Review: Madden NFL ’09

It’s August, and as every sports fan knows, that means football is right around the corner. What better way to get ready for our favorite teams to take the field again than play this year’s installment of Madden, which is exactly what I got to do this week. Madden ’09 is more than just a reiteration of a yearly staple: it’s arguably a return to the glory days of Madden past.

When you first start Madden, you take part in one of its newest features: the Madden virtual trainer which tests your "Madden IQ" through a series of challenges. These challenges will test your skills in various aspects of the game, like passing, running, rush defense, pass defense, and receiving. The challenges start out being quite easy (for example, running single coverage routes against lackadaisical defensive backs) and become progressively harder, like attempting to run against three linebackers. Your performance on these challenges will set the difficulty level of your AI opponents, but don’t worry if you disagree with Madden’s assessment of your skills, or if you just want to take the easy route; the difficulty can be set the traditional way.

This personalized difficulty setting is not the only new adaptive feature in Madden ’09. Opposing teams will actually react to your play style — blitz too much and you will get burned on a hot route, or try and grind it on the ground and you will see eight stacked in the box. This "Adaptive Difficulty Engine," as coined by Electronic Arts, is more than just the AI knowing your play calls or making miraculous interceptions. The game will actually be tailored to your ability level which adds to the replay value of this year’s Madden. Players who in past titles have refrained from playing on All-Madden mode because they could not handle the high powered offenses, but run up 500+ yard games against All-Pro defenses, will definitely enjoy this feature. For those players the game will be tailored in a way that they can have a competitive game by raising the AI’s defensive skill to match their prowess while not increasing the offenses to unbeatable levels.

The artificial intelligence is just the beginning of this year’s improvements. The highlight stick adds so much to running the ball that this year you will find yourself relearning the entire run game. Short cuts, juke moves, and shaking tackles can all be handled with the new improved highlight stick. You will need the upgraded highlight stick along with shifting blocking assignments and picking your holes to successfully run in Madden ’09.

Along with the highlight stick, the graphics get quite the overhaul, as did the audio. Chris Collingsworth is added to the commentary this year for a refreshing change. He does a great job, and just like in his real life color commentary, he brings quite a bit of humor to Madden ’09. Don’t distress: Madden is still around to hand out the one-liners and Maddenisms we all love.

My favorite addition to Madden this year is the ability to Rewind key plays. One second left in the 4th and Bob Sanders picks off your go ahead touchdown; in Madden ’09 you can Rewind the play and do it over. The Rewind ability is limited like challenges, which makes it an exciting new dynamic for multiplayer games. Since the amount of times you can use rewind is set by the players, it fits nicely into the gameplay of Madden ’09. Thus, you will not come away with the feeling of being cheated and instead are sure to love this new tactical element to a sports game. I definitely foresee rewind being a big part of professional play in Madden.

Yet new feature this year is the Madden Noment, which puts you in pivotal and sometimes humorous moments in football history. The very first Madden Moment puts you in the Dolphins’ shoes as they attempt to avoid a winless season against the Baltimore Ravens. In this year’s installment, there is a Backtrack mode which gives you custom information on your in-game decisions. Along with the new features, the old modes are back and as good as ever. Franchise and Hall of Fame modes as usual will make for hours and hours of enjoyment.

There is no real “bad” in Madden ’09; the only aspects which are close are highly subjective. Some players have complained about receivers not running routes, defensive assignments missed, and balls dropped. I, however, believe this adds to the realism in Madden ’09; just ask any Patriot fan about perfection in the NFL. With the realism in the gameplay and controls, Madden ’09 is definitely the most authentic football game ever. The new play-calling interface, which is a carryover from NCAA ’09 is liked by many Maddenites so far. In the new interface you can call plays according to packages: singleback will not only bring up plays from ace formation, but shotgun and trips as well. You can also call plays from different packages directly from the new interface. So far, it’s not too exciting.

The ugly is hard to find throughout the Madden franchise, minus the Xbox 360 version in ’06. Thank goodness, for fans of the series, Madden ’09 is far from that debacle. The only ugly is Online Franchise mode, which doesn’t allow for AI-controlled teams. Thus, you must find 32 other gamers to form a league with, which isn’t always an easy or wanted task for many Maddenites. In the end, the good far outweighs the bad in Madden ’09. I definitely recommend this game for any fan of the series or football in general.

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