Madden NFL 09 hands-on report

Posted May 30th, 2008 at 10:04 pm

Some of what I will detail from my time with Madden 09 was covered through my live blog from the studio but I have tons more to add to it. I’ve also included a few videos throughout the write-up. As I mentioned as the blog began I have a completely different feeling about the game this year compared to how I felt last year. That is accented even more by how it is still a few months to go until release. Outside of a few bugs, which were reported to the producers and some already having been fixed by the time we left the studio, it felt like a game that was prepared for release.

Originally I didn’t want to be too enthusiastic considering how my thoughts could’ve changed as the day progressed. However I left with the same general feeling as I began with. Last year, playing the actual release copies, I quickly identified the fumbles, poor o-line blocking, and overpowered kicking as issues that would be relatively serious. However with 09 I didn’t come across any of those type of things. Instead I passed along some feedback on minor areas along the lines of reducing the camera flashes and adding return plays with a single returner deep.

The first thing you do when you start up is determine your Madden IQ. I really hadn’t thought much about this feature going in, other than it tailoring to each person’s skills and being a benefit to the more casual gamers. But it was actually quite fun to run through. I came out with All-Pro grading on run offense, pass offense, and run defense, and rookie on pass defense.

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When you start up a game there are two different settings to choose from. The first is the “Skill Level” which is the normal All-Madden, All-Pro, Pro, and Rookie. There is also a custom for setting it yourself, or “My Skill” which is based on your Madden IQ. Then there is the “Gameplay Style” which is Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced, and Hardcore. This is where the rewinds factor in. Beginner gets 5, Intermediate 3, Advanced 1, and Hardcore 0. The “Gameplay Style” also determines the type of presentation you’ll get. The amount of rewinds can be changed if you want. So if you prefer the beginner style of presentation you can still set the number of rewinds to 0.

Compared to NCAA, the player control feels slightly more responsive. The offensive stick moves don’t seem to be quite as sharp, but you have the ability to break out of tackles better.

Something I really like is that you can get big plays out of the short passing game. It isn’t as though only the deep ball will net you an explosive play. I had a slant that ended up going the distance. I don’t think I saw any big plays out of the running game in the ones I played though. On All-Madden difficulty the running backs were contained somewhat and on average were getting about four yards a carry.

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The pass defense does a great job defending the deep ball, and more so specifically the “jump” catches. Those spectacular catches from last year and the ones where a receiver sets and jumps straight up are usually negated by the defensive back swatting the ball, picking it off, or jarring the ball loose with a hit. The DB’s get high into the air to make plays and keep good position. Despite that I was able to complete a couple deep balls over the top when the receiver had a step or two advantage. It felt very fair when a deep pass was completed and I didn’t feel cheated one way or the other. Something neat is you’ll see the QB really get into a deep throw, lean back and throw it up higher than we have been used to. Looks much more natural in getting the power behind it and requires the QB have the time to do it.

Graphically, as already seen by the screenshots and videos, it’s a big step up this year. The player models look great, as does the grass or turf, and player faces are much improved. One thing that was noticed was how dirty the jerseys can get. In some rain games they were getting really muddied up. The weather overall looks great as well, both snow and rain. When raining you’ll see water splashing up from the player’s feet and footprints in the snow.

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The presentation really enhances the experience and isn’t just thrown on the top. The replays are well integrated, things are easy to access on the play call screen, and the commentary is quite good (especially Chris Collinsworth).

Russell went into franchise mode some and has screens and video to post along with his observations. I did notice that the Super Bowl has the logo on the field and in the end zones. Also the camera flashes are even more intense.

I was able to start up a few Superstar mode examples, and have some videos to show from it later this weekend. Basically not much has changed here, except like NCAA’s Campus Legend the camera angles have been fixed so they won’t swing around at a change of possession, and activities don’t have to be loaded into as often since you can string them together such as practices. The roles/influence remains, which is frustrating. Those should have just been scrapped. I really hate having to press buttons to clear out those screens. I just want to run through all the plays. The playcalling seemed to be better, though it was a small sample I saw. I just remember always having terrible plays called for the situation, knowing they would not be successful even before the snap. However I had no complaints about the play calls that were made. There is no editing of depth charts. You can import your NCAA Campus Legend, create a new Superstar, or take control of a rookie.

