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Review: Madden NFL 09

Players: 1-4

Price: $59.99

Platform(s): Nintendo DS, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, Wii, Xbox, Xbox 360

Developer: EA Tiburon

Publisher: EA Sports

ESRB: Everyone

Website: Madden NFL 09

Rating:

Note: The Xbox 360 version was played for this review.

It feels borderline pointless to review any Madden game because they always end with the same verdict: it's a little better than last year's edition and if you liked last year's edition, you'll like this installment too. However, with Madden 09 EA is trying to move beyond its usual audience and scoop up some lolcasuals and the attempt seems worth chronicling.

When you first start up Madden NFL 09, a holographic John Madden pops up and informs you he's going to run you through a series of drills to determine your skill level. Then you play four drills - Run Offense, Run Defense, Pass Defense, and Pass Offense - with neon red and blue players on a black and white grid. After you're finished playing this unholy spawn of Madden and Tron, you're graded on each of these four elements of gameplay. These four measurements will then be used to construct a custom game difficulty for you.

It's a good idea in theory but you'll probably have to take the test a couple times to get an accurate read; the A.I.'s occasional stupidity or your luck with play-calling will skew individual drills' results. Also, the game neglects to mention some of the vital controls you'll need to know before each drill - for example, the sprint button. The Run Offense drill is still pathetically easy without a sprint button - so long as you just run forward, your blockers will crush all who dare to lay a finger on you. However, you'll look like an idiot on the Run Defense drill when you try to chase down running backs while leisurely jogging across the field.

On a side note, why is there a sprint button in Madden games? When do I need to get somewhere on the football field slowly? The sprint button should only be necessary when you're trying to push your quarterback into scramble mode. The small amount of times you'll stop sprinting to wait for a block to set up (why not just take your hands off the directional pad altogether, or do a reverse juke?) don't make up for the hours spent constantly holding the button. Why not at least give us an "always run" feature in the options menu, as many other games do?

Anyway, the whole point of evaluating your custom skill level is that well, Madden cares about you, Billy. They want you to grow from a wide-eyed casual gamer into a big, agile-thumbed douche bag who wears a jersey and fingerless weightlifting gloves when he plays. Your skill level - dubbed "My Skill" - fluctuates based on your performance. If you do really well running the football, Run Offense will be a smidge more difficult the next game you play. It's not a perfect system by any means - again, A.I. stupidity and luck will often rule the day. Furthermore, if your opponent simply decides not to run the ball much - or their running back happens to be awful - you'll still be credited with a good run defense.

Luckily, you can forgo the wisdom of Holo-Madden and set your own difficulty level. When you're playing against a friend, you can both use radically difficulty levels. In other words, if you have a friend who's a complete neophyte with Madden, he can play at a beginner difficulty with highly simplified controls while you play at the difficulty you're used to. The split-difficulties feature is designed to pull first-time players into the game who might be otherwise too intimidated but it's also nice for more experienced players who are sick of training their friends how to play the game.

Another notable change to tip the game to the casual gamer is the removal of the QB Vision system first introduced in Madden 06. This feature made you press a button to lock onto a receiver before throwing the ball, and throwing at a receiver not in your vision cone would result in reduced accuracy. Personally I enjoyed QB Vision because it forced you to be a deliberate passer and it removed a lot of the blind luck from the passing system. Alas, QB Vision isn't even optional in this edition.

When I first heard about the new Rewind feature, I was convinced it would completely destroy Madden as I knew it. The Rewind feature allows you to replay any down from the game. The exact amount of times you can do this per game is adjustable. I don't plan on using this feature in any games against another player because of how infuriating it would be to have someone erase a big interception I just made, but in truth it helps you as much as it hurts you. I wouldn't consider it an edge for casual gamers, either; they're more likely to need those ridiculously lucky plays in order to best a more experienced player. There is some element of strategy with these Rewinds, too. You can blow your Rewinds on do-overs of risky play-calls, or keep them in your back pocket in case you have an inopportune turnover.

The game is exactly what you'd expect from a new Madden beyond those "casual" tweaks. The soundtrack still sounds like EA designers went to the MTV VMA's, chloroformed the first dozen artists they saw, and whisked them away to a recording studio. Cris Collinsworth and Tom Hammond have taken over the broadcasting duties from Madden and Al Michaels but they, too, say the same endlessly looped "good read by the quarterback on that play, that running back works really hard on the off-season" shit that you'll turn off after a couple games. The game features the usual grab bag of modes you see every year, along with "Madden Moments" that let you play out real situations from the 2007 season. It's primarily a bunch of "drive down the field and score the winning touchdown" scenarios and while that's pretty much what any football game is at its heart, they should've cut half these "Moments" in order to make the remaining scenarios seem diverse and important.

Like I said at the start: it's a little better than last year's edition and if you liked last year's edition, you'll like this installment too. An IGN reviewer called it "the most loyal translation of America’s favorite sport I’ve ever seen" and that's something I can't disagree with, seeing as Madden 09 only needed to be slightly better than the previous year's edition to qualify for the distinction. It's important to remember that EA's primary mission here wasn't to expand the complexity or realism of the game - the mission was to expand the audience. Experienced players won't be bowled over by any of the new features and I'm not sure if making the game easier will cause a massive influx of casual gamers into Madden Nation but at least veterans should find they have more friends and family members willing to pick up a controller and play with them - I guess that counts for something.*

* - Unless you only play online, in which case it counts for nothing.

Pete Haas

Staff Writer at CinemaBlend.