Madden NFL 10 Review [PS3]

20 Aug 2009  by   Paul Younger
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With every new Madden title comes the promise of a whole new experience, an experience like no other, a game that is a significant improvement over its predecessor.  What usually happens however, is that it turns out to be almost exactly the same as its predecessor with a few bells and whistles attached to create an illusion of progress.  Perhaps that’s a little harsh but, nevertheless, Madden games (like most annually released sports games) tend to improve by taking baby steps rather than the full, gazelle-like strides you’re likely to see watching an NFL game on the telly (we suspect men vs. gazelles would make for a more interesting sport – Ed).

And so, in time for the start of the new season, Madden NFL 10 is upon us.  Initially the changes to this year’s gameplay seem minor, indeed some casual Madden players will struggle to highlight any differences between this game to the last.  It’s only after a couple of games that the improvements start to become more apparent, and the overall experience is undoubtedly better for them.  In fact, one could even go as far as to say that this year’s game represents the biggest leap forward in gameplay the series has ever seen.

Let’s start with the new ‘Pro-Tak’ animation system, a feature that allows for gang-tackles of up to nine players.  The most hyped of this year’s new additions, Pro-Tak adds an extra layer of authenticity to the running game that has been lacking in previous outings.  No longer will a player simply crumple up and fall to the turf when hit with a clean tackle, instead he’ll often push and fight against the opposition for every last blade of grass.  If this battle of brute strength continues for long enough other players (from both teams) quickly get in on the act, creating a mass of sweaty, muscle-bound guys desperately pushing and fighting against each other for every last inch.

The system adds more bite to a running game that hasn’t been especially exciting in the past, and heightens the level of realism when it comes to using players known for their ability to burst through tackles.  The likes of Brandon Jacobs and Frank Gore, for example, are much more effective thanks to the Pro-Tak system, meaning running the ball straight up the gut of the offence (as those players do week in week out in the NFL) is now a viable tactical option.

Quarterbacks have undergone some statistical surgery this year, most noticeably in how throwing accuracy has been broken down into separate ratings for various distances; long throw accuracy, short, medium etc.  While it sounds like only a minor alteration, it has quite a dramatic effect on how your QB performs.  It forces you to play to your player’s strengths, which in turn impacts the plays you choose to run in any given situation.  Miami’s QB, Chad Pennington, for example, has fantastic accuracy over a short distance, but trails off dramatically on anything over 15-20 yards.  This forces you to adopt a short passing game and become more creative with your play calling, no longer spamming the same play regardless of which team you’ve selected.{PAGE TITLE=Madden NFL Review Page 2}

Unfortunately, not all gameplay elements have seen improvement.  Downfield blocking is still a nightmare, with your blockers making decisions that a complete NFL-novice would be able to recognise as the wrong one.  All too often you find yourself tackled behind the line of scrimmage because your fullback, who was supposed to be picking up that blitzing linebacker, has bizarrely wandered off, allowing the opposition to storm in and obliterate the ball-carrier.  The occasional hiccup would be expected, required even (for the sake of realism), but the frequency at which it happens here borders on the ridiculous.

The heart of any Madden title is the franchise mode, which, for the most part, has changed little in a year.  Most of the new features come in the form of presentation improvements, from the tab that details recent news (player trades, injuries etc) to ‘The Extra Point’, a summary of the week’s best games hosted by Fran Charles and Alex Flanagan (which some of you may recognise from NFL Total Access on Sky TV).  The changes make navigation far easier, as most important information is there on-screen in front of you; as opposed to being hidden within a complicated menu-tree as it has been in the past.  In should be also be noted that (finally) a Superbowl victory celebration – complete with the Lombardi trophy itself – has been included for those skilled enough to reach the big game, adding much-needed payoff to what can sometimes be a long, hard slog of a season.

Franchise mode can also be played online with up to 32 players competing for the ultimate prize in sports (I don’t think the people at PDC World Championship Darts are going to be too happy with that – Ed).  Thankfully, it all works just as well as playing in offline mode, with all the same functionality and team options available.  Playing online spices up the action and adds to the sense that every game is a must win, purely because you’re up against other real people. 

Players indicate when they are ready to progress to the next week (having played their game for the current week and performed any trades etc) by checking a box that is visible to all players.  Once all players have checked said box the season will move on to the next set of games.  The franchise commissioner can force the next week early if certain players have stopped participating, removing any potential frustration caused by teams not living up to their contractual obligations and turning up for games. Online franchise is probably the game’s most rewarding feature, taking a system that already worked well offline and translating into the online arena with great success (despite very few changes).  Rivalries and friendships built by participating in the season-long campaign are worth the price of admission alone.

A quick word of praise should also be aimed at the game’s visuals, which are unquestionably the finest the series has ever seen.  The new tackle and quarterback animations in particular stand out as some of the best of any sports game and really give you the sense that you’re taking part in a real game.  Not everything is perfect though, coaches and players on the sidelines still look terrible in comparison to the on-field action, and the crowd could still do with a makeover.

Come the final whistle Madden NFL 10 is the best game in the series so far, and well worth the investment if you’re a fan of previous games or the sport in general. The online franchise mode adds some much needed variety to a group of game modes that had seen very little change over the past few years and was in danger of becoming stale and predictable.  It’s by no means a perfect game, but steps have certainly been taken in the right direction.

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