Madden NFL 10 Xbox 360, PS3 Review

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Every October, Football game fever sweeps across the United Kingdom. It is traditionally the month where the world’s leading titles in the genre, FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer, are unleashed on the market, selling millions in the weeks before and after Christmas. Much fuss is made over whether they’re going to put the overpaid neanderthal or the rule-bending foreigner on the box art and such trivialities because, being the most popular sport in the UK, these games are big deals.

Over in America, with their own brand of Football being the national sport, the release of a new Madden game is met with the same kind of media buzz. It is an absolutely huge release, with other titles scampering for cover when it drops in August of every year. Yet, over here, the release comes and goes with little more than a whimper. Most of us Europeans may scoff at the thought of enjoying Madden NFL 10, but American Football is a sport perfectly suited to the video game medium. Every play is a combination equal parts strategy and aggressive execution, with the best players knowing when to improvise for the best results. Capturing this has been something EA have been doing for TWENTY ONE years now, and this edition may be their best yet.

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As expected, Madden NFL 10 contains a few gameplay updates – most of which have horrid, gimmicky names – each building upon the foundation that has been in place for a while now. Improved AI, better animation and interaction between players, as well as the fresh lick of paint the visuals have recieved all mean that everything is a lot slicker and smoother now, creating a much more believable simulation of the sport. The pace has been slowed down considerably, making every play a more cerebral, more realistic process. The PRO-TAK (TM) system allows players to interact with each other more realistically during tackles and other close-quarters situations, so for the first time you can have multiple players tackling the same player. It sounds simple, but adds a lot to the realism. Little touches such as players following the ball as it travels, right down to where their EYES are looking is an insane level of detail, but one that is fairly inconsistent throughout the game.

So, you’ve now got the “chain-gang” running on with their primitive “10 yard of chain between two bollards” method of measuring those close plays, fighter jets flying over the stadium and the national anthem being played before the Superbowl – all minor things but ones that contibute to the autheticity – but then you’ve got glaring oversights, such as players walking through advertisment boards during celebrations, rubbish, repetitive commentary and the pointless new FIGHT FOR THE FUMBLE (TM) feature, where you have to bash buttons in a quicktime event to reclaim the ball during a pile-up situation. It doesn’t happen too often, but mercifully, it can be disabled in the options.

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For those of you who aren’t so au fait with the rules of American Football, there is an excellent set of minigames that are secretly teaching you what to look out for and how to improve your skills, while more experienced players will get a kick out of trying to beat their best scores. For instance, one of these involves you having to to avoid constantly spawning opposition players and score a touchdown, using the two players on your side to block their oncoming tackles – something that, with practice, will become second nature during the main game. This mode is all presented in a Tron-esque style, highlighting what you should be looking out for clearly.

There is also a whole bunch of minor changes to some of the already existing modes, with Franchise and Superstar mode being streamlined, more character creation options and the inclusion of online co-op play.

Possibly the most important new addition, but one that is semi-reliant on finding another dedicated group of players, is the up to 32 players online Franchise Mode. You can stage your own live drafts, run a messageboard and arrange fixtures in-game, through the Madden NFL 10 website and, brilliantly, through an iPhone application. As far as creating online communities go, this is a big, big step in the right direction and one that pretty much every developer should borrow something from in the future. Imagine your favourite online game allowed you to do all of these things, and let you access these things from not only your console, but ANY PC and hell, even your mobile phone? Electronic Arts are well and truly onto something with this.

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The biggest issue I have with Madden NFL 10 is actually nothing to do with any of the ones I have mentioned so far. During the various modes, you ALWAYS have an option in the menu screens to buy – with actual money/Microsoft points – stat boosts for your player/team, or to heal an injured player before a big game, amongst other things. Now, paying for unlocks is something that EA have done before, but these are one shot, one use items that cost real money. It is hardly something you can use to criticise the game for, but it is sad that it has got to this point. Imagine the scandal if these did really well, and more games started using them. Then, a game was made intentionally borderline impossible unless you ponied up the cash to make it a bit easier. Just sayin’. Perhaps time spent on creating these awful moneyspinners could’ve been used to fix the few issues mentioned?

Despite the issues Madden NFL 10 has, the bottom line is the gameplay is as tight as it has ever been, with the new tweaks adding to an already accurate American Football experience. A few niggles here and there prevent this from being an essential crossover sports title, so for now, Madden NFL 10 will satisfy the current fanbase rather than appeal to a new one.

They will, however, be very satisfied indeed.

8/10

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Version tested: Xbox 360, PS3

Developer: EA Tiburon

Publisher: Electronic Arts

Genre: Sports

Players: 1-4