Madden NFL 10 Review (Xbox 360)
Madden NFL 10 is finally here. I have to admit that the juices started to flow as soon as I heard John Madden say for the first time, "The time to make history starts right now." The intro, which features the cover athletes Larry Fitzgerald and Troy Polamalu, might be one of the best Madden intros ever, and it doesn't stop there as Madden puts it, "I have a feeling, this one is going to be special." Could he be right? Read on to find out.
Drastically Improved Presentation
It's quite obvious that the Madden team wanted to bring some much needed presentation to the game. Just before the game, you are greeted with unique pregame cut scenes from the home team’s stadium. From there you have a wide array of cut scenes, ranging from the two starting quarterbacks tossing the ball around -- with stats scrolling underneath each QB -- to wide receivers and corners practicing proper techniques. Another nice touch is that during the coin toss some players like McNabb will have their doo rags on, and then some other players will have their helmets halfway on their head.
These types of details carry-over to the on-field action as as well. You will see players celebrating after touchdowns, coaches screaming at the refs or players, quarterbacks getting an encouraging pat after a bad play, referees getting together on close plays at the goal line or back of the end zone, players on exercise bikes, kickers warming up before a game-winning attempt, and how can we forget, the chain gang. The "little things" like kickoff weekend, the playoffs and Super Bowl field markings, players breathing hard when they are tired and players pounding their fists into the turf after an "almost" play are also welcome additions.
Madden 10 is the best football game of this generation.
The surround sound is also incredible; I just wish there were more team-specific chants and sounds from the various stadiums. Speaking of stadiums, the graphics for the individual stadiums are quite breathtaking.
There are a few camera views to choose from, including wide, zoomed and standard, but the team is also working on a broadcast camera that we will hopefully see via a downloadable patch in the near future. Progressive lighting didn't make the cut this year and replays do not occur very often at all, which are both unfortunate missteps because the game is beautiful. When going into replay mode, you also miss quite a bit of the beginning of the play. This means that when you start the replay, you are already halfway through it.
"Fight for the fumble" is fun the first few times, but after that, it's time to turn that feature off, forever. Being able to modify game speed is another new addition to the game. I must say that "slow" is the best game speed, and it's unfortunate that we cannot use that setting in an online franchise -- I'm hearing that could change in the future.
The first thing that you will probably notice when playing the game is that teams play like their real-life counterparts. The running teams will try to run it down your throat, and the passing teams will keep your defensive backs gasping for air. It's just great to see running teams like the Vikings and Panthers, running the ball and actually sticking to that game plan. And watching Brady or Manning shred my defense is also a thing of beauty.
Just to give a small sample of some gameplay, I was playing as the Cowboys at Carolina. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart were gashing me, so I had to bring eight men into the box. I had Terence Newman on Steve Smith, so I wasn't really worried about that side of the ball. However, since Jake Delhomme has a 75 rating for both play-action and the deep ball, Newman bit on the Delhomme fake, and Smith was a good seven yards by Newman before he picked up on it. Delhomme placed the pass perfectly into Smith's arms for a 47-yard touchdown.
After that I wanted to try playing against the Patriots with the Raiders, because I wanted to see if Tom Brady would test Nnamdi Asomugha. Well, by the time the first half was over, Brady had not attempted a single pass to Asomugha's side of the field. But in the third quarter, it happened: Brady to Moss on a fade route -- Asomugha batted the ball away as Moss tried to bring the ball in.
The very next play Brady thought he saw an opening on a deep-post route -- 65 yards later Asomugha had scored a touchdown, and Brady would not look his way again for the rest of the game. You see, Asomugha has a 99 rating in man coverage, so you just don't toy with him. This proves the point that ratings matter, especially the stamina/fatigue ratings. Players fatigue at a realistic rate, and if you're not satisfied, there is also a slider for it.
Playing in the Wildcat has never been more fun.
Let me say again that ratings actually make a difference this year. You will see the real superstars shine for the most part. You can easily see the differences between elite players and the average players, but you can also tell the difference between various elite players. What I mean is that you can tell the difference between the quick and shifty Adrian Peterson and the bruising style of Brandon Jacobs.
With the quick juke making its return, it has been an absolute blast to use the quick running backs, and dragging defenders with the bigger backs is equally as fun. I've seen Marion Barber run through a defensive back, then basically carry another on his back like a backpack for five yards, all before losing his balance while gaining another five yards.
