Madden NFL 2009
Sports games, huh? They’ve got quite a unique image in the gaming industry. Many blast them for the yearly releases showing little evidence as to why you should spend £40 on the latest instalment whilst others may choose to ridicule the genre in general and to be more specific, the most popular sports games for being far too mainstream and lacking hardcore appeal. Whilst on the east side of the pond we’ve seen the rise and fall of FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer multiple times, on the west side Madden NFL has remained a consistently highly praised, successful series for longer than I’ve been a gamer. In this latest instalment of the popular series, this year’s ‘gimmick’ is the game’s ability to adjust its difficulty level to player skill, you – the individual player, whilst providing a handful of subtle changes to justify spending again on the series.
The ‘Adaptive Difficulty Engine’ is the core of this year’s Madden experience. Upon booting the game, you are presented with a brief set of challenges in a virtual arena. John Madden explains the engine to the player and then thrusts you into offensive and defensive rushing and passing tests. Your performance on these tests determines how capable the AI is in these four key areas, so even if you are a genius at passing but can’t tackle to save your life, then your personalised difficulty level will reflect this. Not only this but after every game, your performance will also be assessed so to reflect the player improving or getting worse so you’re constantly being challenged, but not to the ridiculous extent like in a typical sports game, where making the leap to the highest difficulty is often suicidal even if you easily scoop huge victories on normal difficulty levels.
The system is not perfect, though. In my first couple of games I had to allow the difficulty to balance itself out to a level which was suitable for me, as I found the challenges to be much easier than the real-game scenarios. My first two games were spent trying desperately to break the touchdown duck, sadly to no avail. After the difficulty had eased in the key areas I was struggling in though, the game became much fairer and the engine really does live up to the expectations it sets itself. This really is the story of the entire game as the series has had three instalments on the Xbox 360 beforehand to maximize this version of the game’s potential, refining those bugs which have irritated in previous Madden games.
Once the difficulty is accustomed to a suitable level, Madden 2009 plays much like its predecessors. The physics engine is one of the great technical achievements as players fall to the ground and collide with each other with lifelike animation – all important when much of the game revolves around pushing an opponent down hard enough for them to stumble backwards a few precious yards. Interceptions are also a lot more common than in the games of last generation as the players react more naturally to the path of the football, and having the ball intercepted is far more frustrating knowing that if you’d waited just a second longer, it would have flown gracefully through the air and into the receiver’s hands. Whilst at times you can still get away with using the same play over and over again once you’ve found the perfect way to pull it off, the amount of options open to you every single play is overwhelming, but not so much as to put you off experimenting.
If you’re past the whole playing against AI scene, then the online play is as solid and popular as ever with a vast array of different options available. Even if you don’t wish to play against real-life opponents then it’s well worth being hooked up to Live for the NFL News Channel, which provides news on all the latest transfers, injuries and scores complete with the option to stream highlights there and then. It’s not a completely revolutionary concept but it does add to the overall NFL experience, helping you to keep up to date with the league in-between playing the game. It’s also a very simple news feed which might encourage those who only have an interest in the sport from a gaming perspective, to get involved with the sport outside of the TV screen.
The other key implementation this year is EA-Sports Backtrack, which takes your standard replay and analyses it to show you why a particular play was good or bad. The language of the commentators is incredibly realistic and is genuinley presented in a believable fashion. Once again, a small new feature which just makes the overall package feel a much more complete experience.
Madden NFL is a series which feels like Pro Evolution Soccer did in its peak. It’s a game which every year you wonder how they could improve it in any way other than basic graphical updates and the odd new mode, however unlike the former, Madden is a series which on its twentieth anniversary is still taking large strides every single year. Much of this is down to technological advancements, but during each generation the series continues to find new ways to improve, and is one of the best examples of a sports game doing its job to the best possible degree, regardless of the stigma attached to the genre, it’s packed full of content, looks magnificent and now plays incredibly smooth regardless of player skill.