“Madden” is intimidating. No two ways about it. It has a great reputation, for sure. High Metacritic scores year in and year out alongside annual mutli-platinum sales in the US alone, no other game franchise in the world commands the same level of respect over so many different releases. Not even “Tetris”. But it also has a reputation for being unforgiving, with complex controls, demanding AI, convoluted game modes, and an increasingly exclusive multiplayer community. It’s also seen by the gaming community as a series slow to change.
This is only the second “Madden” entry I have played, the first being “Madden 09”. “Madden 10” proves the series’ reputation for quality is well earned. There is a lot of great game to be had on this one disc. “Madden 10” is also a noticeably different product than its predecessor, and for the most part it’s a better one. In some ways, it isn’t and that’s where the sticky issue of its reputation for being difficult comes into focus. Though not in the way you might expect.
“Madden 10” is, put simply, a football video game, but it would be more accurate to think of it is a package of five or even six separate games on a single disc. In addition to the basic single and multiplayer NFL matches, “Madden” includes a collection of mini-games, playable simulations of classic real-life NFL moments, an insanely complex franchise simulation mode, online versions of both the franchise and basic play modes, and an almost RPG-like “NFL Superstar” mode that has you creating your very own player.
Variety: There is, as you can tell from the description above, no shortage of things to do in “Madden 10”. The sim -obsessed player can spend an almost infinite amount of time in franchise mode alone.
Graphics: “Madden 10” still hasn’t touched the so-called concept footage shown off during the Xbox 360’s debut back in 2005, but it is noticeably better looking than “Madden 09”. The play field is nice and polished, the animations are sharp, and the stadium detail is out of this world.
Pro-Tak Animation: For what sounds like marketing babble for the back of the box, “Madden 10”’s Pro-Tak Animation system alters the feel of play significantly. Without getting too technical, this new system how it feels when multiple on-screen players tackle a ball-carrier on field, and makes gang-up hits impressively realistic without taking control away from the player.
Play-Calling: Plays this year are mapped to the controller’s face buttons, meaning that the days of seeing what you’re opponent’s doing in local multiplayer are gone. Why did it take this long to do this?
Easy to pick up and play: Well, if you understand how football works. Turning on the game without having played it before is simple, letting you enjoy the game without scratching the surface of its many complex maneuvers.
Impenetrable game modes: Everything beyond the most basic matches in the game are a complete mystery to newbies. If you don’t know how to play franchise mode, good luck figuring it out.
Menus: Navigating “Madden 10” is like exploring a hedge maze. This isn’t specific to “Madden 10”, but it’s still a problem that needs to be addressed at some point.
Fight-for-the-fumble: Recovering a fumble now activates a Quick Time Event tug-of-war that has you mashing buttons to recover the ball. Good idea, with lousy execution because it doesn’t feel like you have any actual control of what’s happening on-screen.
Mini-games: Weight lifting and sprinting? Seriously? These diversions from football are actually a good idea given their similarity to Konami’s classic “Track & Field”, but they’re just not any fun. With some polish, they’d actually be a great selling point.
For the diehard “Madden” fans out there, it’s a foregone conclusion that you’re going to buy this game and you should take comfort in the fact that this is an upgrade over last year’s edition. But, as “Madden” Producer Phil Frazier says, only 30 to 40 percent of the people buying “Madden 10” are previous players of the series. That being the case, “Madden 10” is a good product with some serious problems. The game is well-made but getting the most out of it takes a lot of work and, for many, the reward won’t be worth that effort. Tiburon has made the best football game they can on the current hardware, but considering they’re the only NFL game in town, they still need to figure out how to make one for everyone to play.
Note: The game was played for review prior to release, without access to the majority of online features. This review is of the offline components of “Madden 10” as played on Xbox 360.