To me there is nothing better than summer beginning to die down, and the smell of fall is in the air. For one thing I absolutely hate hot weather, but this also means that football season is about to begin, and there is nothing more enjoyable than watching the gridiron on Sundays. I have been one of the longtime card-carrying supporters of ESPN NFL 2K5 for quite some time now. When Madden obtained exclusive rights to the NFL license, I was one of the ones that cried foul. It has been five years, and up until this point I had not seen a reason to stop playing my beloved game. Madden NFL 10 has changed that. This year’s iteration is basically a rebirth of the series with improved visuals, tons of new features, and the one thing everyone has been clamoring for since ESPN died: online franchise. Madden NFL 10 is quite possibly the best football game I have played in half a decade, and easily the best of this generation.
The first thing that stands out in this year’s game is the presentation. Gone are the static menus and archaic backend options that plagued previous outings. Everything in Madden 10 looks and feels authentic. During franchise mode you now have a halftime show that recaps games around the league, as well as the highlights from your game. There is also a weekly show called The Extra Point that breaks down the biggest games of the week, as well as previewing the upcoming week. The entire franchise menu has also been redone. It is now incredibly easy to manage everything from your schedule to contract renewal. Note that you can also set the CPU up to handle all the stuff you don’t want to deal with, making getting straight to the action easier than ever before.
The game speed has also been adjusted to better reflect the slower, more methodic pace of professional football. This can be changed in the options menu, but I personally found the new speed just perfect when simulating the feel of the NFL. This is also where a lot of time was spent tweaking one of the biggest areas where Madden had always fallen short for me: gameplay. The series has never played poorly by any means, but there were a lot of things that just didn’t sit well being a huge NFL fan. For instance quarterbacks were like superheroes in previous games. Being able to drop back 15-20 yards and lobbing passes over 60 yards with little effort was just unrealistic. This year things have changed. Setting your feet and finding an open receiver are just as much a part of each play. Play-action passes also only work if you have been successful running the ball. The game just feels so much more fine-tuned this year, delivering the most realistic gridiron experience to date.
There are a couple of additions to the on-field action this year that further enforce this. The first is the Pro-Tak system. This allows multiple players to engage in tackling animations, much like in the real game. I also noticed that larger backs such as Larry Johnson could carry the pile for a few extra yards, while smaller ones such as Ladanian Tomlinson would have to rely on juking to get past defenders. The realism has been dialed up a notch, and for that I respect the team at Tiburon that much more, as they could have just as easily copy-and-pasted last year’s game and updated the rosters. Another big change this year is the fight for the fumble mini-game. Whenever a fumble is lost and creates a pile of players, you are prompted to mash buttons in order to come up with the ball. This works surprisingly well, and is balanced well enough for each difficulty. Whenever this happened I found myself engulfed into the action, wanting my team to arise from the bottom of the pile with another shot at offense.
Franchise mode is where I started with the game, and mostly so I could take my Raiders back to the Super Bowl for their fourth win. Madden AI returns this year, and it works well enough, but I had a really tough time finding a nice balance for a challenge. Tuning the sliders to lower the CPU skill seemed to have minimal effect on their game, and upping my skill to All-Pro or higher almost instantly caused the computer to become unstoppable (even the Kansas City Chiefs). It took a while, and granted I am certainly no Madden expert, but I would either dominate the game without a challenge, or simply watch the computer run up and down the field on me at will until I found the correct sliders.
Superstar mode returns as well, and is much like you remember it. The new camera angles and instant action keep it more streamlined than last year, but the optional practice modes in between each game seem useless. It is also only fun to drill through this mode if you pick a skill position such as quarterback or wide receiver. It certainly would not be as much fun to be a punter in the NFL. Franchise remains the place to spend most of your time, and the abundance of options ensures your interest will be held for quite some time. Schedules for 2010 and beyond have been fixed, and Super Bowls down the road will be treated with the correct credentials.
Probably the biggest addition to Madden 10 though comes in the form of a couple online modes that fans have been clamoring for. Online franchise allows you to join or host a league with all 32 teams. You can even manage all your stats via the website, or download an app for the iPhone that helps keep track of it all. You can opt for a fantasy draft, trade with other players, and just about everything else you can do in regular franchise mode, just with real players. This is far and away the most requested feature, and with online updates and integration into just about any device to keep track, this could easily kill some fantasy football productivity this year. The other new online mode is co-op. You can now play on the same team with a buddy over the internet. This works well when you are maneuvering the traditional QB/WR combo, but on defense things become a bit hectic. Still it is a nice addition, and one that has long been overdue.
Now for the part where I tell you the things I didn’t care so much for. For starters the ability for quarterbacks to throw the ball during a sack has created a new problem. It is nigh impossible to save any given QB as he usually manages to lob the ball forward at the last second. Glitches are also a problem, especially with penalties. Changing that setting will cause the game to call far too many holding penalties, especially on defense and special teams. Another big gripe are the visual problems that stem up such as missing textures on cameramen and the elusive disappearing phone that QBs talk on during a possession change. These are minor gripes, but ones that stick out like a sore thumb in a game that does so much, so well.
For the first time since the series debuted on the latest batch of consoles, the engine has been given a facelift that makes it the best looking chapter of the series to date. Players cast shadows upon themselves and each other, uniforms collect dirt as the game progresses, and weather effects actually affect gameplay. The minor details are what really shine, alongside the top-tier presentation. Animations have been completely re-worked, and the return of the chain gang is a definite bonus. The feeling of being there on Sunday is what is important, and when you see an injured player get carted off the field, or the refs conversing about whether you crossed the line for a touchdown really draw you into the experience. Madden NFL 10 is by far the most impressive looking football game ever created.
Sound does not fare quite as well. The soundtrack is actually decent with a healthy dose of solid rock and rap tunes that should suffice for the fanbase of the game, but the commentary really lacks. I know you are going to get repeated lines of dialogue in a videogame, but in the very first game of your season you should never hear the same line twice. Not to mention that Chris Colinsworth accused my quarterback of not being accurate one play, and completely accurate on the next. EA has got to find a better way to stream commentary in this series. The Extra Point shows are also plagued by this as the games are recapped, and dialogue stutters its way across the field. Everything else sounds great; crowd noise, atmosphere and the like, but the commentary is almost painfully tedious at times.
Madden NFL 10 is a fantastic addition to the series, and quite possibly the best football game ever created. If you enjoy the sights and sounds of Sundays then there is little to no reason not to pick up this game. If you have been in denial since the disappearance of ESPN NFL 2K5, this is the year to finally let it go. Madden NFL 10 is exactly what fans have been asking for, and what non-fans have needed to get them on board. If EA Tiburon can continue this trend of excellence, Madden will continue to be the only choice you will ever need.