Review: Madden NFL 10 (Sony PS3)

coverMadden NFL 10
Developer: EA Tiburon
Publisher: Electronic Arts Inc.
Genre: Sports
Release Date: 08/14/09

The latest game in the long-running NFL simulation series and the 4th game to hit the PS3 console, this latest addition to the long-running Madden franchise is looking to make the overall NFL playing experience even more authentic, while providing online players with the option to really get into the experience with online franchises. So does this latest entry into the series connect with a Hail Mary in the end zone or will it fumble on a stalled run?

Story/Modes

One thing this game does is heap the play options on you. I’ll cover offline options first, starting with Franchise Mode. Franchise Mode lets you take charge of your favorite team as it was last year, or you can draft a whole new set of players with the draft. The good news is the computer doesn’t make stupid picks, and the bad news is that the computer doesn’t make stupid picks, so the good players are going to go fast. You can also automate the process and still end up with a pretty decent team, especially with the enhanced picks the AI makes. If you do decide to use your own created team for franchise mode you’re going to have to replace one of the other teams in the league, so be prepared to lose one and go for the team you really don’t care about. A bonus with Franchise mode is being able to play with 3 other people attached to your system. Whether they’re playing on your side or not is up to them, but it’s nice to have that option.

screen05Franchise Mode really makes it feel like you’re playing through a season, and you can keep going after that season and the game will keep track of how old your players are and how they’re holding up. There are a ton of nice touches, like shots of fans in the stands on really good plays, the halftime show with accurate updates of how things are going, the fans outside before the game, and the camera angles we’ve all gotten used to during the actual broadcasts that really get you into it and add that extra special touch. Alongside running the team, you can opt to play as a single player in the NFL for the season, and the good news is this mode moves right along and can be just as much fun as playing the whole team.

Play Now puts you right into a game with no strings attached. Pick who you want to play as and who you want to play against, and from there you can customize your players’ look and your play style, depending on if you like to keep thing simple or go insane with it. Play Now is down and dirty, you don’t have to worry about managing a whole season, and again, you can grab 3 of your buddies to jump in and play with you or against you.

Madden Moments collects several of the top moments from the 08-09 season so you can play through them, which was neat, but not where I had my fun. Superstar was kinda cool as well, as you can create your own player from scratch, take a rookie from the draft class or import one from NCAA Football 10 and then take him through his paces. Practice is pretty straight-forward and really lets you get a feel for a team and its playbook, as well as what your weaknesses are. The Mini-Games are designed to test your skill with the game, and should help you get your own skills up with the game. The Virtual Trainer accomplishes the same task in a slightly different way. My Madden lets you go in and customize most of the settings you’d want to mess with, along with the Creation Zone that lets you create uniforms, players and even whole teams and stadiums. I was a little disappointed with the logo options available for the created teams and I couldn’t find any way to design or import my own here.

screen10Madden Test puts you through a slightly different version of the Virtual Trainer to determine your Madden IQ, which basically tells yourself and others how good you really are. The test determines a base value and then actual playing and how well you do can raise or lower it. While the IQ can be a nice gauge, I’m not sure how effective it is, or for that matter how it shows your skill. I’m assuming bigger is better and mine dropped 23 points even though I’d gone entirely undefeated with my created team against teams that were better than me, and I’d only given up 10 points in four games. So if lower is better it’s a good gauge, but if higher is better there’s something wrong, and I couldn’t find anything in the literature, so I have yet to figure it out.

Let’s move to the online portion, which is what will most likely carry this game on until Madden NFL 11. Because I’m writing this review before the game’s release I have NOT gotten a chance to play with the online franchise mode at all, as the servers aren’t active. I have, however, gotten to play a few online quick games. They’re pretty easy to get into, and you can look for players that at least match your skill level, or if you’re not concerned with it you can look for just about anyone. You can also use some, but not most, of the accelerated gameplay options online, which is only fair.

You can also play online co-op games, which should be cool, but as I’m the only person on my friends list with this game so far, it makes it hard to play co-op. If it’s anything like offline co-op it will be a blast, just minus 2 players online. A few notes on the online franchise: it’s supposed to be a lot like offline franchise mode, meaning you get 32 teams, a live draft option, and you’ll be able to manage it away from the console on a PC with your own league homepage. So they are gearing up for the online franchise options to be a big deal, and I can see why. A nice benefit of playing online in this is having access to your friends list in game while you’re online to invite and join up with friends without having to go out to your menu bar and invite from there. It’s all in the game.

screen03Something else to note: while you get a code for the online franchise mode with a new purchase, if you’re looking to buy this used and want to use the online franchise mode, you might find the code on the instruction book already used, and you’ll have to buy an online franchise mode when you take it home. The Madden Elite Status is something you’ll have to shell out for either way, which will give you access to VIP lobbies and leaderboards and the elite gametype, which will have the All-Madden difficulty type, which is only for the hardcore either way.


