The Madden franchise has always been at the center of the innovation vs. iteration debate. Year after year, Madden usually receives a tongue lashing from gamers who deplore EA for not doing enough to change up the game. Madden NFL 10 will not be shutting these people up. While it does bring some new things to the table, particularly in presentation and animation, the lack of new compelling game modes stain an otherwise excellent simulation of American football.
For full disclosure purposes, I must explain one thing for this review: I did not get a chance to play the online franchise mode–a likely favorite among Madden fanatics. We were not supplied a review copy of Madden, so I personally rented the title. EA, as a knock back to used games sales, packaged in new copies of Madden NFL 10 a code to activate online franchises.
Having said that, the biggest addition to Madden this year is the ability to play in co-op matches. While this is a welcome addition to the franchise in theory, in execution the co-op simply comes up short. The biggest issue with co-op is with the camera, which is tucked in way too tightly when you’re manning the quarterback. It harkens back to Madden Football 64, which had a first-person mode you could play in. Madden 10’s isn’t in first-person, but because the camera zooms in so tightly to the quarterback, it’s much harder to see your options down field than when you’re playing the game regularly. Not being able to execute plays because you simply cannot see your openings is simply too frustrating to deal with. Nonetheless, the online co-op is fully functional–lag was never experienced once in the multitude of games played.
The new entry that I experienced might have been disappointing, but the actual game of football on display here does not. Playing either Franchise or Superstar modes will provide you with that same Madden feel, only with some beefed up presentation values and animations. It’s clear that EA Tiburon (the developer of the game) is focusing on making Madden feel like you’re watching a game on Sunday. Between the sideline chatter between coaches and players, players talking through plays before and after the snap, and new half-time and post-game shows, the presentation is feeling more and more like something you might expect from watching a real NFL game on FOX or CBS. Even still, there’s plenty of work yet to be done to make that a reality. For one, the half-game show and post-game shows are brief and feel like a bit of filler to give off the impression that you’re watching the game on TV, but too many times you’ll hear an awkward pause (Smith ran for more than…50 yards…, etc.) or the information you’re being given just isn’t all that interesting.
The animation system of a football game is extremely important, and Madden 10, for the most part, leaps the franchise forward admirably. Sure, there are still some quirks–running backs will run in place if they get stuck behind a big offensive lineman (instead of pushing off the lineman’s body), but the ability to gang tackle on defense, as well as the ability to feel some power on offense adds tremendously to the core experience. Take, for example, on offense. You just handed the ball off to your back, who runs towards the sidelines, turns the corner and has a defender up ahead. In previous editions, you could of course break a tackle if you run head on, but in Madden 10, doing so feels so much better. With a thrust up on the right stick, there’s a chance that you can send the defender crashing to the ground while you rush down the sideline for extra yardage. The impact that you see on screen from doing this is much more animalistic and gruesome than in recent years, combined with the manual input, makes this scenario all that more satisfying.
One of the other bigger improvements I noted from Madden is the slowing of weird coverage quirks. In the past, defenders would constantly intercept balls they had no business of being around, and fortunately, this is not as much of a problem. Still, you’ll see passes that get swatted down that probably shouldn’t have been swatted down, but the game continues to get better about creating realistic coverage.
Undoubtedly, Madden 10 is a better game of football than Madden 09. The leap isn’t tremendous, but there is plenty enough refinements for casual and hardcore Madden fans to sink their teeth into. However, come in with tempered expectations: If you’re expecting a big leap, you’ll be sorely disappointed.