Replay Value: 9.5
Many expected the Madden franchise to go downhill after EA acquired exclusive rights to the NFL and its players. I mean, history has proved to us many times over, that when there is no competition, there is no reason to try. But, with the exception of Madden NFL 07, EA has proven to us time and time again that they don't plan on leaving their devoted following in the cold. They don't plan on giving us simple roster updates and microfixes with every new iteration. In fact, EA Sports has been quite fixed on giving us something substantially new with every iteration Madden sees. Madden NFL 10 is no different. Having said that, I will hand it over to Ben for the gameplay portion of this review...
You know, I have a copy of Madden 92 for the SNES in my bedroom. Every now and then, I toss it in and have myself a fun destroy-fest when I take the Madden Greats and beat up on either New England or Tampa Bay. But that was then and this is now. And if you're one of those people who are saying to themselves, "oh look, another Madden...but what's new about it?" Well, first things first: it'd be a colossal mistake to assume that Madden NFL 10 is nothing more than another roster update, and it's another mistake to believe that all we have is a slightly more realistic physics engine and slightly spruced-up visuals. Perhaps the most significant upgrade that leaps right out at you is the unbelievable amount of player-to-player management available, combined with several new features and what EA Sports is calling the "Pro-Tak" system that offers "unprecedented control." That much, we really do believe, even if I'm not the biggest fan of the control mechanic.
Thing is, while I can say I had some difficulty in getting entirely absorbed, I can't really say it's the fault of the developers. You absolutely must have full mastery of the controller in Madden NFL 10, and if you don't take some serious time to practice and get used to this complex simulator, you'll be frustrated and bored. On the surface, it may seem like you have less control than ever before, but that's only because you're likely sticking to the left analog and face buttons. Big oops. Check the instruction manual; you're going to need to utilize the right analog stick a whole lot, and don't forget about the triggers (that R2 button to sprint is invaluable on both sides of the ball). The question is, does all this come together to offer a fluid, cohesive gameplay experience? The answer is yes, and this is about as close as you will come to feeling as if you have total control over each and every play.
It would take far too long to explain each and every control; it takes up the majority of the manual, for crying out loud. Let's just say that your options on the field are almost endless: after selecting a play and as you come to the line, you can do all sorts of stuff; you can call any number of audibles, make new assignments, focus on a particular offensive player (highlighting a receiver is great), and even bring up a mini-menu when pressing X on a selected defensive player. This is crucial; pressing X and then pushing in a certain direction with the right analog will have that player rush the QB, spy the QB, drop back, move into a hook pattern, etc, etc, etc. You only have so much time before the ball is snapped, though, so you'll often try to give one special assignment to a certain player, than switch to another so you can personally control him. On offense, you can stiff arm, spin, hurdle, push through potential tacklers, juke one way or the other, and even protect the ball. Hell, the QB even has a "sixth sense" now; if he's under pressure, the controller will rumble and you'll have a shot at avoiding the rush.
The animation is wonderfully smooth and there really aren't any hitches in the gameplay. The AI can be fiddled with until your heart's content but perhaps surprisingly, things aren't too bad on the default settings; the defensive AI might have to be toned down just a little, but that's about it. The downsides revolve around two things in my mind: the fact that EA remains too firmly fixed on the idea of momentum physics, and the over-reliance on the right analog stick. I still think NFL players should be able to change direction a little faster than they do, and I had to wrap our minds around the right analog stick too often. Again, I'm not sure EA had a choice, given the sheer amount of gameplay controls they offer, but it doesn't seem to work to full effectiveness all the time. For example, we used to be able to "swim" through the offensive line with defensive lineman (via R1 and L1) but now we use the right analog stick, and it just doesn't seem to work as well. The fact that it's both the Hit Stick on defense and the Highlight Stick on offense adds to the intricacy, and makes things a touch difficult.