Story/Modes Rating: Incredible

Graphics

This is a very, very realistic looking game. The weather effects are really well done, from the snow sticking to the camera, to the footprints left in it during plays, to the rain, and even the lighting for the field and players are all really well done. I actually did have my son walk into the room, glance a the TV during a play, then ask me if football season had already started. Then he realized I was playing a game. While the illusion doesn’t hold up for long, it does a very good job of bringing the game to life in a video game environment. There are a lot of neat touches, like the hand warmers and towels moving with the players and the wind, along with steam coming form the players when they breathe in cold weather. Sometimes though, when the game pulls in to the players on the bench, the coaches, or the refs, the illusion really falls apart, as they just don’t look very realistic in some moments and look somewhat cartoonish. This really happens with Hall of Fame players you may have drafted for your franchise, and I had a problem with my coach’s shoulders and neck not being quite attached, so that at the joint between the two, his lower neck would literally hover over the top of his shirt. It looked very alarming.

screen04A few other minor glitches occurred with my created team, but most especially with their uniforms during franchise mode. About halfway through the game, their face masks or another part of their uniform would turn to an army green color when it was supposed to be red or white, which I only bring it up because it happened in half the games I’d play. Referees aren’t always tangible either, as players often move through them after the plays or even through teammates on the sidelines when they’re tossed out of bounds. Defenders would pass through the walls of the stadium when trying to run down a man for a touchdown. And a few times there was some slowdown, though oddly enough, it wasn’t when I was online, but during offline Franchise Mode.

These didn’t happen all the time, but they were pretty glaring when they did. Other than that, the game looks fantastic. I just wish there’d been more logos to choose from in the create a team area, but really, that’s a minor nitpick, given all the colors and options available for the uniforms themselves. While there aren’t a lot of nifty special effects or anything like that, this game delivers on the visuals in a big way.

Graphics Rating: Great

Sound

Sound always plays an important part of setting the mood of anything you’re involved with, and this game is no exception. Personally, when I think of football games, I think of cheesy band music and rock tracks mixed in. Probably a leftover from my high school days as a band geek. What you get with this game, music wise, is several classic NFL tracks most people will recognize if they’ve ever watched any NFL films, and then to add to it, a track selection of some great rock and hip hop tunes that may not make Rock Band or Guitar Hero jealous, but gives you a ton of variety in menus and for the brief instances they are used during the game between plays. I’m talking songs like Sabotage by the Beastie Boys, Paranoid by Black Sabbath, Walk by Pantera and I Am the Bullgod by Kid Rock. There are a ton more in there, but these are just some of my favorites.

screen09In an actual game, there is a lot going on. The crowd noise is well done and, although generic for each game, sounded exactly like it did at what once was Rich Stadium, home of the Buffalo Bills in the ’90s. Especially when you get the crowd riled up, which is especially easy to do. You can hear some boisterous fans in the stands, as well as taunts from what I’m assuming is the opposing team. At one point one of them was telling my Quarterback where he was going to stuff the ball, or something to that effect. Add to it the generic stadium announcer guy (I swear they must clone him, because I hear him at a ton of real games that run at the same time) and the new commentary, and you’ve got a cacophony of sound that really makes it feel like you’re involved.

So what’s not so perfect about this? The commentary can repeat itself, especially if you end up repeating some situations more than once in a game. You really won’t hear it from Tom Hammond, as he’s really just calling the plays, but Cris Collinsworth can and will repeat himself. Now it’s not like it happens every other play, but I heard him tell the same story about receivers and quarterbacks practicing plays in total darkness for precision twice in one game, and during the course of Franchise play, I heard it a few times. While not game-breaking, it can get a bit annoying when you know exactly what they’re going to say, but at least most of Cris’ dialogue in the game is interesting. My only other complaint is when they have to piece dialogue together, there’s a brief hesitation between the normal lines and the team name that reminded me a bit of the Crusty the Clown commercial in the Simpsons where the dates and location had been dubbed over by someone else. It isn’t game-breaking, but it’s noticeable, especially when Cris is criticizing your last play if it didn’t go so well.

