Game Review: Madden NFL 10

August 13, 2009

At this point, no one can say that the Madden team isn't listening to fans. Each year the game ships with new features, and the following year many of them are removed due to player feedback, only to be replaced with new ones. The same holds true with Madden NFL 10. Complaints have resulted in drastic cuts, but have the new additions ultimately made it better?

Last year everything kicked off with the Madden test, which set your Madden IQ that eventually trickled down into sliding AI that adjusted to your skill level. While the Madden test and IQ are still in the game, they no longer affect how the game reacts to you. Everyone will be happy to know that full-on slider control has returned, allowing you to shape the experience to how you want it.

Online leagues were the big addition last year, and this time around they've gone a step further with online franchises for 32 human-controlled teams that will roll everything over for 10 consecutive years. Organizing a league with that many real players can be a challenge, but the tools in place to do so are more than adequate. The online franchise does dump a few features when compared to the offline version like player contracts, but for EA's first full-on virtual league it's a great start.

No matter how you decide to take the reigns of a franchise, the options are still staggering. Scouting, free agents, trades, team expenses, and much more are there to be manipulated as much-or as little-as you want. The same goes for the rigors of the NFL season. You can dig deep and work your way through training camp and the preseason, or use the incredible supersim feature to experience exactly as much of it as you want.


The other big single-player mode is be an NFL superstar. Nothing has really changed, though. You begin by creating a player or importing one from NCAA Football 10, and then you go through the draft and attempt to claw your way up the depth chart of an NFL squad. The same positives and negatives remain. It feels great to finally break into the starting 11, but you'll likely be doing it on a team you have no vested interest in, and certain positions can be a bore to play. And since you only play this mode from the perspective of one player, be sure to choose wisely.

In addition to the franchises heading online, you can also plug in your Ethernet cable to play one-off, head-to-head games, or compete in a handful of different minigames. Best of all, you can play cooperatively with a friend on the same team. If you've dreamed of springing a runningback for a long gain with a crushing block, or becoming an unstoppable QB/wide receiver combo with an old college buddy, here's your chance. It would be great if you could have an entire team full of friends and only one player can call plays, but it's a total blast that drastically changes how you play the game. The online offerings are undoubtedly great, though we're not sold on the prospect of spending more money to pay for "elite" servers and VIP lobbies.

Madden moments also return, allowing you to replicate some of the great situations from NFL history, but the real wins here are online franchise and cooperative play. Considering how robust the game already was, these inclusions may seem like overkill. But when you start mastering the intricacies of coop or get ready to start the third year of your franchise with friends you realize that there's still plenty of room before the Madden series hits the ceiling.

Madden NFL 10 delivers in the modes and options, and that's mostly the case once the action hits the gridiron. This time around there has been a lot more than subtle gameplay tweaks that only hardened veterans will notice. The entire core has been revamped with pro-tak. This system allows for completely unscripted tackles that can involve up to nine defenders. It imparts more realism into the game than anything Tiburon has done before.


Based upon real physics and player ability, pro-tak provides a never-ending selection of tackle animations and supplies the runner with options after first contact. Large running backs are able to move the pile forward while more elusive runners can spin out of the grasp and fall forward for extra yards. The pile is effectively moved forwards or backwards based upon the strength ratings of those involved, the angle of contact, and any control inputs entered whiled locked into the scrum. It completely rewrites how Madden is played, but it's not perfect. We've had a lot of plays end before the runner is even brought to the ground, and sometimes runners are able to escape ridiculous odds to break off long runs. Yet when you see your first helicopter hit you'll be surprised how much you're willing to forgive, and it does a great job of giving you the yardage that you really earn.

Another new addition is fight for the fumble-basically a quick time event to try and snag a loose ball. It doesn't happen every time, and a lot of the time when it does the computer has already determined who will get the ball, making winning the quick time event impossible. Still, it's a cool feature that brings the cutthroat action at the bottom of a pile to life.