If you're willing, you will soon learn the ropes, but it's gonna take patience and you will have to discipline your fingers. There are a large number of plays and the fact that you can alter them so drastically means you need to be on top of things, and once the ball is snapped, you can't stop thinking. You have to plan your move before it happens; once the defenseman is on top of you, your juke attempt won't matter. The players move realistically and although the group tackling thing is a little over-the-top (some players just drop when they're hit, you know), it all appears very, very NFL-ish. The balance is just wonderful...even if I think the breakaway speed is a little exaggerated for all players. And even if you're not happy with it, those AI sliders will let you meticulously craft what you deem to be the most authentic representation of the real sport. Perhaps the most telling aspect of the gameplay is that the more time you spend with it, the better you will get and the happier you will become. Well, of course. You gotta work at a competent simulator.
Some of my complaints are based more on personal preference than actual gameplay drawbacks. The bottom line is that the game looks and feels much like a real football game and that's exactly what we're looking for; a simulator that excels in the areas of realism and authenticity. New stuff? Fighting for the fumble, gang tackles, the aforementioned "QB Avoidance," "steerable tackles," the receiver spotlight, and a robust EA Sports Backtrack option that not only features replays, but commentary on those replays. The franchise mode is insanely deep as always, the mini-games are fun, and in all honesty, it doesn't seem possible for a player to have more control over off-the-field actions and decisions. And as for on-field decisions, it really feels more like a combination of a management sim and a football-playing sim. This is for the hardcore; no doubt about it. If you're not prepared to handle the workload - which is indeed extremely rewarding - you may want to wait for Madden Arcade, which shouldn't be too far off.
The graphics here are easily the best of the franchise, as EA Sports continues to make some solid improvements to the graphics engine as the years go by. We're still not at what EA promised many years ago with a teaser trailer, but we can accept this current state as fair. Animations, as mentioned earlier, are very smooth. But the passes still look jerky when viewed in a replay, as you'll notice the ball leaves the QB's hand before the arm comes forward.
On the other hand, collision detection has improved, as players no longer fly through each other as much as they once did. Yes, you'll still see the odd collision problem in a replay, but it has been toned down, as is certainly better than NCAA Football 10. The stadiums are filled to the brim with people, and unlike NCAA, the spectators here are more diverse and varied in appearance. The overall detail of the players is quite solid, and the grass they fall on looks pretty good, too. Of course, the framerate is locked to a super fluid 60 frames per second, and the resolution is 720p native, but can upscale to 1080i or 1080p.
With the absence of John Madden, commentary has, of course, gotten quite a lot better in the game. John Madden's painful and humorless commentary made me want to stab my ears. I've rolled my eyes so many times following a stupid Madden remark, I've strained the muscles in my eyes. Now, Cris Collinsworth and Tom Hammond are decent, but Chris Collinsworth has a knack for making some very Madden-esque comments. So while the commentary has improved over the years, it still needs work. Thankfully, the soundtrack is absolutely fantastic, with the likes of Iron Maiden, Nirvana, Mastodon, Korn, Slipknot, Rage Against the Machine, Judas Priest, Killswitch Engage, Black Sabbath, Beastie Boys, System of a Down, Alice in Chains, and Pantera. There are a number of old-school hip-hop acts present, but that's not really a cup-of-tea I care to drink very often.
Madden NFL continues to be a gameplay experience that is worth the money year in and year out. Where as other sports games such as Live, PGA Golf, and NCAA Football are better off purchased every other year, with the amount of refinements it has, Madden NFL 10 deserves a purchase even from those who bought last year's game. Gameplay enhancements are present in abundance and were written out by Ben in the last gameplay paragraph. Though it is the intricacy and depth of the game that will lure you in and grab a tight hold on you, in addition to being able to tinker with the sliders in order to tone the game to your liking. The visuals have improved, but the commentary still needs some work -- EA Sports really, really needs to make sure the cheese is brought to an end. We're sure you've already got your copy of the game, but in case you don't...just go and buy it.