swandre3000's Madden NFL 10 (Xbox 360) review

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A little rough on the edges, but the best Madden yet

 In the opening sequence of Madden 10, John Madden himself promises you “I’ve seen a lot of games, but I have a feeling that this one is gonna be special.”
Big words, for a franchise that has come under quite a lot of fire the past few years for not being innovative or special whatsoever. Gone were the days when 2k and EA pushed themselves to their creative limits and brought about many of the staples now found in almost every football game (I remember the first year of the hit stick; it was EPPIIICC). Many critical sports gamers have, like John, seen a lot of games since EA’s exclusive deal with the NFL went down - and many of them feel that all of those games were far too similar to merit a yearly $60 investment into nothing more than a glorified roster redux. 2010, though, promises to be anything but more of the same, packed to the brim with new features galore. Does the game deliver on the promise put down by its namesake; is 2010 special? Find out after the jump

The first thing you notice about 2010 is that everything just looks cleaner. Gone is the garish background with the worthless trophy case and the ring builder stand; instead, you are given a background with Madden’s cover athletes in various stylized poses, and a small, understated menu in the bottom right corner. The menu itself is also extremely snappy and loads for 2010 seem drastically shorter than they were for 2009.
The aesthetics for 2010 aren’t the only thing that’s different; this year’s Madden is drastically different in many fundamental ways. The most important of these is EA’s new outlook on player rankings. Gone are the days when the majority of roster spots are filled by players in their 80’s and 90’s; you are going to have several starters that are in the 70’s and possibly even 60’s. Only the true superstars find themselves cracking the 90’s, and the 80’s are all above-average players, with the 70s being the new average guys. The game has also added new stats for the quarterbacks, measuring their accuracy for short, medium, and deep throws, as well as how well they throw on the run. 2010 also places a new emphasis on speed, even going so far as allowing you to adjust how much of a difference there is between speedsters and slow-pokes.
What this means is that teams now HAVE to play to their strengths to survive. The Patriots, Cardinals, and Saints are going to air it on you, taking advantage of their all-star QBs and receivers; the Vikings, Jaguars, and Redskins are going to pound the ball down your throat. And, with the new emphasis on speed differential, you are really going to feel like you’re strapped to a rocket when you start juking out defenders as Devin Hester or Percy Harvin on punt returns. I was initially worried that the new speed differentials would make it easy for teams to load up with speedy receivers and just bomb the ball deep; this is not the case at all. You have to take your shots deep in realistic situations - i.e. when your guy is in single man coverage, with no safety help up top - or you’re going to get picked, a lot.
On the field, the game itself plays much more realistically than any previous Madden. Offensive lineman work to form an actual pocket around the quarterback, making scrambling a last-ditch resort instead of a go-to tactic like it used to be. The new Pro-Tak system is pretty cool, though not as revolutionary and insane as EA hyped it up to be. You’re still ultimately using canned animations instead of a real-time physics engine for tackles (like the hopefully upcoming but maybe canceled BackBreaker promised to do), but the animations look extremely realistic and smooth, and the gang tackles are great to watch. Pro-Tak also makes it an absolute blast to play as a power back; playing as Brandon Jacobs and barreling through the line dragging a pesky defenders on your back as you rumble for firsts down is as satisfying as juking linebackers out of their shoes as Leon Washington. You can also adjust the game speed, making the game feel less arcade-like than previous incarnations (I recommend playing on Slow). Also new is the Fight for the Fumble feature, which is just terrible. Basically, whenever a fumble hits the dirt, you enter into a button mashing mini-game for control. It’s dumb, frustrating and, thankfully, able to be turned off from the outset. 2010 also includes the new Wildcat formation made famous by the Miami Dolphins last year, but my time spent with it has been… less than successful. It’s fun, but not all that effective.
I myself am a big Franchise guy, and not all that into online, so I was extremely relieved to see the menu redesign for my favorite mode. Everything is on a single screen, easily (and quickly) accessible. A lot of the main parts of Franchise have also been revamped and are greatly affected by the new ratings philosophy. Rookie scouting becomes extremely key, because you really don’t want to blow off your scouting reports all year and have your first rounder come in at 50 overall. Thankfully, scouting this year actually is worth your time, as the more weeks you scout an individual player, you get actual ratings. So, after scouting a QB for several weeks, you could learn his awareness, injury rating, throw power, speed, etc, letting you make a much more informed decision.