Some random notes: Not only did they add FG nets, but the nets raise before the kick and you see them lowered after. There are alternate jerseys as well as classic jerseys. I’ve seen comments after the previous videos were released that the scoreboard might be bothersome in its placement. I didn’t find it got in the way of the action at all. The new camera angle takes a slight adjustment to get used to but feels pretty natural and works really well. The camera shakes on hit sticks which really adds to the effect. Halftime/Postgame will show some highlights but there isn’t a “show”. Music has been added into practice mode. Not only does Madden talk you through the IQ test but he also leads into and out of games with some audio. They added the “David Tyree Catch”. Only seen it once, so as long as it’s rare it is pretty neat to see.

A few suggestions I made:

I’d still like to see the camera flashes toned down. They look great on the opening kickoff, but it should be more limited. They shouldn’t be going off throughout the game on every play. Limit it to the opening kickoff and big moments such as kneel downs at the end of a victory at home. That would also make them have more effect on the playoff games/Super Bowl. Also the camera flashes continued during visiting team celebrations which is awkward.

There needs to be a return play that has a single returner back. You can still keep it away from someone like Devin Hester by kicking towards the other side of the field. I would also like to see squib kicks.

Kickoff power is toned down, on average full powered kicks went about 4-6 yards into the end zone. However with a little wind (12mph) at your back they would go out the back of the end zone. Luckily if that isn’t adjusted a little more there are sliders for kickoff power. Field goal kicking is still really easy also, with 50+ yarders sailing through without much concern. You can also adjust the slider for field goal power. Though without sliders being available online that won’t be of as much comfort.

It was a limited amount of time with the game, but maybe looking into opening up the run a little more at least in All-Madden. I wasn’t bothered by the production, just that there didn’t seem to be potential for a big play from a run.

Something I mentioned about NCAA Football 09 also applies to Madden. You are defaulted into Special Teams after kicking off or punting which is annoying to have to back out of.

The Seahawks playbook didn’t have any shotgun formations. They have used the shotgun fairly often over the last two seasons.

Online Play:

I was a part of a discussion (which ended up being over an hour) with Ryan Ferwerda who leads the online play aspect of Madden. I’m going to list off a few things that I got direct answers to. He’s working towards wiping out the online records and stats for a clear slate (please do!), weather is random in both ranked and unranked games, alternate uniforms are not selectable, and the depth chart will not carry from offline. With created teams in unranked games you still won’t see the names of the opposition’s teams or players (concern with user created content possibilities). Roster updates should be at least as frequent as last year (they released eight) but they are hoping for even more. You will be able to watch all the saved plays from an online game afterwards and upload clips to EA Sports World.

Two things were basically guaranteed along the way. In Madden 2010 offline depth charts will carry over and alternate uniforms will be available. Basically they would like to make everything that is an option offline available for at least unranked games in the future.

There is a new player hub online, somewhat similar to the EA Messenger of old. This should come in handy especially for PS3 players. It has more to it than the old messenger though, with some aspects interacting with the web as well.

Online leagues were talked about quite a bit, much of which was already known, but if you have questions I can probably answer most of them. They really wanted to focus and get the base right so they could expand on it over the coming years. Some other things they are working towards are spectator mode and possibly saving/reconnecting into online games that were interrupted (which would eventually grown out of the in-game saves feature they will have next year). Those might not be next year but they are things that they would like to add in down the line.

Essentially it was very apparent that they know what the community would like, and that they would like many of those same things. But it comes down to issues such as prioritizing, connection quality, conflicts with the console manufacturers and their standards, and some of these features just being very difficult to implement.

Final Thoughts:

One of the best games I played of the day was against Tiburon Community Manager Will Kinsler. He held a 21-10 lead in the fourth but I was able to come back and tie it with about a minute remaining. He got a good kick return out to near the 45. After a few plays he was in position to attempt a 52 yard FG with only seconds left and the 12mph wind going against him. I was expecting it to come up short and had Josh Cribbs back to catch it. As it sailed I still thought I was going to get a chance to run it back but it went through and he was obviously very pleased with the outcome.

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Overall I had more fun playing Madden 09 than any game at a previous event I have attended. I am attempting to contain my excitement about it given the circumstances, but feel confident in saying at least that much. On Saturday evening and Sunday look for additional content to be posted including all of the overall player ratings (I already posted all the 99’s in the comments of the live blog), team ratings (worst is Dolphins at 67 and top is Patriots at 97), more videos showing gameplay, presentation, and superstar mode, and more thoughts on the game that may come to mind by then.