2008-08-25 - Madden09It’s hard to believe that the Madden series has been around for twenty years now, transforming from a simple football game into a global phenomenon that has captivated everyone from the casual football fan to the hardcore sports gamer. As expected, the team at EA Tiburon has gone all out for the 20th anniversary with Madden NFL 09. Better yet, the game does not disappoint as the gameplay has been further perfected, the visuals are downright stunning, and the content is as rich as ever. The game finally lives up to the “next-generation” hype, by finally including most of the important features from last generation versions and seamlessly incorporating them within the robust next generation engine. The result is easily one of EA’s finest production efforts in years, and despite a few noticeable issues, a must have for any football fan.

The first thing you will notice when you pop in Madden 09, is the obvious focus on easier user accessibility. A holographic version of John Madden himself will greet you and introduce you to the “Madden Test.” The Madden Test attempts to equalize the playing field by grading each user on four aspects of the game (rushing offense, passing offense, rushing defense, and passing defense) and coming up with a cumulative score known as the “Madden IQ.” The Madden IQ is used to determine the user’s “My Skill” difficulty level. Although the test is not perfect, as scores can vary quite a bit, the Madden IQ and My Skill work rather well once you hit the field. The idea is to make the areas you struggle with easier to play and to ultimately help you improve in those areas. In fact, there is a built-in Virtual Trainer to help you improve in a specific aspect after each game or as needed. The system works incredibly well once your IQ stabilizes after a few games played. Most games against the CPU do tend to be very competitive, but there is a realistic feel to the game, as you can definitely blow out the teams you should. The Madden IQ and My Skill level are great features to Madden NFL 09 — they almost make it unnecessary to tweak game sliders and provide a competitive game for players of all skill levels.

A great deal of attention has been placed upon play calling and pre-snap functions this year. The play calling screen is completely revamped with instant replays, game stats, Madden tips, substitutions and more built-in alongside play art and controlled via the right analog stick. Also, a great new bluff play feature is in place when playing head-to-head on the same console.

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Furthermore, even the basic play call can be made at beginner, intermediate, advanced, and hardcore levels. At the beginner level, the game makes the call for you, whereas at intermediate the game simplifies each play to options such as “run right” or “pass left.” Advanced and hardcore play calling are similar to the classic options that veterans of the Madden series are familiar with. The only difference is that at hardcore, there is no option to “Ask Madden.” Built-in with the level of play calling is a new feature known as “Rewind.” This lets you re-run any play that didn’t work out the way you wanted, such as a red zone interception or a sack on 3rd down. Of course, the default number of rewinds is tied into what level of play call you choose, adding a nice touch to head to head match ups. It should be noted that rewinds are set at 0 for online play. Tied in with the Rewind feature is EA Sports Backtrack, a wonderful new feature in which Chris Collinsworth breaks down exactly what you did wrong after certain plays that didn’t work out so well. Not only does this add a great broadcast type feel to the game, it also helps the casual gamer and football aficionado learn about the intricacies of the game of football. The feature isn’t perfect every time, but it adds a level of complexity never before seen in sports game announcers. Finally, the pre-snap options have been revamped in Madden 09 to include formation specific audibles, slide protection, and smart routes — all additions that are music to the ears of gamers making the jump from last generation.

The actual gameplay after the ball is snapped is by far the best yet on the next generation. The running game has a brand new locomotion engine and gives players incredible control of the ball carrier as you can combine moves or spin out of tackles. Running the ball feels very realistic and the sensitivity of each button corresponding to different moves is stellar. One downside of running is that QB sneaks are way too easy to perform and any 3rd or 4th down with less than 2 yards to go is almost always picked up. The passing game is not as revamped from last year, but still solid. Leading receivers is a little more difficult than in past years, especially when leading them just before they make a cut. The deep ball has been made extremely difficult, likely due to the abundance of rocket catches and jet-packing in last year’s game. Unfortunately, the CPU still runs out of bounds on flat routes that are even close the sidelines despite no defender being within yards of the receiver. All in all, the passing mechanics are still quite good and you really need a good mix to keep the ball moving through the air. Tackling is impressive with three different options: the basic tackle, hit stick, and the strip ball tackle. This allows for the right amount of control on defense and makes you strategize on when to take risks and go for the big hit. The passing defense is decent, except that slants are almost impossible to cover. Thankfully, however, the annoying high rate of super human interceptions and fumbles has been toned down to produce much more realistic turnover numbers. The gameplay in Madden 09 has greatly improved over its next generation predecessors, but a few annoying glitches keep it from being perfect.

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The visuals in Madden 09 are simply spectacular. This is easily the best looking football game ever, as the attention to detail is impressive and the frame rate is silky smooth for both the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions. The sidelines are majorly improved over last year, although still a little dull and the crowd hasn’t made quite the improvement that other aspects have. Field goal nets going up and down before and after a kick are finally included as are some amazing weather effects including changes to players’ uniforms. Snow and rain games look terrific and actually give the feel of a bone chilling day in Green Bay or a monsoon in Miami. Player models are much improved and star players are noticeable from far away.

The animations are outstanding as always as even after weeks of playing through the game, you still notice new one popping up. The touchdown celebrations are a great new addition and add a more authentic feel to the game. There are however, a few glitches every now and then like players falling while attempting to cheer near the crowd or even disappear and reappearing from within side walls. The presentation has been overhauled to include John Madden introducing the home city and stadium along with the teams before the game and overlays showing key players, team stats, and milestones while in game.

The audio keeps up with the visuals as Chris Collinsworth provides what is probably the best color commentary ever in a sports game and Tom Hammond, though dull at times, is an upgrade over Mr. radio announcer. The soundtrack is terrific as always and provides the standard mix of rap, rock, and some nice NFL themes. Overall, Madden NFL 09 combines some great graphics, visuals, and audio for a marvelous presentation experience.

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All the standard game modes are back — including franchise, superstar, and online. New this year are “Madden Moments,” where you attempt to take a team through a crucial moment of a game from last season such as the Giants winning drive in the Superbowl (David Tyree catch animation included) and repeat or re-write history. Franchise and Superstar modes are basically untouched, but are still solid to play through. Online has seen a few modifications, most notably the addition of online leagues. These online leagues are however, rather shallow and provide on the most basic options and are clearly an area of improvement for next year. There’s nothing revolutionary in the game modes of Madden 09, but what is included works well with the other new additions and should keep you coming back for more.

Madden NFL 09 is the best football simulation experience on the next generation and easily of EA Tiburon’s finest efforts. A lot of new additions greatly improve gameplay, settings, visuals, and presentation to create a great representation of America’s favorite sport. The game plays extremely well and irons out a lot of the issues with last year’s version. Although there are still a couple of minor gameplay flaws and inaccuracies and no revolutionary new features, it pays a lot of attention to the details and vastly improves the experience on the gridiron, shedding the yearly cliché of merely being a roster update. Instead, Madden is one of the best sports games in recent memory and a must have for anyone remotely interested in the game of football.