Like the career arcs of many promising first-round draft picks, Madden%26rsquo;s next-generation games have steadily improved from unwatchable embarrassment to veteran excellence. Perhaps, then, we were expecting too much - or (more likely) the short development cycle allotted to Madden 09%26rsquo;s crew didn%26rsquo;t allow enough time for all their ideas to get fully implemented. Whatever the reason, while this year%26rsquo;s edition still rocks hard, it sports enough middling annoyances to hold it back from pigskin perfection.
EA can hardly be accused of cashing in with a simple roster update and a couple of back-of-the-box %26ldquo;new and improved%26rdquo; bullet points, as there are loads of additions this year. The most impactful of these is the Madden IQ, which molds the play-by-play struggle on the field.
We%26rsquo;re not math majors (therefore can%26rsquo;t profess to prove it), but all evidence suggests that EA isn%26rsquo;t just blowing smoke when they say your performance is constantly measured and the opponent%26rsquo;s play tweaked accordingly. With this setting turned on, each game became an epic struggle as our strengths were muted and weaknesses under-exploited. Thankfully, we could always switch back to %26ldquo;Pro%26rdquo; difficulty when we wanted to lay a beatdown on hapless opponents. That always feels good.
Most of the other new bells and whistles combine to shine everything up to a glossy hue, from the players to the TV-style graphics whooshing across the screen. The long-disdained quasi-PA announcer calling the action is finally dead, replaced in the virtual booth by %26ldquo;real%26rdquo; commentary from Tom Hammond and Cris Collinsworth. Their blathering is hardly earth-shattering and often repeats, but it%26rsquo;s a positive addition. Collinsworth will also break down key plays in a stop-motion, neon-hued replay feature; it%26rsquo;s kinda nifty but after a few ooohs and ahhs it luster dims significantly.
We were definitely hoping for some of our biggest gripes from last year to disappear, but unfortunately a few remain. While players become gloriously caked in mud during rain-soaked games, for some reason the field never changes a bit (to be fair, though, snow games look beautiful). Scorers often celebrate their touchdowns all by themselves as their teammates lumber toward the sidelines, and computer-controlled players regularly step out of bounds when danger is nowhere close. You can%26rsquo;t even pick different on-screen plays with the various face buttons (you can in Madden%26rsquo;s collegiate counterpart, NCAA Football 09). These complaints may sound like nitpicking - which we freely admit they are - but add %26lsquo;em up and the semblance of next-generation, immersive football is seriously crimped.
Without a doubt, Madden 09 is still a day-one purchase for gridiron junkies. We%26rsquo;ll happily play all season long, during which we%26rsquo;ll invent a thousand more reasons to love and hate it all at the same time. No matter what, though, we%26rsquo;d be lying if we said we weren%26rsquo;t a tad disappointed that this year%26rsquo;s version didn%26rsquo;t make the same jump we%26rsquo;d gotten accustomed to the last two years. We were ready for the %26rsquo;73 Dolphins, but got the %26rsquo;84 %26lsquo;Fins instead.
Aug 12, 2008