Sound Rating: Great

Control and Gameplay

screen07In the past I’ve found some football games to be cumbersome and strange as far as play mechanics go, but this one controls pretty much close to perfect. I’ve noticed a few online issues with selecting plays, and an issue with punting and kicking that I’ll talk about later, but those are minor. When you’re in the actual game, the controls respond beautifully with no hesitation. They react very well and do what you’d expect them to do when you hit the various buttons. My only other issue is kicking and punting. You use your left analog stick to line up the direction, pull back on the right stick, and then push forward when the power bar hits the amount of force you want behind the ball on the punt or kick. However, the right stick is overly sensitive, so more often than not, if you’re not exact on the forward and backward motions you can send the ball careening in another direction because it’s picked up a slight movement to the right or left on the stick.

Other than that issue with special teams, out on the field things work like you’d expect. The left analog stick controls movements, and the face buttons control hiking and passing. When you’re running with the ball, the right stick will let you dodge or move over or around defenders, and face buttons will let you jump, spin or stiff arm defenders. They’ve added in a bit of help with playmakers. On offense in the passing and receiving end you can trigger these by holding the L2 and pressing the R3 button. Also, when you’re playing QB and you’re getting pressure, the controller will vibrate to let you know the pain is a coming so you can try to get out of the way.

Defensively, you’ve got pretty much the same options as far as moving goes. You can call audibles at the line, which you can customize in your coach menu, and by using the directional buttons and a few others you can modify your line-up if you realize you need slightly different coverage from what you thought they were going with. L3 will pump up the crowd, which I love to do. You’ve got a variety of options after the snap, but if you’re having problems, much like with the offense, the defense has an assist to put you where the action is going to be, to help you start a playmaker like a blitz, or to keep up your man to man coverage.

Play calling is relatively simple and quick. The left stick moves to the play you want to pick and the right stick toggles between different play packages. L1 flips the play and R1 will sub in players. You can also change how you view them, from relatively simple play choices to the full blown play roster so you can work within your own comfort level.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Great

Replayability

screen02This game is a breeze to play, and with the 32 teams, updating rosters online, and a franchise mode where you can basically start from scratch every time if you want, there is a ton of replayability built into this game, especially with the online options and co-op. Whether it’s to hone your playing skills, to play as yet another NFL star, or just pound someone else’s team into dust online because your team is failing in the regular season, this game really lets you play again without ever having the exact same experience, especially with the advanced AI and difficulty levels. I think with a few more options in the create a team area this could be even better, but the way it is now it’s already a blast to pick up again and again.

Replayability Rating: Incredible

Balance

This game does have a peculiar balance to it. While I was playing on Rookie, I absolutely dominated the field and the ball. With my created team with an overall rating of 91, I was absolutely creaming teams with a 95 or higher rating, and out of 4 games I was only scored on twice, by the worst team in the line-up at that time. So I figured I’d switch over to my personal favorite team, the Buffalo Bills. I’m from Western NY originally, sue me. While they have a much lower rating, like a 79 or something along those lines, I was still beating teams with the Bills that were a 90 or so with out getting scored on. I had to fight a bit harder for it, but Rookie is a cake walk, I guarantee it.

On the other end of the spectrum, the All-Madden setting, I found it to be nearly impossible to get any yardage or a first down, let alone get close enough to make a touchdown. I’m probably not hardcore enough for that setting. So there is some balance there as far as difficulty goes, but some of that balance con get thrown out the window if you don’t know what you’re doing.

screen06For example, even if you’re 20 points higher overall than the other team, if you’re doing nothing but running the ball against a defense that’s great against the run, you’re screwing yourself. Now, that’s just general play knowledge, but I can see some more casual gamers getting frustrated if they’re not paying attention to the team breakdowns before the game starts. The game does take a bit of a jump once you hit the playoffs, well, IF you hit the playoffs, and especially at the Super Bowl, but really at that point you’re used to it, and you should know how your team performs and can handle it.

Let’s talk pricing. This game is going for the $60 price point that most PS3 games start at, and while I would normally be annoyed at that considering a new game comes out every year and Madden is really the only NFL game in town (sorry Blitz: The League), they’re pretty much guaranteed sales. Honestly though, with all the options in this game and the online franchise, as well as being able to create your own teams, I’d plunk it down for this one. Despite some graphics glitches and sound issues, the game performs very well online and offline, and even I could have been convinced to pick this one up. After a few rough starts they’ve got the great machine working right with this one.

