Release date: Available now
Earlier this year, veteran broadcaster and former NFL coach John Madden announced that he was stepping aside from his color commentary duties to get busy enjoying the remainder of his days. Love him or leave him, Madden was an iconic presence on Monday Night Football and his absence will surely be noticed. While the Big Guy jumps aboard that famed Horse Trailer for one last ride into the sunset, there’s no doubt that his legacy lives on in the digital age, as the Madden brand has become synonymous with videogame football. With the annual release of his smash mouth simulator treated as a national holiday of sorts, it will be a long time before we divorce the man from the game. As the first title released following Madden’s exit, Madden NFL 10 bears the weight of living up to the man’s legacy.
While the game of football largely plays the same as the ’09 version, Madden NFL 10 does introduce some upgrades to the game play. Players are given as much control over the game as they desire. Some new additions include the use of the right analog stick to pull off some enhanced defensive tactics (like swim moves while on the offensive side), and more direct control to fend off attackers. The right analog stick is also used when behind the quarterback, allowing the player better avoidance as they struggle to break free from a blitz and fire off a completion. There’s also a Fight for the Fumble move that’s triggered from time to time, allowing players more direct control over recovering, or capturing, that loose ball. All of this contributes to a more tactile game play experience.
As expected, the title includes robust Franchise and Superstar modes, the latter of which allows you to build a player from scratch and work them through their career, using scheduled practices and weekly games to build them from a rookie to All Pro status, reaping the perks and high contracts that come with that status. On the online front, in addition to the one-on-one engagements and multiplayer tournaments, EA has introduced two new online modes, with Online Co-Op and Online Franchise making their debuts. Online Co-Op allows multiple players to play on the same team in match-ups against other co-op teams while Online Franchise allows up to 32 players to create a league and play through complete online seasons, with each player commanding a team and handling all franchise responsibilities.
Madden NFL 10 represents the closest I’ve seen to a network broadcast. EA has been working towards this for years and some would argue that their game presentation enhancements have fed into the visual display of information one spies on a televised game. The action is not merely relegated to the playing field. A scan of the periphery reveals coaches huddling up to rework game plans, refs meeting to discuss calls, fans offering friendly “advice”, and sideline reporters chatting up team staff looking for their next angle. This attention to detail makes the entire game feel more alive than it ever has and none of it comes across as canned. It really works to pull the player into the game, blurring the line between videogame and broadcast television.
While the game play and presentation are as tight as ever, the real improvement is in the online space. The Online Franchise Mode makes the most compelling argument for upgrading from last year’s installment. Sure, veteran players always pick up the latest edition to get the necessary roster updates, but Online Franchise injects almost infinite longevity to the title. If you get a good group of friends together or can locate some serious minded pigskin fans, the opportunity to guide a team through multiple seasons, while engaging in the ancillary activities of running a successful franchise, from recruiting to real-time drafts, makes for an addictive experience. Franchise mode is fine for solo players but when you start mixing it up with real people, it just adds a whole new level of strategy and competitiveness that really hooks the player.
While the Madden series may be the only game of professional football in town, it’s nice to see that the developers behind this venerable series aren’t resting on their laurels. Their attention to detail has crafted the most dynamic and lifelike representation of the sport to date, making the game a pleasure to experience. The addition of several online modes, most specifically the Online Franchise, simply makes this a no-brainer purchase. In fact, I wonder what EA will introduce to entice players to pick up Madden NFL 11 next year, as that Online Franchise mode could conceivably carry players through several seasons without need of an upgrade. This is the most complete package of football to date and I highly recommend it.