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Madden 09


Describing how split the Madden fan base has been since its arrival on next-gen consoles isnít an easy task. Every year a newly polished model has to be rushed to hit the shelves and features some canít live without end up missing. Depending on your skill level the game can be too easy to a flaw or too difficult to be any fun. The graphics have been better than the old-gen counterparts but theyíre not exactly what we had been promised. The only constant about the Madden franchise or any football game in general, is the fact that every gamer has different expectations and different things about the game that could make or break it for them. Has any Madden ever truly been perfect? I donít even have to dignify that with an answer. The question we all want an answer to is if Madden is finally good enough to be enjoyed without some sort of constant frustration.

If you want the straight shot here it is. Madden 09 is the best iteration Iíve seen in years. It tries very hard to pull in some of the gamers who have been frustrated by the games difficulty in the past, but thatís not to say the game isnít without at least some flaws. Overall I think most of you will be very pleased.

The first and arguably the most important change to the game takes place before you even get a chance to play. To keep players from giving up due to the difficulty, youíll now have to play through a Madden IQ test on a virtual football field thatís slightly reminiscent of Tron. Youíll be tested on defense and offense with both running and passing. The difficulty of the game will be fabricated to suit your personal skill level.

This is a great idea in theory and I hope the Madden franchise continues to implement this feature in future games. Itís going to need a little tweaking in future versions however, as the Madden IQ test is so simple I found myself getting ranked with an All-Pro skill level in most areas. Iím not the best Madden-ite so I was able to determine where Madden IQ was accurate and when it was merely trying to flatter me. You can retake the Madden IQ test anytime you want and the score changes after every game you play. I purposely performed poorly in the areas I knew I was too good at (at least according to Madden IQ) so I could start out nice and easy during pre-season and have an accurate score well before I went into the regular season. My score even continued to increase as I played through the regular season so it actually added to the realism. The more I played the better I improved over the season. This system is far from perfect but itís a great start to rebuilding that wonderful relationship weíve had with Madden in the past.

Once youíre actually at the main menu screen youíll see that itís not significantly different from that of Madden Ď08. Youíll have trophy areas and the EA Sports Ticker at the bottom of the screen and the same style of menu to flip through. The feature to choose your favorite team so itís somehow implemented in the main menu background is still here as well. Going through the menu youíll find some welcome additions such as the ability to resume your franchise without having to go to a load screen. Itís about time some of the tedious tasks of loading everything before playing got simplified.

Unfortunately thereís still not a way to get a roster update without trying to join a multiplayer game. Something as important as roster updates should be easy to access and implement. I donít understand why this keeps getting overlooked year after year, especially when weíre seeing attempts at simplifying some of the menu.


Gameplay

Chris Collinsworth lends his voice to commentating to help break up the monotony of the EA Sports announcer. Itís very refreshing to have some fresh audio thatís not a newly scripted familiar or even John Madden himself. Itís not just the new life of a new voice thatís exhilarating either. Chris Collinsworth also throws down pointers to gamers in a new feature thatís sort of like an instant replay that picks out your boneheaded mistakes.

Say you get rushed back behind the line and throw to a covered receiver because youíre out of time and panicking. Youíll hear Collinsworth in a replay tell you exactly what you did wrong and why while showing the footage of your mistake. The footage will replay again to point out in green which receiver was open. Itís another great feature that works well enough to fill inexperienced players in on what they need to look out for. Kudos goes to EA once again for trying to close the difficulty gap.

Like the Madden IQ feature thereís room for improvement here as well. There are many times Iíve thrown the most shameful passes of my virtual career yet no replay comes up. I understand this feature would get old quick if you were to see it after every butchered throw and I acknowledge this feature as a positive addition to the game, a very positive one in fact. Perhaps next year it wouldnít be a bad idea if we were able to customize the frequency in which this pops up? It would be nice if there was some optimization for the next edition that lets us choose how much we see this during a game.

Something that was bothersome in the past was if you wanted to see your routes before the snap you would have to reveal them to your opponent. This year you can bluff before the snap and show a few different kinds of plays on the field itself to confuse anyone thatís paying attention. Another defensive plus is that you can now call audibles without changing your formation.

Smart routes can now be called on the third down. Thereís been nothing more frustrating than making a successful pass in a play thatís rushed by the defensive only to find youíre short of the yardage you need. Iím glad to see EA paying attention to this kind of thing.

The last major thing that tickled my fancy this year was the option to save up to ten highlight plays from any camera angle of my choosing during a game. You can then select from those after the game is over and upload them for others to see. Anytime I make an insane run or a touchdown I find myself playing with this a lot. To keep my own personal highlight reel is a small touch that truly enhances the experience overall.