Free Agency has even been spruced up, with all players now having certain wants and needs. Some players don’t give a crap who they play for, they just money; other’s are willing to take a little less dough if they know they’re going to a contender. It makes the AI signings a lot more realistic, and also challenges you to go after certain players, instead of just throwing money at the ones with the highest ranking. Of course, with the ratings reshuffle, free agency also requires a different kind of strategy than previous years. Overall, it’s a much more refined and realistic process.
Lastly, it seems that 2010’s trade AI isn’t as dumb as a box of rocks. For instance, the Lions won’t trade you Matt Stafford for your first round pick, since he is considered the future of the franchise. However, the game still seems to overvalue a lot of players, especially in relation to draft picks. A lot of “average” players are dealt for mid-round picks, but I had a hard time garnering anything higher than 5ths or 6th for several decent players.
I unfortunately have not had the chance to play online franchise (if you’re reading this and need someone, put something down in the comments!), but I can imagine that it’s enjoyability will rest a lot on who you are playing with.
Lastly, I want to spend some time talking about 2010’s focus on presentation. EA has done A LOT to make the previously barren and soulless game seem a lot more vibrant and alive. There are many in-game “cut scenes” of sorts: injured players will limp off the field with the help of the training staff (or even get carted off); coaches will chew out offensive players on the sidelines after turnovers; players will chest bump after big plays; you’ll see fans hanging out outside the stadiums before games, etc. The biggest addition are the halftime shows, which give you stats and scores from the around the league of games in progress and show highlights from your games, and the weekly wrap-up show, “The Extra Point.” Both feature Fran Charles and Alex Flanagan of the NFL Network. Both are really cool ideas in theory, and obviously borrow heavily from the much-lauded presentation in ESPN 2k5.
While it’s great to see EA taking steps forward in the presentation department, it’s obvious that these ideas had to come to fruition in a very short development cycle. The wrap-up show features no video highlights whatsoever, and the half-time show only features highlights from your game; not to keep beating a dead horse, but 2k outdid EA 5 years ago in 2k5 by having highlights from EVERY game that week during their shows. And, the voices this year are noticeably jilted and unnatural. You can tell everything is just plug and play when Alex reports on this week’s game between “The Pittsburgh Steelers….and….the…Baltimore Ravens.” Also, after the novelty wears off, the shows are just… boring. I hope that EA takes these elements from 2010 and builds on them for 2011 (most new features introduced in Madden usually take about two years to get fully fleshed out due to the development cycle), because this could potentially be really cool.
A special paragraph has to be spent on how absolutely GOD-AWFUL the in-game announcing is. Collinsworth’s lines get old extremely fast, and much of his analysis is just straight up stupid. Just because my fullback scored on a desperation pass doesn’t make him “easily one of the best at his position,” as Collinsworth is oft to gush after every touchdown, and just because Tom Brady missed a couple of throws doesn’t mean he is known league-wide as an inaccurate passer. Tom Hammonds is even worse, delivering most of his lines with no feeling and seemingly always at the wrong time. He’ll say you gained no yards on a play when you in fact gained several, say a punt has taken a bad bounce when in fact it rolled out at the one yard line, etc. Just save yourself a lot of annoyance and turn them off as soon as possible.
Overall, Madden 2010 is a definite and noticeable upgrade over 09. However, a lot of the new features don’t really feel completely fleshed out, and overall the game is missing some extra polish. You’re still going to notice some of the same problems you’ve had with previous Maddens (your o-line acts like a sieve and misses seemingly obvious blocks at times, shotgun runs and draw plays are worthless, etc), and you will get annoyed with some inconsistencies in the game and some of the less than stellar new additions once the novelty wears off. With that said, 10 is easily the best Madden game so far, and is miles away from a mere roster update. If you are an NFL fan and are pondering whether or not to plunk down your money again this year, have no fear: This year is gonna be special.

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