Madden NFL 09
Joe Sixpack Will Be Impressed
Another year, another roster update. Or so the conventional wisdom goes when it comes to EA Sports games. And there is some truth in that stereotype. The sports gaming monolith does have a habit of giving us more of the same old, same old every year, throwing in just enough fresh glitz like hot rookies and cool reflective helmets to keep Joe Sixpack plunking down his $50 for another go. At the same time, the company never wants to go too far and create the ultimate football, soccer, basketball, or hockey game, because then the devs have to wonder what they’ll do next year. So, one step up, half a step back. Year after year.
Madden NFL 09 doesn’t do anything to break the “move along, nothing to see here” formula. Just like last year’s game, and that from the year before, and that from the year before that, and—you get the picture—this new boss is a lot like the old bosses. Which means that this us yet another just okay-yet-appealing entry in the flagship football series. True, there isn’t much new here aside from refinements like being able to take mulligans on screwed-up plays, on-the-fly advice from receiver-turned-broadcaster Cris Collinsworth, and the usual improved graphics. But the core gameplay remains reasonably solid save some A.I. niggles and poorly implemented online leagues, so once again, it’s hard to be seriously disappointed. If you are, then you should probably adjust your expectations, because this is really about as good as an EA Sports game ever gets.
Not that I can find too much wrong with that state of affairs…at the moment. As usual, this year’s Madden arrived at the perfect time for me. The game serves as the perfect appetizer for the upcoming NFL season every August, showing up just after the NFL preview mags hit newsstands and the preseason gets rolling in earnest. So I’ve been eating the game up yet again since launch day, and generally loving the experience. But, still, when I swap the fanboy cap for the critic’s fedora, I have to admit that this is yet another good news, bad news Madden game that introduces as many flaws as it does improvements.
The good outweighs the bad, although only marginally. Only the visuals are worthy of unreserved praise. Both the 360 and PS3 versions of the game are stunning, with even sharper and more accurate animations than the already beautiful games released for the next-gen consoles the past couple of seasons. For maybe the first time ever, you can barely notice any unrealistic hitches like balls being caught by receivers’ shoulders, even when you slow plays right and step through receptions frame by frame. Player models are approaching high-def realism. You can now make out muscle definition on the arms of beefy linemen, and outstanding lighting and shadow effects details the equipment stuffed under players’ shirts and pants so that they look more like fully uniformed pro footballers and not puffy revisions of the Michelin Man. Playing in inclement weather is now amazingly atmospheric. Players get absolutely filthy with mud during rainy games and can barely be seen in the blowing snow.
Basic gameplay is fairly solid, even with some issues that will have you smacking your forehead in frustration. The computer plays tough, sensible defense and does a great job with situational playcalling. It isn’t particularly easy to score here on the harder difficulty settings, unless you’re much more of a football game god than myself. Expect to be in tough with a lot of deep coverage when faced with long yardage on second and third downs, and to have to deal with some serious backfield pressure on traditional running situations. Computer teams mix up what they show you, too, so you can never get into a rut and lean on the same plays over and over again without getting burned.