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Madden NFL 09

 

Madden NFL 09

ESRB: Everyone - E
Platform: Xbox 360
Category: Sports
 
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Author:

Developer – EA Tiburon
Publisher - Electronic Arts

Features:

Players: 1-4
Co-op: 1-4
41 MB to Save Game
HDTV: 720p/1080i/1080p
Custom Soundtracks
Online Multiplayer: 1-2 players
Content Download
Leaderboards

In mid July a few of us GameBoyz staffers had a chance to demo some of EA Sports’ upcoming games at E3 in Los Angeles. One of the first games on our agenda, and one I was looking forward to, was Madden NFL 09. This year is a big year for the franchise as Madden is celebrating its 20th birthday. As such, my expectations were raised when I first gave the game a spin at E3. After the brief demo I was impressed but I certainly reserved judgement until I sat down and actually had a chance to sink my teeth into the game. After a few days and several hours playing the game I have now had a chance to truly wet my appetite. On its own, Madden NFL 09 for the Xbox 360 is simply an impressive game. That being said, after 20 years the franchise has yet to produce the perfect NFL game.

Graphics

Overall, the visuals in Madden NFL 09 for the Xbox 360 are very well done and they are once again a strong point for the franchise. The team at EA Tiburon did a terrific job at re-creating the NFL atmosphere. The game has made some significant graphical leaps this year and the overall presentation is so much better. From the various dynamic camera angles to the end-zone celebrations, Madden NFL 09 is a wonderfully presented game. If anything it leaves you wanting more wishing the ante could have been raised to capture that Sunday NFL magic. For instance, how about a better halftime show? Perhaps even a post-game show. Better yet, how about take advantage of that ESPN licence and do an abbreviated Primetime segment at the end of each week similar to what we saw on the 2K franchise several years ago. The presentation is better this year there is certainly still lots of room for improvement.

The most noticeable graphical enhancement this year is the stadiums and their turf. In terms of the latter, it has received a facelift of sorts, and the result is a playing field unlike we have ever seen before in a video game. The textures are magnificent and the field is incredibly detailed and life-like. Even fringe NFL fans will appreciate the look of the turf in Madden NFL 09. The stadiums also look improved and no longer carry that slightly blurred look. When you first start to play a game you are greeted with a slick looking animation of the outside of the stadium then the camera switches to inside where the player introductions are taking place with some pretty flashy fireworks. It’s a nice little introduction and sets the tempo right off the hop.

Player animations are also significantly improved. According to EA Sports, there are over 80 new player animations and it certainly shows as everything is so much more realistic. The way players get hit, run, tackle and catch the ball, you just never know what you are going to see from one play to the next. It makes the game less predictable and more enjoyable in the end. There is some repetition but for the most part it’s a new experience nearly every single play. I really noticed the difference with the wide receivers who appear to move more fluidly and seem to have different animations when they catch the ball.

Overall the visuals in Madden NFL 09 are superb and I could go on and on about so many areas in the game where the graphics are great. I have yet to mention anything about the awesome lighting and weather effects, Madden NFL 09’s menus, background pictures and themes. You will just have to pick up the game and experience it for yourself. At the very least download the demo and have a look at the graphical enhancements.

An area of concern however is the crowd. Simply put, I was hoping for more here. Don’t get me wrong, the fans look better than ever, however I would have liked to see a little more variety from stadium to stadium. For instance, I would like to see Cleveland fans in bulldog masks or how about those cheese heads at Lambeau Field. And of course there is the Raider Nation. A little more attention paid to the crowd can go along way to further enhance the NFL atmosphere.

As for the gameplay itself, once again it runs quite smoothly and is not hampered by any slow down. That being said, during replays I did notice some occasional hiccups and framerate issues. Not a big deal but rather just a small annoyance. Bottomline, this is the best looking Madden game to date.

Sound

As far as the sound is concerned, Madden NFL 09 is good but at the end of the day it left me a little under whelmed. I will start with the negatives. Maybe I am getting old but I only enjoyed a few songs from the soundtrack. And by saying enjoyed I am being generous. Madden NFL 09’s soundtrack features some good songs but also has a lot of stinkers. I enjoyed the Disturbed and the Busta Rhymes tunes however I could have done without the rest. Perhaps Madden’s younger audience will appreciate the soundtrack, but I for one did not. Maybe it is a sign that I am becoming detached with today’s music. That being said, full credit goes out to EA Sports for going with licensed music once again.

My only other issue with the audio is Cris Collinsworth himself. Before you start sending hate mail, realize this is just my opinion. I’m sorry people, but Cris Collinsworth just grates me. I find he often comes across as pompous and is a bit of a know-it-all. His voice is like nails on a chalk board to me and I really try to avoid him at all costs come NFL Sunday. That being said, Tom Hammond and Cris Collinsworth do a decent job at calling the games and they are arguably the most accurate tandem we have seen in a Madden game to date. I almost fell out of my chair at one point when Cris Collinsworth criticised my team for not making a first down on a critical third down play in overtime. There is a little repetitiveness, however the in-game analysis and play calling is spot on. I just would have preferred a different duo.

Another area of concern is also one of the strengths of Madden NFL 09, and that is the crowd noise. On one hand I like how the home crowd cheers you on much more effectively than other versions of the franchise. However having recently played NCAA 09 where fan noise can really affect the gameplay, I expected more from the fans in Madden NFL 09. I would also like to see some ‘amped-up’ crowd noise when the other team is trying to tie the game up. For example, during big plays in this type of scenario it would be nice if this type of crowd noise factored into some offsides, just like you see at practically every Seattle Seahawks home game.

