In just a few weeks, John Madden will unleash his annual iteration of a yearly purchase obsession for NFL fans worldwide. For some, this matters little. For die-hard fans like Scott, though, it's an addiction that must be tempered with some sense of restraint. While Jeff enjoys Madden but prefers NHL, Scott has a year-long addiction to endless New York Jets franchise seasons that borders on complete OCD.
In previous years, we had gotten a chance to play Madden a little earlier on. This year, however, our enthusiasm (or at least Scott's) had to wait until EA's Holiday Showcase this week in New York City, where Madden 10 lay waiting, along with a sofa. We had a promise to each other: Jeff would take on Scott for half of Madden, and Scott would try to keep up with Jeff in NHL 10 afterward.
How did it play? This is our story.
First of all, we played the 360 version. While the Wii edition sat on demo next to us, and didn't look bad, we had to focus on the true hardcore edition. Our EA representative, who stood behind us, explained that all the player models had been redesigned, as well as adding all-new animations and movements for a different in-game experience. Yeah, yeah, we've heard this every year. It's true, though, that this year's Madden seemed to feature player models that, while improved, almost looked more like Tiger Woods characters somehow. The faces, or the physiques...it's hard to describe, but players were more articulated and yet somehow a tiny bit more "animated." Maybe this was only the effect of a bourbon and Coke.
I played as the New York Jets, my beloved franchise. Jeff took the Giants. Of course, we were in "Giants" stadium.
I noticed that the Jets had a 78 overall rating, which was a bit of an insult. The Giants were, if memory serves, somewhere near 90. I'm not complaining about the Giants, but 78 for the Jets? I promised the EA rep that MY Jets wouldn't be a 78. He snickered and said something uncomplimentary about the Jets, which is par for my life.
Here's the main thing I remember more than anything else: the main, default gameplay is slow. As in, really slow. Compared to the hyper-huddle caffeine-fueled "crack-Madden" sessions I was used to playing, this felt like a forced appreciation of the impact of huddles on a live clock. While it freaked me out to have plays unfold seemingly in slow motion, the Madden rep assured me that the new gameplay better reflected the actual speed of an NFL game, which should, in theory, make for more realistic timing. That was hard to appreciate, but I did notice that controlling the defense, particularly the secondary, was a lot more achievable. Previously, controlling cornerbacks required catlike superpowers unavailable to a mid-thirties man like myself.
The clock also worked off a sped-up 15-minute quarter by default, which makes 2-minute warnings much more realistic than the slightly-halfway-through-the-second-quarter fiasco we've gotten used to over the years. Now, how were the Jets? Better than 78.
I suited up in the kelly-green mid-'80s Jets home uniform before starting, and let me say, that uni just gets better with age. Jeff started by attempting a lateral on his kick return, which I intercepted. Mark Sanchez threw deep for a touchdown two plays later. One 52-yard Dustin Keller TD and two David Harris interceptions later, the Jets were up 21-0 over the stunned Giants at halftime. "Here are your 78 Jets," I said, tossing the controller back. Well, I didn't say that, exactly. I just walked away.
While EA was quick to insist that there will be modes as fast as last year's Madden for the hardcore players who crave it, I had a sort of appreciation for the slowdown. It sabotaged cheap plays, and emphasized stepping up into pockets as opposed to scrambling. And, finally, ball control seemed to matter. Then again, I'm not sure if Madden's new tantra style of patience play will make me tear my hair out at 2 a.m. come September.
I'll be the first to admit I'm only a casual Madden player. That said, I immediately noticed the developer's decision to slow down action in Madden 10. While you'll be able to speed things back up to the way it was in 09, there's a certain realism the new speed is able to capture that previous versions can't touch.
That arcade-esque feeling when running with the ball in years past is essentially gone, leaving you with tougher decisions to make, and more of an incentive to peek downfield at possible holes in the defense. A simple tap of the spin button won't let you get out of certain tackles like you used to be able to.
Presentation-wise, it seems the entire game has been redone, with the intention of giving you a much more television-branded experience. Referees will almost always discuss a goal-line decision before signaling a touchdown or waving off an out-of-bounds catch.
There are too many new animations to even consider discussing them all, but you'll definitely notice gang-tackling right away. It's amazing how pile-ons severely increase the game's realistic appeal. Not everything's new, though. Play selection is back to the three-plays-a-screen format, each one corresponding to a button on your controller.
Scott wiped the floor with me during our game. While I had no problem moving the ball down to his 35-yard-line, I kept throwing interceptions before I was close enough to put some points on the board. Regardless of the score, we both agreed that Madden 10 is an even further step in the direction of the ultra-realistic football experience.