Balance Rating: Very Good

Originality

Here’s where the game takes a dive. While the game has been tweaked out with new options and online offerings, we’re talking about a sports game franchise that’s been around since the late 80’s, has seen four releases with this one on the PS3, and is based off a sport that’s been around for decades. Really, if you haven’t played a football game on the console in at least a decade and pick this one up, you’re going to be able to jump right into it. Sure the look has improved a hundred fold, but really, you can’t change too much of it or it won’t be football anymore. I will give it this much, this one plays much smoother than others I have played, and they’ve tweaked the AI so it’s not entirely predictable and can even pull off some amazing plays if you screw up or do it all right.

Originality Rating: Below Average

Addictiveness

screen08Even for someone like me who’s only been passively following football with a morbid curiosity over the years, as this area only covers Detroit, Steelers and Browns games and I refuse to pay umpteen dollars for a Sunday ticket so I can see the Bills play… no, I’m not really that bitter… where was I? Oh yeah, even for a gamer who’s only been passively following football over the past few years, this game is very easy to get into. My wife kept asking me if I was done playing so she could watch TV. She’s not all that into sports and watching them is even more boring for her, but I kept telling her, just one more game, which got me in a bit of trouble. For hardcore fans and even casual fans though, this should scratch quite a bit of the itch to play, especially if you get into the online scene.

Addictiveness Rating: Very Good

Appeal Factor

As the latest in the Madden Franchise, this really has its own built in appeal, but add in all new animations along with their Pro-Tak system and more realistic AI, as well as new commentary (even if it does repeat a bit) and you’ve got yourself a top seller. Add in all the improvements to the animations and the tackling system as well as the feel of an actual Sunday game and I’d say its appeal goes up.

Appeal Factor Rating: Great

Miscellaneous

screen01I didn’t have a single lock-up, game crash or anything unusual other than slow-down every once in awhile, aside from the occasional game hiccup while it seems to be looking for information. Online play was pretty smooth, except when I was selecting plays, of all things. Sometimes I’d have to hit one of the face buttons repeatedly to get it to select the play I wanted online. Amazingly enough, I had NO lag issues with online play at all. One of my other issues was with punting and kicking. They’ve got the help button for kicking and punting tied to the button that you use when you’re hiking the ball on the line, so if you don’t read the directions first before you play and you’re trying to hike the ball to kick it, you pull up the information screen, which is fine, but until you put that screen away you can’t do anything, yet the clock still ticks away. So then you end up with a penalty if you have no idea what you’re doing.

In the fine print on the package of the box it also states that EA can pull the online features of the game within 30 days of notice on their site or at the end of the current football season, so all those fun online features you may enjoy in the game could just simply take a nosedive with the end of the season, effectively killing any longevity the game may have, which should make way for the next one quite easily.

One of the neat features I love is the media manager. You can go in after a game and watch pretty much every play, and then save up to 10 videos from the game as highlights and upload them online. While this is a neat feature, sometimes touchdowns and some other plays don’t last long enough to give that oomph that a few more seconds of footage would give it to let the full impact of the play set in. The ability to tweak it a little more beyond the camera angles would have made this feature truly awesome and fun to play with, though as it is it’s more of a novelty.

One neat mini game type situation I liked that is in the game occurs during a fumble. When you’re fighting for the ball you get a chance to keep or grab it by pressing the face buttons that appear on screen repeatedly to take or keep possession of the ball, which was interesting.

Miscellaneous Rating: Below Average

The Scores
Story/Modes Rating: Incredible
Graphics Rating: Great
Sound Rating: Great
Control and Gameplay Rating: Great
Replayability Rating: Incredible
Balance Rating: Very Good
Originality Rating: Below Average
Addictiveness Rating: Very Good
Appeal Factor Rating: Great
Miscellaneous Rating: Below Average
FINAL SCORE: VERY GOOD GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
asheresizeMadden NFL 10 has a lot going for it. Despite a few flaws, there’s nothing glaring or game-breaking about it. The online play is smooth and didn’t lag on me while I was playing at all. Add to that the great franchise mode along with a decent creation mode to make your own teams, and you’ve got a great single player experience. Online seems to be where it’s at these days, and I have to say that the quick matches worked very well. While I haven’t been able to test the online franchise mode, from what I’ve seen of the single player version there will be little difference, plus you will be able to micro-manage on a PC away from your console. With an easy to use and responsive control scheme, this football simulator is a joy to play even when you’re playing with your favorite team and it’s not exactly the best one in the league.

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