Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Madden '09 Initial Experience

Another pleasant midnight launch experience at the local GameStop (2929 W Addison St.). The employees were wearing football jerseys and everything (mostly Bears unis, though my favorite employee was wearing a certain former Falcons QB jersey. Ouch! Dirty Birds indeed...).

I arrived at 5 'til midnight. I had my copy in my hands and was back in my car by 12:07 A.M.. Very efficient. The crowd was excited (as was I... big dork...) and very friendly. Madden drew a MUCH longer line than the the last midnight launch I attended, which was for Mario Kart Wii (which I was personall
y much more excited for).

I returned home and booted up the 360. I was asked to select my favorite team (Skins, natch) for a custom presentation, a feature I've liked ever since its addition. Then a holographic Madden a la Princess Leia via R2D2 in A New Hope appears to tell you about this year's addition's most touted feature called My Skill. My Skill is a sliding difficulty level in 4 areas (Pass Offense, Pass Defense, Rush Offense, Rush Defense) that constantly adjusts to your level of play. A pretty good idea. To set your initial skill level (quantified as your Madden IQ) you must first take the Madden Test.

The Madden Test introduces you to the new holographic, Tron-esque training program which is nifty but totally unnecessary. I doubt it will return in next year's roster update. The Madden Test takes you through 4 drills that assess your skill in the 4 areas mentioned above.

The first test is the Rush Offense test. Your goal is to use your blockers and perform the moves indicated on the screen at the right time in order to get into the endzone as many times as possible. You have 5 tries at each difficulty level, with varying numbers of blockers and varying difficulties of defensive backs trying to stop you. I torched the competition and received an All-Madden skill rating in Rush Offense. This is where I started to get skeptical about My Skill. I consider my Madden rushing skill to be about on par with Reggie Bush's NFL production: I average about 3 yards a carry. I'm not very good at using spins, jukes, and hurdles. If I run twice, I'm usually forced to pass on third down to pick up the first. I'm not very good at rushing in Madden (or any football game, for that matter).

Anyways, I received All Madden rating in Rush Offense and Rush Defense. I was TOTALLY confused by the Pass Defense test, thinking that I had to, you know, defend the pass as the D-back (You are unable to switch
players). By the time I figured out that I was supposed to be RUSHING the passer, it was too late. I had only succeeded once out of 5 tries and was assigned a Rookie skill level for my Pass Defense ability (and I actually consider myself decent at rushing the passer in Madden). In Pass Offense, I didn't get sacked once (which I usually have problems with) and I didn't throw a single pick (another problem area of mine), but I didn't complete all of my passes either. I received an All Pro rating for Pass Offense.

Overall, my Madden IQ was rated just below 600, which I think qualifies me as being pretty good. Therein lies the problem. I really don't consider myself to be any good at Madden. I think adequate describes my skill level. You certainly won't see me playing in the Madden Bowl on TV anytime soon. I'm giving the My Skill feature the benefit of the doubt though. It should adjust to my true skill level after 10 games or so.

Having completed the Madden Test, I played my first full game (at my own custom skill level) as the Skins versus the Cowboys (again, natch). Let's just say it didn't go so well. Jason Campbell (Or I, rather) threw three INTs, two of them coming on crucial plays towards the end of both halves that probably could have won me the game. I think I only gained about 60+ yards of total offense. Portis was totally shut down and I couldn't get the ball to Cooley (though rookie dreamboat Devin Thomas came in handy several times). The only points of the game came off of Nick Folk's foot in the first half and that was enough to hand me my first loss of Madden '09. Cowboys 3, Redskins 0. BO-RING.

The total experience, though, is vastly improved. I can't tell if I like having commentary back or not yet, though at first it was definitely welcomed over last year's sparse radio style play-by-play. I definitely don't miss the flashbulb-popping transitions either. I must say though that Cris Collinsworth sounds every bit as smarmy as
he looks on Football Night in America. This guy sounds (and looks) like he would steal your wife and your drink. No, I've never met the man personally or spent any quality time getting to know him, but I am leery of him all the same.

The visual presentation is very nice with the PIP replays and scoreboard/TV broadcast-style graphic menus. The EA Backtrack is an AWESOME new feature. After I threw my first pick, they replayed the previous play, highlighting specific players and showing the defensive and offensive formations and movement. Collinsworth even showed me who I should've thrown it to instead. Very cool. This feature will stick around for a while.

Also, the Rewind feature is nifty as well. It's essentially a mulligan for football. You can decide on how many to allot yourself at the beginning of the game (I gave myself one...and used it...too early). It comes in handy if, say, you throw the ball directly at a linebacker in coverage when trying to hit Chris Cooley on a crossing route (like I did). It even rewinds like game tape does, complete with the appropriate sound effect, until you find yourself starting the play anew. I approve...but during competitive online play, I would hope this feature would be eliminated.

The graphics look good up close and only OK from far away. Maybe (definitely) I just need a better TV(high-definitely). Fed-Ex field looks excellent, just like the real deal (and my game was in the snow...an extra treat). Portis and Campbell look good for sure as I got a few close-up views of them. The animations are noticeably improved. All the player models move much more fluidly and contact is much less herky-jerky. That's a technical term.

After I finished the game, My Skill adjusted slightly, raising my dismal Pass Defense up a few bars and lowering my Rush and Pass Offense bars down a few notches as well. Like I said before, this feature shows promise...and even if it doesn't deliver, it's optional. I can always switch back to Rookie, Pro, All-Pro, or All-Madden whenever I want to.

I look forward to playing some more of Madden '09 and I'll update with my explorations of the game and my progress as a player (and of course the inevitable franchise mode saga that will begin unfolding shortly, I'm sure). I also can't wait to try out online leagues. There's a fantasy football option that looks intriguing as well. This is a pretty large package.

From what I've played so far, I have to agree with many other reviewers in saying that this is the best Madden...probably ever. Here's hoping that EA continues to improve upon its time-tested franchise.

(Thanks to IGN and Operation Sports for the screenshots.)