Madden NFL 09 Xbox 360, PS3
This year the Madden NFL franchise is celebrating its 20-year anniversary, meaning that the series is no doubt older than a large proportion of its player-base. The popularity of Madden in North America cannot be underestimated. Each year the release date of a new NFL game is treated as a national holiday by thousands of Americans, and every title is guaranteed to sell several million copies.
All of this excitement and fever tends to get overlooked by us Brits. Sure, NFL has its fans in the UK, but the blockbuster Madden franchise doesn’t tend to trouble the top 10 on our sales charts.
So here’s a little disclaimer for you: This review was written by someone who had no prior experience with American Football before playing Madden NFL 09. In fact, the only time I’d seen the sport was in American movies and cartoons, which bear about as much resemblance to reality as the photos of young ladies that advertise sex hotlines.
It must be made clear that playing the Madden NFL game will not teach you how to play American Football. You’ll have to look up the rules and regulations yourself, as trying to play the game without learning these first is like trying to argue with a woman – frustrating, confusing and doomed to failure.
Once you know what a sack is, understand what’s happening when a linebacker clips the quarterback after the snap on the line of scrimmage and get a smile of satisfaction when you block a receiver on 4th and 1 then you’re ready to play Madden.
The first thing you’ll see when powering up Madden NFL 09 is a hideous, aged troll-like creature that turns out to be none other than John Madden himself. The ex-player, ex-coach and current hot-dog-loving commentator informs us that the big innovation to this year’s game is an adaptive difficulty level. He invites you to take the ‘Madden Test’ which supposedly gauges your abilities in different aspects of NFL Football and scales the challenge in these areas accordingly.
What sounds like a fantastic idea in theory, falls flat in practice. Unfortunately the training modes present in the Test do not translate to the skills you’ll need when playing the actual game. The offensive games are stupidly easy tests of pressing the right button when it flashes up on screen, whilst the defensive tests are badly explained and thus unfairly difficult.
Consequently when playing a game with my own personalised skill level, my opponent’s defense was as solid as a gang of Hell’s Angels, but their offense was as weak as a troupe of make-up artists. This resulted in an intensely boring game, in which neither side made any progress. Luckily, standard preset difficulty levels are still present, and other new features work better than this broken attempt.
Rewinds are another new addition to the series, and act as essentially a big ‘UNDO button to retry any failed plays. This is a handy feature for newcomers to NFL, although it may take a while before you know enough to correctly judge when you’ve done well enough not to need a rewind. Even this feature has its flaws though. You can only rewind once on each play, which means you’ll often end up in an even worse position than your first attempt. The rewind button is also the same button to make the quarterback dive into the end-zone, meaning that when hammering this button enthusiastically I actually managed (to my horror) to rewind my very first touchdown.
Flabbergastingly, the rewind option is also present in offline multiplayer games. Some sportsmanship rules need to be mutually agreed here, as rewinding your opponent’s brilliant 40-yard dash and touchdown is likely to get you a controller embedded in your skull.
The other big addition goes hand-in-hand with the mostly excellent commentary. Tom Hammond is slightly robotic in his play-by-play delivery, but Cris Collingsworth provides some very natural, realistic color commentary and analysis. Following an unsuccessful play, Collingsworth may use the new BackTrack system to ‘draw on the screen’, showing you were you went wrong and what your options were. This is another helpful feature for Madden noobs.
Graphically, this game more than holds its own, with detailed and lively stadiums and noticeably different body types for different players. The animation is second to none; players collide in bone-crunchingly genuine ways, tacklers can grab the ball-carrier in any number of places depending on their relative positions, grabs can be shrugged off, players can trip over or fumble for missed catches. This kind of un-scripted movement really shows what this console generation is capable of and heightens the realism factor no end.
The camera also works excellently, always keeping track of the action. Immersive highlights include a Matrix-style 360-degree camera swirl when an interception is made, and a roadie-run action camera that zooms in to follow a quarterback who has a clear run to the end-zone.
As well as the expected Franchise mode, which lets you take your favourite team through a full NFL season, Madden 09 also includes Superstar mode, allowing you to create your own quarterback and attempt to get him signed up by an NFL team. This is a great idea, providing entertaining diversions such as interviews, IQ tests, sprint training and weightlifting.
Unfortunately, this mode falls a little flat when it comes to competing in actual game. Although the quarterback is undoubtedly the most interesting and important player on the field, the fact that you may not even be off the bench the whole game and that you’re scored on the successes and failures of your whole team (something which you don’t have full control over) makes this a tiresome mode to play. You can just decide to simulate the games though, which eases some of the frustration.
The other major mode is called Madden Moments. This re-creates key moments from last years NFL season and tasks you with either reinacting the real-world results or changing history. Obviously, this will be of much more interest to someone who follows NFL, but even so it still puts you in some exciting situations and allows you to practice specific aspects of your game.
Lets face it, if you have more than a passing interest in NFL then you’ll have bought this game already. If you’re interested in learning about a new sport and want to play a professionally developed and presented game, then Madden will certainly provide you with enjoyment and help you to improve your knowledge and skill at American Football.
This is a game that has successfully changed my opinions on American Football, and could do the same for you.