has to deal with on a play-by-play basis. Finding the holes and getting skinny just feels right, along with the great Pro-Tak animations and breaking out of tackles.
The Wildcat is fun with Miami, but for most other teams it’s something you may run on occasion. One cool thing I've seen is that the refs will blow the play dead if a player doesn't go down while players are forcing him backwards. QB sneaks have also been tweaked. So instead of an automatic first down, you can actually get stuffed.
All in all, Madden NFL 10 has brought the fun back to the running game.
Does the AI throw the ball deep? Thankfully, yes it does. On more than a few occasions, I've seen the AI throw deep, and most of the time it's because I'm locked into man to man with no safety over the top. When I'm passing the ball, I'm seeing the defensive backs jamming the wide receivers, which causes them to get off of their routes, and leads me to go to my next read(s). I like that element because it forces you to really scan the field, making decisions before the pressure is on top of you. But on the other hand, sometimes it feels as though it is too easy to bump the receivers off their routes.
Screen passes are sort of hit or miss. I've had a few where the play actually developed like it should, then others where linemen seemed to be lost and the running back seemed to forget the play. On the plus side, I like being able to loft a pass over a linebacker and under the safety.
I have yet to run back a punt return for six, but I've had a few kickoff returns go the distance.
As a final note, I'm currently involved in an online franchise with a few developers and other sites. I'm currently 4-1 and have yet to see any glaring issues. The stats are fairly basic -- no QB rating being one thing that I've noticed is missing. I haven't tried any trading or any out of the ordinary things -- just trying to get my game in for the day. It seems like the developers are advancing the franchise to the next week at the start of each new day, so I'll get more information on this mode as we progress further into the season.
The bottom line is that this game has improved drastically in one year, and I haven't been this excited about Madden in a very long time -- I'm sure many of you feel the same way.
The next article will cover franchise mode, so check it out a little later this week, along with maybe a few other things.