Running plays out of the shotgun formation are also finally workable this year -- in the past they just never seemed to work right. The artificial intelligence (AI) running game needs a little work, but it's nothing sliders cannot handle. Sliders work very well, by the way.
When the AI blitzes, running backs are often open in the flats, but it's a check-down option, so I can't complain too much about it. The fullback dive isn't an automatic first down this year and neither is the quarterback sneak (praise be to the heavens).
Wide receivers stumble when getting jammed, and they also slip in the inclement weather. Beyond that, the superstar wideouts will make big plays. Larry Fitzgerald has come down with some of the most improbable catches I've ever seen in the game, which is realistic because he seems to pull them down all the time in real life. There are some great receiver animations, like diving catches, players reaching out as far as they can with one hand for a ball before losing their balance and falling, and receivers stumbling after getting jammed at the line.
There are also a few negative things that I need to mention about the receiving portion of the game. The first being, no sideline catches. I'm just not seeing receivers trying to get two feet down before going out of bounds. And speaking of out of bounds, there are some occasions where the AI will run out of bounds for no apparent reason. The only other thing that bothers me is the over-the-shoulder catch, which seems to be an animation that happens a little too often.
Just about every quarterback has his own throwing animation, which really brings out the realism in the game. A lot of them are unbelievably well done, too. Since I'm a Cowboys fan, I am simply amazed when I go into replay mode and watch Romo -- it's just uncanny how good his throwing animation looks. Quarterbacks don't just have a standard pass rating either. Instead the ratings are spread out in separate categories for short, medium and deep passes. There are ratings for throwing on the run and play-action as well. So while you may be connecting on the deep ball with Brees, as soon as he gets hurt and Mark Brunell comes into the game, it's time to change your strategy. Ratings matter this year. Have I stressed that enough yet?
Yes, pockets actually form this year, and while they do, you better find that open passing lane, otherwise your pass is going to get batted down at the line of scrimmage. If you don't get rid of the ball fast enough, you will throw a wounded duck while praying it does not get picked off. I would actually like to see more balls that go flat or into the dirt -- maybe an intentional grounding call on occasion -- rather than seeing too many floaters, which are actually dropped more often than they are picked off. Of course, if you are good on the sticks, then you can utilize the right stick to step away from the pressure when you feel the controller vibrating.
Lead passing is great. I've thrown so many nice balls over the linebacker and under the safety, and I have also simply thrown the ball low and outside so only my guy could get it. Another interesting passing touch is that while playing in the inclement weather, you will see a passing icon disappear over a receiver if he slips, and then reappear when he is back on his feet. You will also see quarterbacks slip, and during this situation you can't throw until you are upright again. Unfortunately, I'm still seeing the AI throw into double coverage on occasion, rather than simply taking a sack.
While ratings do matter for the key positions, the battles in the trenches still seem a bit rough around the edges. If I have a highly rated offensive lineman, I expect him to do a much better job all around. I'm seeing linemen completely whiff on blocks or completely blow assignments. And while this doesn't happen all of the time, I am noticing it. This can be seen on screen passes as well. Basically it's just not as fluid or consistent as I would expect it to be.
Pro-Tak is simply amazing.
But enough about the offense, let's talk about the defense, and more specifically, Pro-Tak. Seriously, Pro-Tak is amazing. While you will see the occasional head-scratching Pro-Tak animation where momentum isn't quite calculated correctly, I really think Pro-Tak is a great addition to the game. Not only can you try to run your way out of a swarm of tacklers, your teammates can also get in on the act and try to push the pile forward a little bit.
So instead of players just standing there watching a tackle in front of them, they will now join in on the tackle. It creates a real sense of football, and it's not like it happens all of the time either. It happens when you expect it to happen. Defensive players, for the most part, don't have eyes in the back of their heads, which means that when a ball is floated over their head and they are not looking in that direction, they will not magically swat the ball down or super jump for the interception.
Defensive stars like Shawne Merriman and Jared Allen have their own patented celebrations in the game, which is a nice touch. I'm also noticing that it is a bit tougher this year to speed rush around the tackle. So even with DeMarcus Ware, I can barely sniff the quarterback. However, if I bring a blitz, I can get consistent pressure on the QB. Interestingly enough, when playing with the Giants, Osi Umenyiora was a man-child so I didn't have to blitz.
