If you are like me, you’ve been playing Madden for many of the last 24 hours. However, you may be waiting for the weekend or you are in a bad relationship or something and you don’t have Madden yet and you might be wondering whether it is worth spending $65 on yet another Madden reprise. My answer? Not really. For the 5th or 6th year in a row EA has produced a mediocre product with increasinly poor game play. That said, unlike the last two versions, this one actually has stuff that can be described as new. And if you’ve been out of the series for awhile or you are new to the series, this version is definitely for you.
The best part of the new series is that EA has become aware that the game has gotten complicated enough that it is not particularly accessible to the new player. To help this, they have created the Madden Trainer. Long time players will note that the Madden trainer is really just replacing the old minigames, but first time players will likely feel more comfortable with the hand holding and the helpful button pushing suggestions that will allow you to learn to incorporate spins and jukes a little faster into your game. I’ve been playing Madden for at least 15 years, and I found it helped me a little bit with incorporating some of the moves that came late to the party because I had been relying on my old moves. For instance, I hadn’t really incoprated the truck stick into my play because the juke had been around so much longer. It wasn’t that I didn’t use it, but I wasn’t using it very effectively.
Another helpful addition for new players is the Madden Rewind. This is a fabulous new feature. How many times have you had your deep receiver wide open and missed it until right after you tap the button for the 8 yard hitch? Or how many times have you tried to throw to your x receiver and hit the y button by mistake and thrown an INT? Well, the Madden Rewind will allow you to “take back” those mistakes and run the play again. Depending on your settings you can have between 5 and 0 do overs (so for you purists, just turn it off) and this is great for the new player, particularly the casual new player. If you make a mistake in the game, when is the next time you are going to get a chance to practice that very situation? You are likely going to wait a long time and then make the same mistake again. This allows you to iron it out right there and then. But beware, just because the WR was wide open on the last play doesn’t mean he’ll be open the next time. The defense will react like it is an entirely new play.
Another great new feature for newbies is the Madden Backtrack. Backtrack will show you plays where you screwed up like TV commentators do with the telestrator. They’ll run a replay and show you what you did and what you should have done, usually showing you the wide open receiver you missed. While this is a great teaching tool, I found it was actually infuriating after just a few times. Not only does it only show you when you suck (an already rude thing), but it also points out flaws in the game. I was playing a game last night where my TE had an option route. From reading the defense, it was obvious to me, that the TE was going to run a post and be wide open down the middle. Cooley (who would never make the mistake in real life) decided to cut it off into an in route right by the MLB. But of course, silly me, I had read the defense (a cover 2 with the safeties going to the sidelines because I had Moss and Randle El going deep down the sidelines) and knew we had a big play from the post and like the vet I am, I was already pushing the button for the lob throw up the middle for the big gain just as Cooley breaks off his route. INT to the MLB. Worse yet, backtrack is trying to tell me that I “didn’t see the MLB” and should have dumped it off to Portis. Now, I can accept the defensive read issue because a) I know the AI isn’t always perfect and b) it could be simulating Cooley’s lack of “awareness” or something. But knowing I didn’t screw up and then being told by a computer that I did was pretty annoying. Similar things have happened where I have thrown an INT because QB accuracy was a problem and they blamed it on me. One especially annoying long pass was where I threw to a wide open Devin Thomas and the ball missed by a good 15 yards and was lambasted by Chris Collinsworth. I think Collinsworth is the best commentator in the business today, but his voice is especially annoying when he’s telling you that you suck.
One addition that was designed to help the newbie that is just plain terrible is the Madden IQ. Madden IQ is designed to give you a custom difficulty level based on your ability, and it changes as you play games so that it is constantly adjusting to you. This is an especially good thing for when two players of different ability levels play. The settings can be adjusted so they can play against each other. The problem is that the original Madden IQ is based on your ability to perform certain drills. I was ranked All-Madden in both running and passing. The thing is, I have a two year old. I’m not really an All-Madden level player anymore. I’m more of an all-pro level player, but the drills are easier than the game. In fact the rushing drill is ridiculously easy. They put the button you need to beat the defensive player over the head of tackler. Essentially, it becomes a quick game of guitar hero. I really defy any 12 year old not to get a perfect score on this even if they’ve never played Madden. So, I fire up my first game and the defense I’m playing against is all-Madden level. Every time I run, I hit the right hole and get immediately tackled for two yards. I know that really good Madden players know how to do better than that. But I am an above average Madden player at best at this point, and the game thinks I’m great. So the first game out of the box, I threw 4 INTs in 20 minutes. My advice to players that don’t play at All-Madden level–tank the Madden Test. If not, you’ll spend the first few weeks you own the game waiting for your Madden IQ to drop from continually being beaten.
There are other big problems with the game. I think game play is very chunky. Though to be fair, I’m a long time fan of the NCAA series. The noticeable difference between the series is the ratio of player size to field size. NCAA tries to make a wide open game to simulate the stretch offense. Madden feels crowded in comparison and less fun. Running outside seems much more difficult, and short passes rarely lead to YAC. Now, I’m not saying All-Madden players, or maybe even Madden fans that never play NCAA, will necessarily agree with me. But when you go from one to the other, the difference is startling. And I prefer the matchup-based, wide-open game of NCAA. Either way, I definitely know that the controls are much smoother in NCAA. I don’t understand why the two don’t share an engine, but they clearly don’t seem to.
Another flaw is the commentary. I’m happy it is back. I really didn’t like the first next gen versions of the game that only had the PA announcer. But the problem is that the commentary gets repetitive very quickly. By my third game, I was hearing tons of repeat lines. I recognize that this is a very tedious part of the game development. The recording and programming process must be very time intensive. Still, what amazes me is that they have nearly 20 years of recording to draw from. It seems like if you took some of the old accumulated files (to be fair, Madden is not a commentator in this game, but I just don’t see why he isn’t) and added them year after year, you’d have a really big set of options. In any case, kudos to EA for bringing it back, but man, they really don’t do a very good job at it yet.
EA did add a nice touch to the game that is also part of the NCAA series now. As a game is loading between two division rivals, the history of the rivalry shows up on the screen. When the game is loaded, Madden comes on to talk about the stadium, the weather, and what kind of matchup we can expect. The way they do it this time is exciting and definitely makes me ready to play the game. And speaking of rivalrys, when you play one of your three team rivals, the playoffs, or the Super Bowl, the difficulty level goes up a notch. I like this, though it is rather annoying it if it means you go 10-6 and lose twice to the Eagles, Giants, and Cowboys.
As for the Skins themselves, EA has given them a fair amount of respect. We are ranked 89 out of a possible 100 and so are the Giants. I did not see what the Cowboys or Eagles are ranked, but I was amused to see the Cardinals are ranked 88. I expect the first mid-season roster update will change that. At any rate, they definitely upgraded Campbell who was only in the 70’s last year, and he is now very playable. The defense does not yet have Jason Taylor (ranked 98!) on it, and the Madden AI was not as willing to take a 2nd rounder for him as the Dolphins were. Of course, that can be changed by force, and when the special Favre download is available, I’m sure we will get Taylor, too.
Overall, the game is fine. There are improvements. They really made an effort to help the new gamer, but honestly, I popped in ’08 and didn’t see particularly big difference between the two in game play. Most of the changes were in presentation. If you own ’08, I just don’t see much of a reason to own ’09 unless you have friends who will make fun of you or you plan on trying the new online leagues which should rock. If you are new to the franchise and have been thinking of jumping in, this is definitely the year to do it. Jump in the pool, the water is fine.
Anyone out there playing it? What do you think?