The sounds of the game are once again quite amazing. Such things as the player’s cleats ripping up the turf to the hard hitting tackles, all pack a punch. This year all the sounds seem richer and the game just comes to life that much more. I highly recommend turning up the volume when playing Madden NFL 09 as the 5.1 surround sound is great.

Despite my minor concerns, and my individual disregard for Cris Collinsworth, the audio truly shines in the Xbox 360 version of Madden NFL 09. There are really no major glitches in the sound department and my only complaints lie with my own personal tastes.

Gameplay

Overall, the gameplay for Madden NFL 09 is once again very solid and enjoyable. It plays very similar to last year’s version but everything seems a little bit more difficult this time around. This is in-part due to the Adaptive Difficulty Engine, as now the game can adapt to your skill. I will come back to this Adaptive Difficulty Engine further below but bottomline, fans new to the franchise will likely be a little overwhelmed and may be easily discouraged. The playbook is thick and the AI has improved dramatically adapting to your every play. On the flip side, veterans of the franchise will likely enjoy the challenge and the new features offered this time around. For experienced football gamers, the controls are easy to learn and it doesn’t take much to fire up a game or start a franchise. But has Madden NFL 09 made a significant leap this year? Well, in some areas it did but in other areas it certainly did not.

There is no sense examining some of the features that have been around for years as the core of the Madden game-play is back, so at this point I will examine some of the new features in this game.

When you first fire up Madden NFL 09 John Madden himself is standing tall ready to give you a test. This is your Madden IQ. The test takes place in the Virtual Training Center and acts as a tutorial mode as well. Set in a unique holographic environment, you run through a series of drills. After players complete the drills a Madden IQ score is given, and your “My Skills” difficulty settings are automatically set based on your strengths and weaknesses. You can raise your IQ by mastering each of the four main facets of the game: passing, running, run defense and pass defense. Once you have established you Madden IQ, the Adaptive Difficulty Engine kicks in and continually tailors the difficulty settings as your Madden IQ score evolves. It is a great idea but when playing the game in my Franchise mode, I quickly reverted back to the standard difficulty settings when playing my season. When using the “My Skills” difficulty setting I find the defensive AI ridiculously good. Just when I was running the ball effectively with Steven Jackson, the AI adapted and all of the sudden my rushing stats went into the toilet. By week six, I reverted back to my preferred difficulty setting and played Madden as I have for so many years. For the diehards this maybe a good thing, but for someone who is just being introduced to the life of Madden football it may be very frustrating.

Another new feature this year, which I enjoyed the most out of all the new features, is EA SPORTS BackTrack. BackTrack is a new replay learning tool which is featured in the game and essentially helps you become a better QB. BackTrack generally appears after throwing an interception or an incompletion. Collinsworth’s voice emerges and he dissects the play which just occurred. BackTrack shows the player what they should have done in certain circumstances. When a mistake is made, Collinsworth will breakdown where you went wrong and what you could have done better. For advanced players, EA SPORTS BackTrack will even give more technical information such as the play calls that were made and the success rates of the play. When it works, it works like a charm but I did notice some glitches. In some instances, the game would tell me it was going into a BackTrack to show me where I went wrong. After a brief pause the playbook would re-appear and no BackTrack. There were also occasions where Collinsworth would tell me to throw to a player who was not open at all. These instances were few and far between but I am left with the impression EA needed to fine tune this feature a little more.

Apparently Madden NFL 09 has a revamped Franchise mode and Superstar mode. In the Franchise mode you can take your team into a 60 year franchise. Making decisions like a GM you are in charges of making trades, signing players and whatnot. In Superstar mode, you can create a player, import a player from NCAA Football 09, or take the role of a rookie from the 2008 draft class. Additionally you can play for the team that drafted the player. Working hard in practices and drills gives players points to apply to his superstar and upgrade his abilities. Overall, the modes feel the same as they did last year despite EA Sports claims they have been revamped.

Another new feature, which I enjoyed in some instances and did not in others, is EA Rewind. Acting as a mulligan of sorts, EA Rewind allows you to essentially do the play over. You literally have the ability to put a play in reverse and then replay a down. If a play goes sideways and you wish you could take it back; well now you can. Just click the REWIND button when a play ends, and watch your players reverse back to the line of scrimmage. It’s a great little feature when messing around and playing with a buddy. Start out with a couple of REWIND’s each and now you have a whole new element of strategy in the mix. When you decide to use your REWIND’s it can become critical in determining the winner. It’s not a bad option however I could do without out as I prefer to play as they do in the NFL.

Madden NFL 09 also features in-game button hints. Every year, it takes me time to become re-accustomed to the more advanced controls. Madden NFL 09 features in-game button instructions which show up underneath players that you are controlling. It essentially helps guide you and lets you know the strengths of the player you are controlling. The buttons are nicely sized and as a result they do not get in the way of the gameplay.

This year Madden NFL 09 features the mode that many hardcore Madden fans have been waiting for: all new online leagues. Up to 32 teams can join a league online. You can make trades and play a season as you would in the NFL. A cool feature and nice start for the franchise, however hardcore Madden fans may have been expecting a little more here. In terms of the online play, once again it is solid although I did hit some lag here and there. For me, as long as there are leaderboards and I can play against someone across the country I am happy.


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