Madden 10: We have it, we've played it

Madden 10 has landed to mark the start of the NFL season, but is it worth your cash? Jeff and Scott sound off in the booth.

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Jeff Bakalar Editor at Large
Jeff is CNET Editor at Large and a host for CNET video. He's regularly featured on CBS and CBSN. He founded the site's longest-running podcast, The 404 Show, which ran for 10 years. He's currently featured on Giant Bomb's Giant Beastcast podcast and has an unhealthy obsession with ice hockey and pinball.
Scott Stein
Jeff Bakalar
4 min read
Yet another wildcat formation from the Dolphins...just stop it already! EA
Watch this: Gaming preview: Madden 10

The start of an NFL season begins with a few things: training camp, weeks of preseason games, and the launch of the yearly Madden. With Madden 10 now out in stores for nearly every system imaginable, we also are presented with the yearly question: is it worth it? After two weeks of playing the final boxed version for the Xbox 360, here's our final verdict on the only game in town. Or, almost the only game in town: Gameloft's NFL 2010 for the iPhone/iPod Touch uses full NFL license and rosters as well.

(Click to read our take on Gameloft's NFL 2010 for iPhone/iPod Touch).

I've played this game since 2001 pretty much obsessively, and almost always as the New York Jets. Take that with whatever grain of salt or other spice you like, but at least you now know that I've been playing with a handicap. Compared with Madden 09, my first impression a month ago was that the new Madden was slow. Apologies to EA, but it's better now. While Madden 10 still operates at a less arcade-like speed, the flow of gameplay doesn't feel as slow-mo as it did in early builds. Maybe I've gotten used to it, but the change actually makes passing and running more realistic. Here's why: passes that are thrown deep will hang, and thus can be more realistically played with the defense. Running plays, on the other hand, focus more on waiting and hitting holes, whereas last year's version was so fast that gaps would close before you could hit them. The gang-tackling animations and AI are pretty amazing, and really do add some beef to the game--trying to wrangle and break free of tackles with the right analog stick makes you feel more like actual players are up there with arms and legs, instead of programmed bundles of polygons.

Gang tackles turn ugly fast. EA

Some features were nice thoughts, but caused some annoyances. A new scrum-minigame of rapid button-presses pops up in post-fumble pile-ons, but often these incidents seem simply random and hard to time. Also, while the new ref first-down measurement and TD judgment calls add drama, they also add needlessly long pauses to the flow of the game. I found myself frantically button-pressing through these moments (but I'm a speed-freak player, so forgive me). And one issue that seemed to plague the 360 version was occasional slowdown and pauses in gameplay that I hope, right now, can be patched with an update.

The after-game broadcast-style highlight segments are well-produced but repetitive. Still, they're a fun way to follow a franchise mode season from week to week. During the actual season, this will be blast to play as a fantasy alternative to what's actually going on. But it would still be much nicer if EA simply had a regular-season "this week in the NFL" portal that not only gave info on the current games and stats, but also had replayable best-of plays of the previous week.

Co-op mode is intriguing, but I haven't spent much time with it. I've been taking the Jets through a week-by-week virtual season. I have them at 13-2 heading into their final game against the Bengals (yes, you can laugh at my fantasy, but it's still my dream), with the Patriots, Steelers, Chargers, Ravens, and Colts also locking up playoff spots, in case you were curious. And no, Chad Pennington did not stay healthy for the 2009 season (although the Dolphins engaged in more annoying wildcat formations that I care to remember).

Overall, the new Madden has won my heart...and my free time. And while the slower feel still freaks me out a little, I appreciate that it lets the fundamentals of playcalling once again steal the spotlight from button-mashing.

When Scott and I first played Madden 10 at last month's EA event in New York, we were convinced that what we saw was a close-to-finished build of the quintessential football sim. Now that we've had the final retail version in our hands for a full week, we can safely say that most of our observations remain intact.

Yes, there are teams other than the Jets. EA

However, it does seem that the game may have gotten an ever-so-slight bump in the speed department. While it is still noticeably slower compared with 09, the gameplay in the final version does seem a bit peppier than what we played at the EA event last month. Like we said, it does add to the overall heightened sense of realism that we imagine some Madden fans may not be used to. Either way, this can be adjusted in the settings.

After a few games we also noticed that quarterbacks seem a bit too accurate with their deep passes; we felt there needs to be more under and overthrows in the action. On defense, you may find yourself having a tough time penetrating the line without ordering an all-out blitz. Also, we found ourselves dropping way too many seemingly easy interceptions. On a play where such a catch can turn things around, it's frustrating to see balls like that dropped.

Those snags aside, there's plenty to love in the new Madden. While TV presentation may not be everyone's preference, the game does a great job at recreating actual drama. Goal line conferences, bringing the chains out, and the like all add to an impressive package. You're sure to notice a new animation every time you play and the new play-calling screen is the best one in years. Gang tackling is also very satisfying as is the new fumble minigame mechanic.

Fans of the series may need some time to get used to a few new gameplay features, and the visual presentation does change the overall experience, but underneath still lies the core Madden experience we all love.