jjrage's Madden NFL 10 (Xbox 360) review

Madden NFL 10 finally crawls out from under 2K5's shadow

 "Not the face!"
Let me first preface this review by saying that I was never a Madden guy. Even back in the SNES and Genesis days, my sports games of choice were always NBA Jam and EA’s NHL games. When consoles moved away from sprites and into polygons, I often times found myself enjoying the Gameday and 2K games more than Madden. But Madden always stayed on top, even when the series was inferior to it’s competition. After purchasing the rights to the NFL license in 2005, many pigskin fans feared that removing 2K from the race would ensure lackluster Madden titles for years to come. For awhile, those fans may have been right, as Madden spent the next four years taking baby steps towards improvement without ever producing a truly great product. EA Sports set out to change all that with Madden NFL 10, introducing a new physics based tackling system, a completely overhauled passing game on both side of the ball, and an overall slower game speed. The result is a Madden game that finally live up to the hype and steps out from under 2K’s immense shadow.

Perhaps the star of Madden 10 is “Pro-Tak”, a physics-based tackling system making its debut this year. In previous Madden titles, tackles and tackle breaks used canned animations. While these animations can still be seen at the start of a tackle, the animation can now branch into more fluid tackle breaks and gang tackles. Up to nine(!) defensemen can participate in the new gang tackle system, although more often then not you’ll only see three or four. Defensemen aren’t the only players that can participate in these tackles, as offensive lineman will often times attempt to push you through the pile. With Pro-Tak, every tackle can now be broken out of, even multiple-man gang tackles. For the most part, it makes the running game far more dynamic and fun, but it’s not without a downside. One-on-one tackling engagements are often won by the ball-carrier, as if the runner was coated in Vaseline, resulting it far too many big runs for touchdowns.

Madden NFL 10 also addresses my main complaint about the series the past few years, that being the passing game. For most of the current generation, Madden’s passing game has been dominant. Speedy wide-outs could always beat their man, resulting in no-defense shootouts where the winner was often times determined by whomever won the opening coin toss. This time around, opposing secondaries are far more competent, forcing you to take much better care of the ball. Heaving the ball downfield into one-on-one coverage no longer guarantees you a big completion, but more often will result in a pick six. In fact, a lot of passes will result in a pick six, many will argue far too many.  Often times, it seems like every opposing defenseman is an expert ball hawk, and it’s not uncommon to see even ace quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning throw 4 and 5 interceptions in any given game. This wouldn’t be quite so bad if said interceptions didn’t result in touchdowns so frequently. I suppose this encourages more conservative play and emphasizes the importance of the run game, but when opposing linebackers seemingly have better hands than Jason Witten, it can cause some moments of controller-tossing frustration.

While we’re on the subject of turnovers, I must applaud the new “Fight for the Fumble” feature. Essentially a button-mashing mini-game, Fight for the Fumble occurs whenever multiple players jump on a loose fumble. You’re treated to a close up of both teams scrumming for the ball while a meter on the bottom of the screen gives you commands on which buttons to tap. No matter which side of the ball you’re on, winning one of these battles is surprisingly rewarding, and always gave me extra incentive not to waste my chances on the ensuing possession.

Many modes from last year’s game return, and in the case of Superstar mode, in a much more streamlined fashion.

 "Huck it, f*ck it, FOOTBALL!"

Many improvements have been made to the Franchise mode, mostly on the AI’s handling of team management such as signing and drafting players. This year, it seems Tiburon’s main focus was expanding the game’s online component. In addition to online co-op, in which you and a friend can team up and take control of specific players on the field, Madden fans can now enjoy the thrill of Online Franchise via Xbox Live or the PSN. Similar to the Online Dynasty mode of EA’s NCAA titles, Online Franchise allows you to set up a 32-player franchise which can be played through multiple seasons. Commissioner’s can choose between default or drafted rosters, the latter of which can be done either automatically or via in-game live draft. While not as deep as the offline Franchise mode, you can still cut, sign, and trade players. Players will retire, progress, and regress just as they do offline. When playoff spots are on the line, it adds a much different dynamic to playing an online game with your friends, and it is by far the shining star of Madden 10’s game modes.

Madden 10’s visuals have also undergone a major facelift. Players are detailed like never before, and subtle lighting changes over the course of the game give the game more life than ever before. The weather effects are simply gorgeous, with things like snow effecting your visibility much like it would the players on the field. The television-style presentation has also seen improvements, including “The Extra Point”, a weekly wrap-up show in the offline Franchise mode featuring the NFL Network’s Fran Charles and Alex Flanagan.

The controls, play-calling, and menu systems are all nearly identical to its previous iterations. You can still expect Tom Hammond’s play-by-play and Chris Collinsworth’s constant criticism and references to when he used to play pro football, just in case you’d forgotten. The menu music is still an eclectic mix of rap and metal, ensuring the game’s mass appeal to anyone who prefers wearing their caps backwards. Make no mistake, despite all the changes this year,  Madden NFL 10 is still undeniably a Madden game, and the best in the series in over a decade.

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