So those are some of the better additions to speak of. Whatís turning out to be extremely controversial though is the new ability to be able to literally rewind a play you screw up. Mess up and throw an interception? No problem, just use the rewind feature and youíll watch the play reverse like a video tape so you can try again! Admittedly Iím not the best Madden player in the world but I can certainly see both sides of the controversy here.

Thereís a lot EA Sports has done to try and level the playing field for newcomers and veterans alike. Do we really need a feature built in thatís going to make you feel like youíre cheating? On the other hand if you donít care for it then you donít have to use it! Itís not a feature that affects your overall gameplay if you donít want it to though. Depending on your difficulty level of choice you can opt to have this feature available multiple times in a game to use, once, or not at all.

The only problem with leaving this feature on is that itís very tempting to use and even some of the die-hards may find themselves using it once in a while. An even bigger problem is that you can use it while playing against a friend. This is something that should be disabled in the future. The CPU has a tendency once in a while to pull miracles out of its chips in order to give you a perceived challenge. That would be an understandable time to use it, but not against real people. I donít care how close I am to my friend. If he acts sore and rewinds a touchdown I made, Iím going to punch him right in the face.

Another thing that sort of cheapens the game a little this year is certain plays that seem to work a majority of the time no matter what happens. If youíre third and short and run a QB sneak then youíll be guaranteed the yardage youíre looking for. Doing this seems almost as unfair as the rewind feature because you know itís a sure thing. Unstoppable plays work against you as well, too. I find it very difficult to try and defend against anything that slants to the middle of the field. If I donít choose just the right play then Iím going to get burned more often than not. Whatís even more frustrating is seeing any number of my players sort of standing around since there was nothing directly for them to cover. Even though that happens on occasion the AI although not perfect, is a lot better this year than itís ever been.


Graphics

Madden looks fantastic. Everything from the grass to the top of the stadium has been done over. Before each game there's a nice animation of every stadium from the outside that shows traffic and even the weather condition you'll be playing in. Thereís more variety in the lighting during a game thatís dependent upon the weather. Thereís a satisfaction in watching water splash under everyoneís feet as they jog across the field. EA Sports has really done it this time.

There was a computer animated Madden commercial a few years ago showing a game being played in the snow. A lot of fans were upset the original next-gen coming didnít look nearly as good as what that commercial originally showed us. It was a pre-rendered CGI commercial and Madden 09 doesnít look that good, but itís certainly the first time I truly felt Madden truly looked like next-gen material.

There are some glitches that are worth mentioning however. Players once in a while still can get caught in an animation. Iíve had a camera focus on the coach until I snapped the ball to begin a play. Once in a while for a brief second Iíve seen the stadium glitch out of existence in the background in between plays. Other than these minor issues the game looks fantastic and thereís no frame hiccups in the middle of a play. Sometimes the animations between plays can lose a frame but itís completely absent from actual gameplay.


Audio

The commentating is crisp, clear, and sounds just like a television broadcast. The crowd in the stadium filled my entire living room and completely engulfed me. The louder you turn it up the better of an experience youíre going to have. The audio department was never something that lacked with the Madden franchise and it certainly doesnít disappoint this year.

Multiplayer

Thereís a multiplayer league thatís finally made an appearance this year. You can start a league with up to 31 people which is a great idea but if you donít have that many people to play along, then youíre going to be stuck with a pretty small league. You would think perhaps you could fill it with the CPU and carry on like you would in a regular franchise, but unfortunately thatís not the case. This just feels like something that was thrown together hastily in order to include the feature just for the sake of it. Iím sure in the following years weíll see a better performance but itís disappointing to see EA including features that arenít truly ready to be implemented. This year the inclusion of this feature sounds good on paper and thatís about it.

Normal online play against a friend seems perfect otherwise. There was no lag to complain about and no glitches that I noticed as unique to online play.


Overall

Madden 09 isnít perfect and letís face it; weíll probably never see a perfect football game. There are too many expectations across the board to satisfy most people. Despite the lack of care that went into the online league and the other features that still need improvement to truly balance the game for newbieís and veterans alike, this is the first iteration of Madden in quite some time that actually felt enjoyable. If you want to gauge where Iíve always stood on Madden, last year I returned the game in less than a month. Iím not the best football player in the world so itís a relief to be able to start up and a game and not be worried that Iím going to get my butt handed to me every single time.

Between the informative replays in-between certain plays and Madden IQ alone, Madden 09 actually shows that EA is beginning to listen to the fans of football gaming. It was a major concern these last few years that the fan base wasnít being heard. This year marks the first time things are truly looking up for the franchise instead of heading to the sewer. If youíve been waiting for a Madden thatís going to be entertaining instead of frustrating, this is your year. I highly recommend the í09 edition!