Also available on: PS2, PS3, PSP, Wii, iPhone
Developer: EA Tiburon
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release date: August 14, 2009
John Madden's American football games are to US gamers what FIFA and Pro Evo are to us Brits. That's not to say that there isn't a market for these titles in Britain, with Electronic Arts' Gridiron releases proving popular since they debuted on computer screens in the late eighties. There's also been a slight spike of interest in American Football since the NFL decided to export actual league matches to England, with a packed Wembley hosting two ties in the past two years, and with Tampa Bay vs The New England Patriots to add a third in October.
The video games themselves have been rather typical of EA, with yearly updates consistently churned out; each with new rosters, visual touches, commentary, and a smattering of new features - all topped off with EA's usual excellent presentation. Madden NFL 10 is no different, sporting a wealth of gaming options, both on and offline to choose from, as well as some solid gameplay additions and graphical tweaks that ensure the latest in a long line of Madden football titles is the most essential yet.
Such is the quantity of features, modes and new stuff in NFL 10 that it's actually a little overwhelming when you first switch on. The game features the usual exhibition and franchise modes, which are joined by EA's standard 'Become A Pro' mode, as well as a number of mini-games and training options. The game has also taken the franchise mode global, with the option to conquer the online world with your team of merry men. In terms of actually getting on the field and playing, the game has introduced a number of subtle and not-so-subtle changes, which are designed to lend more realism to the title.
All of these changes really do achieve their goal, and make NFL 10 the most realistic and enjoyable edition in the series to date. For a start, the game's speed has been reduced to ensure that it feels more like a simulation of football rather than a speedy arcade title. The reduction of speed, which can be always be tweaked to make the game quicker, makes things more exciting by ensuring that more thought must go into each play, rather than simply relying on your fastest player to run circles around the opposition. The game also puts more emphasis on players' individual stats, which have been extended to take into account factors like how good a Quarterback is at throwing short, medium or long, as well as highlighting the difference between the quicker and slower players.
EA Tiburon has also tweaked the defensive play to make this aspect much more exciting and, in the case of defending your QB, much more important. The game introduces the new PRO-TAK feature, which sees up to nine players involved in tackles, and also allows for more jostling for position, with sumo-esque battles for that extra yard, both offensively and defensively. Defending the QB plays a much more prominent role in the latest Madden, with the pocket around the QB becoming a hallowed space that must be defended and observed at all costs. From an offensive point of view, awareness of your protection zone and releasing the ball before the pocket is breached often distracts you from throwing the pass at the optimum time, but one would imagine that this is a regular struggle that a QB must deal with week in and week out.
Naturally, graphics are used to add even more realism to the title, but it's the presentation that gives the game that little boost towards its goal of authenticity. Match day sees fans queuing to buy merchandise, drinks and snacks, while the players are also seen warming up, and the TV crew and commentators picking out the star players. Anthems are played, airplanes soar overhead, and advertising, stats and facts are constantly flashed at the bottom of the screen. Other touches, such as irate coaches on the sidelines, half-time analysis shows and the rather more subtle player animations (which are noticeably different for certain sportsmen) continue to make the player feel as though they are involved in an authentic game of football as opposed to playing a video game.
On the downside, Madden NFL 10 does contain some slow-down, which never occurs enough to ruin whole matches, but does rear its ugly head regularly enough to be noticed. While the in-game graphics are really very good, some of the cutscene animations and visuals are a little disappointing. This may seem a minor criticism, but in a game as solid as this, the little things stand out. Also, and perhaps the biggest fault, the commentary is a little on the patchy side, with some old-school pauses between two sets of words bringing you back to reality, or virtual reality in this case.
Despite its relatively minor flaws, Madden NFL 10 is a triumph of a sports title, and the best American Football game on the market without a shadow of a doubt. The new features, which make the game feel more realistic, don't in any way detract from the excitement of playing the title, and only serve to make each run, kick, throw and tackle all the more crucial. Throw in an online mode with a bit more depth, plus some mini-games, and scenario situations, and you have a game that should last the distance, or at least until next year's iteration.
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