The passing game has also been completely revamped, though it mostly concentrates on before the ball is thrown. This year the offensive line will actually form a pocket around your quarterback where you can sit and read the defense. Drop back too far outside the pocket and the sacks will start rolling up. There's no doubt it's more like the real game, but it makes getting the ball off before a blitzing defender is in your grill much more difficult. You're given a sidestep move to get away, but you must take your fingers off the face buttons to do it. Ultimately, it will help eliminate high-level cheesers that drop back 30 yards on each pass, but the average player will grow weary of all the sacks and deflected passes.

Tiburon hasn't stopped there. Injuries are handled completely differently, allowing you true coaching control over whether to re-insert dinged-up players in the lineup. You'll get a report on the chances of serious injury if a player returns to the field, and then it's up to you to weigh the risk or reward of sending the player into the game. It's just another small way that Madden NFL 10 does a better job of replicating the real NFL game.

For all the good, there is definitely some bad. Computer players are still unaware of the field boundaries and will constantly run routes out of bounds. The weapons system that gave you an overview of a player's strengths in last year's game has been removed. Players also have a tendency to run towards the sideline during fly routes, and the computer doesn't do an adequate job of getting a player's feet in bounds or determining if the player did. The computer can also get its team up to the line of scrimmage too quickly during the no-huddle, causing a lot of offsides penalties as your slow defensive linemen try to get back.


Computer AI has gone basically unchanged. You'll see a lot of blockers unable to recognize the most immediate threat and Brady Quinn will suddenly look like Tom Brady if you build a huge lead against him. Worst of all, EA has included the ability for players to buy skill upgrades with real money. Apparently the thinking was, if you can't beat 'em, then spend money to.

The default running speed has been cut back, and it definitely makes the on-field action more authentic-giving you a real feeling of burst with some running backs. And the sliders have returned so that you can tweak the feel of the game to your liking. This is important because the default difficulty setting is far too easy, and the next one up makes passing ridiculously difficult. The cooperative play works great with many combinations, but the camera can be a problem when you try to stray from your initial position.

The gameplay in Madden NFL 10 is bitter sweet. The pro-tak is the best-ever addition to the gameplay, while fight for the fumble and injury management are nice touches that sink you further into the NFL experience. Yet some fundamental issues have still gone unchecked, and some of the new features initiate bugs that can cost you wins.

Every year EA touts graphical improvements that are hard to notice, but this year it's definitely not the case. The off-the-field action has been vastly increased. Players will get on each other after awful plays, the fans have a much bigger role, and you'll see your QB on the sideline talking to coaches on the phone. The additions are better than nothing, but some objects disappear and the players involved in altercations sometimes don't make much sense within the context of the game. Player faces are either startlingly real or embarrassingly bad, but there are tons of them. The animation has received a huge boost due to pro-tak, and now weeks into playing the game we still see new moves every time. You really see this in inclement weather where receivers will slip out of their breaks. If only the frame rate held up. The game stutters and stops constantly depending on the stadium and on-field action, demonstrating why on-field officials have taken so long to make an appearance.

The audio has its share of issues. Crowd noise looping is awkward with bursts of sound coming from nowhere, and the play-by-play regularly gets things wrong. The extra point show using NFL Network talent is terrible with voiceover that sounds like it's coming from a Speak and Spell and practically worthless analysis.

Reviewing Madden NFL 10 is difficult. On the one hand you have pro-tak, which completely changes the fundamentals and makes every run unpredictable. On the other, the game still has its share of issues with varying mileage depending on your perspective. The online franchise is the final piece of the design puzzle fans have been waiting for, and little tweaks add up to make a bigger, better whole. It's hard to argue with the general direction the series has taken, and most players will be happy with the end result, but if you're hoping for a game where true skill always determines the winner there is some disappointment to work through.

Reviewed on Microsoft Xbox 360.


Source: EA Sports