On the negative side of things, I still see defensive players get that occasional speed burst to intercept balls. It doesn't happen as frequently as it would in Madden 09, but it's still there. The CPU also tends to blitz a lot, so check-downs to the running backs in the flats tend to be a little too easy to complete. I'm also seeing too many shoe-string tackles -- I would much rather see more wrap-up tackles. Lastly, on occasion I'm seeing some bad AI pursuit angles, though, I'm thinking the slider gurus will find a quick fix for that issue.
The litte details present in Madden are numerous, which is a welcome addition.
Other Odds and Ends
Next, I want to talk about penalties. While the sliders for the offense and defense seem to work quite well, the penalty sliders do not. I've maxed-out the penalty sliders, and I'm still not seeing many calls. Really, the only calls I ever see are holding (usually on field goals), facemask and clipping. It is cool to see the penalties in real-time though. If you replay a penalty, you will actually see the clip, hold or facemask occur.
You will also see players react to what they think is a blown call. So if a player thinks a pass interference or facemask should have been called, the player will look around for a flag.
I simply loved seeing the return of the late hit out of bounds penalty. Another cool penalty is when the quarterback gets called for throwing the ball after he crosses the line of scrimmage. At one point I also witnessed the AI actually getting called for a delay of game penalty.
Beyond the penalties, I'm also enjoying the fact that the refs will blow a play dead when a player's forward progress has been halted, and instead he's getting Pro-Tak'd backwards. Referees can also be seen dodging or ducking balls thrown in their direction. I've yet to hit a referee with a ball, but I have run a few over.
Tom Hammond, the play-by-play commentator, is in a word, pitiful. He has no emotion, and he is often wrong when talking about a play. For example, everyone knows that injuries are a big part of the game. So when I'm being told my starting quarterback won't be coming back to the game, only to see him back on the field three plays later, it makes me shake my head. He'll mention there was no gain on a play, but I gained four yards. He'll mention the punt took a bad bounce, but it's sitting on the 1-yard line. I suppose the saving grace is that Cris Collinsworth does have some interesting things to say, but Tom Hammond is still dreadful either way.
Rather than rewrite the entire franchise portion of this review, which includes details on The Extra Point as well as online franchise, I will just provide this link to my thoughts on those topics. We'll also post a few articles that talk about the online franchise portion of the game at a later date, because we feel this mode could be very impressive.
Beyond my original thoughts about franchise mode (provided via the link), the halftime show does seem to be a little too brief -- you have to be a speed reader to see all the scores from around the league as they flash across the screen at halftime. At the end of the game, the highlight package is usually pretty good, showing off the key plays of the game.
During my franchise, I noticed that running backs don't get enough touchdowns, and outside linebackers who regularly play in a 3-4 formation don't get many sacks at all. Ware, James Harrison and Merriman were not even in the top 10 in the sacks category. But other than those stats, I feel the simulation stats were very good. A nice statistical touch is that if you break a record during your franchise, the announcing team will be sure to mention it.
Seriously, if you are an NFL fan, get Madden.
Madden NFL 10 has taken a huge step in the right direction this year. All the complaints I have about the game are fairly minor -- there isn't a huge glaring issue that I have come across yet. Every game feels different, nothing feels scripted, and you won't be bored by halftime. Last year, the more I played the game, the more I hated it. This year it is the complete opposite.
Madden 10 is easily the best Madden game in the series. No it's not perfect, but it will definitely keep me busy during the football season, and it's been a while since I've been able to say that. In addition, Madden 10 not only plays a great game, you also have to use your head as well. The CPU will make you pay for mistakes, so you have to think in this game, especially when you are playing another human.
The slower game speed is also a very welcome addition -- hopefully it can be implemented into the online franchise mode. Attacking zones or mismatches in man-to-man coverage has also never been more fun, especially now that ratings actually matter.
After listening to the community, Madden NFL 10 has returned this year with a vengeance and has crowned itself, at least in my eyes, as the king of football. The Madden team has shown us what can be done in one year, so I look forward to what they improve upon in Madden NFL 11.
On the Field: Without a doubt, the best next-gen football experience you can get.
Graphics: There are amazingly detailed stadiums and player animations in this game. However, some animations just don't look right at all. Player sizes and likenesses are very well done.
Presentation: There are cut scenes galore, which is a huge step up from the boring Madden titles of the past. The new franchise hub is much easier to navigate.
Entertainment Value: The more I play the game, the more "little things" I notice. I can look past the little issues because the game is flat-out solid.
Learning Curve: If you are a Madden veteran, it won't take long -- especially on the recommended "slow" speed setting.
Online: There is no lag, and online franchise could be what we have all been waiting for.
Score: 9.0 (Exceptional)