Madden NFL 09 PlayStation 3 & Xbox 360
Published by: EA Sports
Developed by: EA Sports
Release Date: Out Now
It's incredible to think that Madden NFL 09 marks twenty years of this ever popular series. The success of the series over the last twenty years has been phenomenal, managing to remain highly popular across several generations of consoles and handheld gaming machines, as well as being a popular series on the PC for many years too. Over those twenty years the series has continued to evolve and as the series has progressed, its popularity has continued to grow. Of course with a game that's released every twelve months you're not always going to see a vast amount of difference between the new and last year's game and whilst Madden NFL 09 is a great game in its own right, it's not a game that makes any drastic changes.
The first thing you'll encounter when you play Madden NFL 09 is a virtual Madden who's ready to give you a Madden Test to determine your Madden IQ. Essentially this requires that you play through a series of drills with the idea being that the game can work out what difficulty level you need to play at. It's a nice idea but the drills are rather easy and you'll find that even beginners can have one of the more challenging difficulty levels recommended to them. Thankfully you don't have to play through the drills as they can be skipped and you are free to choose your preferred difficulty setting as in previous games in the series.
Most of the modes in Madden NFL 09 return from the previous version although there are a few additions. The Superstar mode seems to be exactly the same as in last year's game which is disappointing. The Franchise mode also appears to be practically unchanged. Thankfully this year sees the inclusion of online leagues (although it's essentially a tournament for up to 32 players rather than a full NFL season). It would have been nice to have been able to use AI controlled teams to make up the numbers when you don't have enough human players to run a full league. At least the online performance seems to be good on both the Xbox and PlayStation 3 versions. Madden Moments is one of the new modes and it's essentially a scenario mode that puts you into a game with a specific objective. Virtual Trainer is a mode that allows you to brush up your skills by taking twelve different drills.
There's quite a collection of new features, quite a few of which are to do with the Adaptive Difficulty Engine that the game has (which essentially means the difficulty level tailors itself to your ability). Your Madden IQ changes as you play games and your performance is tracked so you'll be able to keep an eye on how your skills are progressing. There is also a Backtrack feature which in theory should be very useful but as we'll mention later, it's a waste of time for deaf gamers. An odd inclusion is the ability to rewind your plays and take them again. This is a feature that could prove useful for training purposes but it's something that could quite easily be abused and essentially become something that allows you to cheat, which is unfortunate. The game now features; bobble catches, formation subs and user-controlled touchdown celebrations which is a nice touch even if it doesn't add much to the overall experience. It's still not perfect however and little annoyances like the AI quarterbacks who seem to be unerringly accurate at times even when it's a quarterback that in real-life is nowhere near as accurate. You'll also notice the AI making some strange decisions such as occasionally running out of bounds for no apparent reason and calling timeouts at inappropriate times. Still on the whole Madden NFL 09 feels like a significant improvement from last year's game.
There can be little doubt that Madden NFL 09 is the best looking Madden NFL game to date. I honestly didn't expect the game to look better than last year's game but the graphical improvements are quite noticeable. The player models are improved and the stadia appear to be significantly more detailed than in Madden NFL 08. The weather effects are also more realistic this time around. The game has had a few presentational tweaks with a Picture-in-Picture play call window and a new camera view called the Dynamic ActionCam which makes for a more immersive experience. Last year of course there was quite a lot of fuss made about the PlayStation 3 version and how it was running at 30fps (for most of the time) and not 60fps like the Xbox 360 version. This year it's clear that the developers have got to grips with the PS3 hardware and both versions of the game are pretty much identical.
It's slightly disappointing, but hardly surprising, that Madden NFL 09 isn't as deaf gamer friendly as it could have been. When you first play the game you'll have a Madden Test which is played out in a virtual reality simulator (that looks like a NFL Tron game) and all of the speech from the virtual Madden is not subtitled. Once again, the game commentary isn't subtitled so you'll be completely unaware of it. This is nothing unusual of course but this year you are occasionally given advice from the commentator, a feature known as Backtrack, which points out mistakes that have been made and what could have been done better. The absence of subtitles here means that this useful addition is pointless for deaf gamers. Madden's introductory comments to the Virtual Trainer mode are also not subtitled. Thankfully none of these problems cause any real difficulties. All of the objectives in the Madden Moments and Virtual Trainer modes are shown in text and deaf gamers won't have any problems with the Franchise and Superstar modes as all the important information is in text.
Madden NFL 09 is the fourth iteration in the series to have appeared on the latest round of consoles and on the whole it's the best one. The game doesn't represent a huge improvement over Madden NFL 08 but it's a significant one and it's a game that is certainly as enjoyable as any other Madden NFL game over the last five years. So the series has reached the grand old age of twenty and who would bet against it still being alive and well in twenty years time? Certainly if the early sales of the game are any indication (the game has made over $130 million in August alone), it will be.