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Reviewed by Jason Zingale
he “Madden” football series has gone through its share of peaks and valleys, but lately, Electronic Arts has really been on a roll. Last year’s 20th anniversary edition can certainly be looked at as a pinnacle in the history of the franchise, not only for its achievement as the number one football sim, but also as one of the best installments the series has ever seen. Nevertheless, it’s only a matter of time before fans start worrying about what might come next, because although “Madden NFL 10” is a solid entry with plenty of great new features, there’s not a lot the series can offer when it’s already the best of the best.
While past installments have focused more on tweaking gameplay, this year is all about the details. EA already knows that it’s pretty much perfected how “Madden” plays, so the company has switched its attention to perfecting not only how it looks, but how it mimics the real-life game. Many of these changes are simple, but they really help make the on-the-field action feel more realistic. Quarterbacks can now throw out of sacks, receivers can make over-the-shoulder basket catches, and bad shotgun snaps will often leave your QB in a world of hurt. Weather can also affect the game by causing slips and falls on the field, while players actually cringe when hurt and suck air when fatigued. All of this detail applies to the coaches, trainers and referees as well, as they're often seen doing exactly what you'd expect in a typical game. Simply put, EA isn't messing around in their attempt to deliver the complete football experience.
Many of the new features this year aren’t exactly revolutionary, but once again, it’s more about the details than anything else. Leading the pack is the new Pro-Tak animation system, which allows for up to nine-man gang tackles. This means that if you’re opponent has a particularly strong running back, it’s going to take more men to bring him down. On the other side of the ball, players can break free from gang tackles using the highlight stick, while plays where the RB hasn’t been tackled, but isn’t making progress, will be whistled down. There have also been changes to the Injury System so that you can choose to play hurt and risk a more serious injury; updated QB Ratings that rank the quarterback’s accuracy, ability to throw on the run, and fake a play action; and QB Pressure Alert, a controller rumble warning system for when defenders break through the pocket. The latter sounds great in theory, but more often than not, if you feel your controller rumble, you’re probably only a half-second away from being sacked.
Other new additions include a revamped NFL Superstar mode (say goodbye to forced practices and drills) and The Extra Point, a TV broadcast-style halftime show and post-game recap, but the biggest feature for many players will be the new Online Franchise. Along with offering you and 31 of your closest friends the chance to play a true NFL season (complete with live drafts, player trades, league message boards and more), you can also manage everything (like custom uniforms and depth charts) from the comfort of a home computer or while picking up some beer and wings via a mobile application on the iPhone. Okay, so maybe there are a few revolutionary features in the game, but the best part is that you can experience it all for the first time in online co-op.
“Madden NFL 10” isn’t without its faults, however. The new Fight for the Fumble feature, an on-field minigame that has you mashing buttons to gain control of the ball, is utterly pointless, and the addition of Chain Gang measurements and endzone decisions happen so often that you’ll wish you had the option to skip them. Additionally, while the game boasts 4,000 lines of recorded dialogue from Tom Hammond and Cris Collinsworth, it becomes repetitive after only a few hours. Oh yeah, and though my computer opponents have done it several times over the course of my first season, I can’t for the life of me figure out how to challenge a call. These are hardly the kind of problems that would invalidate all the progress the series has made over the last few years, but for a game that does everything else so perfectly, they definitely stick out more than usual. That shouldn’t prevent you from picking up “Madden NFL 10,” though, because despite a few grievances, this is easily one of the best installments to date.