Madden NFL 09

We Go "In The Game" With Madden NFL '09

If you're a real Madden fan, you didn't wait to see what ANYONE had to say about it.
Author: Ian Scheuring
Published: August 22, 2008
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Christmas for sports gamers just happens to occur in the middle of August every year; sure-as-you're-born, the newest installment of the Madden NFL franchise was released to rabid fans waiting in Midnight lines at Wal-Mart and GameStop stores across the country on the August 12th, 2009. After 20 years (Yes. TWENTY.) on the shelves, the Madden NFL games have become a mainstay and best seller on just about every console and handheld device on the market, and for good reason. Without a doubt the most influential sport-simulation title to ever hit a video screen, the folks over at EA Sports have crafted and molded the Madden NFL franchise into the powerhouse that it is today by creating a second-to-none football experience, deliverable to millions of fans who will never be able step foot on the playing field of an NFL stadium and putting them, as EA Sports so puts it, "In The Game." So how close does the '09 installment come to recreating the real thing? Let's tackle this baby and take a closer look.

As soon as the game is started for the first time, a digital John Madden explains the holographic "Madden IQ" test, a series of offensive and defensive mini-games intended to accurately test your skill level. This is the basis of EA's claim that Madden '09 is the "First sports game that adapts to you," since how well you perform in this Virtual Training Center directly corresponds to a player's difficulty level. Instead of merely selecting a choice somewhere between "Rookie" and "All-Madden," a personalized level will be developed.

Say, for example, that your offensive running game is superb, but passing against the defense is rather difficult; your "My Skill" level will have you playing against a tougher defensive AI on running plays than on passing downs. You can also return to the Virtual Training Center after the IQ process is done to hone your skills with helpful on-screen tips, but you're probably better off getting better while playing an actual game than against a VR blocking dummy.

Madden fans who buy the title for no other reason than to play football will be impressed by the improved gameplay and animations. Though there is still plenty of work to be done before games realistically bridge the gap between reality and the digital realm, Madden NFL '09 continues to step forward in the right direction. As already stated, both character models and movement animations have been vastly improved. It no longer feels like every controllable player is as big, muscular and clunky as Jonathan Ogden, and skill players in particular (WR, HB, TE, LB, CB, S) look and handle leaner and faster. Most facets of the game—tackling, running, receiving, etc.—feel more fluid and actually more consistent with the actual speed of the game.

A few minor bugs are still present; there was a scenario where two defenders chasing down a ball-carrier from behind somehow managed to create a hit-stick knockdown that sent the runner backwards, and you will still inevitably switch to the wrong player while going for an interception or for the ball carrier. The right analog stick (read: Highlight Stick) has become evasion central, and moving the stick in any direction prior to getting hit, especially while controlling the quarterback, makes it much more difficult for a defender to bring you down on the first hit. More focus has also been put on actual game occurrences, like the ability to lateral the ball while returning interceptions (the only time we ever tried doing it, but we imagine it works in other scenarios) and being able to return missed field goals. Overall, football gameplay has definitely undergone some significant upgrades, but some work is still left to be done, especially with the oft-buggy physics engine.

The in-game presentation has seen a definite, noticeable improvement. The color commentary provided by newcomer Cris Collinsworth is outstanding, more than enough to make up for his far less interesting play-by-play partner Tom Hammond. In addition to his commentary, Collinsworth occasionally (and randomly, though it would have been a nice addition to have been able to request it yourself) breaks down a play-gone-wrong, highlighting, for example, the coverage the defense was in and the receiver who should have been thrown the ball based on the defensive formation. Having seen how a broken play should have correctly been executed, players can use the new "Rewind" feature to go back and try it again, though this do-over option (by game default, it can be changed before starting a game) is only available once every game. These features apparently aim to make the game easier to learn for series newcomers, but the curve is still steep enough that a few hours of gameplay will be required before you're good enough to hold your own against tougher opponents.
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