Replay Value: 10
It's the most popular and well known sports franchise in the world, and without it, EA may not be the gargantuan powerhouse they are today. The Madden series has gone through a horde of competition over the past 20 years: GameDay, Quarterback Club, and especially NFL 2K being the most notable. But no matter the football sim, Madden had no problem outselling them all combined. Now, Madden is the only name in town, and while plenty are still bitter about it, at least we continue to get a quality product. Perhaps the past two Maddens didn't offer any major improvements...but Madden 09 feels like an all new game.
The most frequent complaint I've always made about Madden games is how they never felt quick enough. Gameplay always had a tendency to feel a bit on the choppy side, never truly making Madden feel like it's evolving. For that reason, my personal preference had been the 2K games, they felt more fluid, quicker, and there was a much better connection between the gamer and the athletes on screen. But all of that changes with this year's Madden game, as Madden no longer feels outdated, but rather fresh.
When I first played Madden NFL '09 two months ago during the Madden 20th Anniversary party in New York City, my buddy and I immediately noted how much smoother the game felt. The pace of the game now has that fluidity that the series has been missing, and controlling your players feels superb. As a result of these refinements, the action is now tighter and more precise - gone is that feeling of sloppiness from the past Madden games.
So now that the gameplay feels far more intuitive than before, what does this mean? Well, for starters it means you get a less frustrating experience. Better controls also call for more responsive actions, and that means far less controller throwing, and fighting between you and your friends...believe me, I've been there many, many times. To further improve the intuitive experience is the all new Virtual Training Center (VTC) for Madden 09.
The VTC is the first thing you'll encounter upon booting up the game, and here's where good ol' Papa Madden will explain to you that Madden NFL '09 has a system that can create a customized difficulty level based on your skills. You will go through a series of tests (all of which you can skip), and be graded on them anywhere between Rookie to All Madden. Once you've finished the tests, the game assess your Madden IQ and then creates a custom difficulty level specifically for you. This trial of tests can be repeated at anytime if you'd like to refine your custom difficulty level.
One of the game's 85 new features is a Rewind option that allows you to trigger a re-do that'll rewind the last play and give you another shot. You can set how many rewinds each team is allowed to have per game, and I suggest setting it to zero. This is football, mistakes and upsets are part of the equation. By now, I'm certain that you're well aware that there are a horde of new enhancements and features added to Madden 09, and I obviously can't go into detail explaining them all. But I can say that as a whole, all of those changes have made this the best playing Madden game, and certainly the best playing football game since NFL 2K5.
As far as gameplay modes go, you've got: Franchise, Superstar, Virtual Trainer, Madden Test, Madden Moments, Mini-Games, and Practice. The Virtual Trainer is where you'll go to hone your skills, and the Madden Test is where you'll go to show that you've improved in hopes of getting a better evaluation and harder custom difficulty. The Franchise mode and the way that it creates and tracks your gameplay statistics has been completely redone for the first time since the mode's inception.
The Madden Moments mode is a highlight-reel mode where you'll replay some of the biggest moments from the 2007 NFL season. A Fantasy Football mode has been implemented into this year's Madden, a welcome addition, as the "game" has grown immensely popular all across the country. Lastly, EA has brought back a number of very important features from the PS2/Xbox Maddens, something that the fanbase has been calling for for the past two years now. Online is consistent and smooth, and those who've poured countless hours into last year's game will, no doubt, do the very same for this year's.
Visually, an improved graphics engine carries Madden NFL '09, and allows us to forgive EA for shanking the PlayStation 3's Madden 08 last year with its inferior visuals and framerate. Madden NFL 09 is a performer with its spot-on 60 frames per second, 720p resolution, and very clean picture quality. For Madden '09, Tiburon has re-rendered every NFL player model in the game, creating much more realistic looking athletes, complete with their accurate physiques. The overall look of Madden NFL '09 is a polished one; the grass doesn't look blotchy, the rain and snow look very nice, the lighting is superb, and there is a minimal presence as far as jaggies are concerned. Even though it's still leagues off from EA's CG trailer from 2005, Madden NFL 09 is a good looking title.
One other big feature for the game's visuals is how super smooth each animation is. No longer do animations chop from one to the other, most of the time the action moves very fluidly and smoothly. Furthermore, tackles are more dynamic than past iterations, keeping the momentum feeling fresh and exciting. The weather now has a direct affect on gameplay, as rainy and snowy conditions make players more prone to slipping, sliding, dropping the ball, and so forth.
Audio is handled by Cris Collinsworth and Tom Hammond, both of which take control of the commentary booth for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions. Al Michaels and John Madden take the reigns of the booth in the PS2, PSP, Wii, and Xbox versions. The commentary in Madden '09 is a definite step forward compared to the past games, as the commentators now have more to say about each match, player, and event. An example of this improved commentary is hearing the commentators mention that they spoke to a certain player some days ago, before the on-going match, and asked the player how he felt about a particular scenario. Little things like that help improve the overall presentation. And of course, to wrap the audio up is a soundtrack...with a mixed bag of artists. Acts include The Offspring, Airbourne, Franz Ferdinand, Senses Fail, and others I'd rather not mention.
All in all, Madden NFL '09 is the first Madden game I have enjoyed with very few peeves to complain about. Tiburon has done a fantastic job at bringing us a game that controls superbly well, looks smooth, runs quick, and boasts a horde of enhancements to make this the best Madden game ever. Madden fans don't need me to tell them that this one's worth the purchase, but if, somehow, you're still on the fence and need a push, Madden '09 is definitely worth your time.