(Photo courtesy of "ndfan93" at Photobucket.com. . .get your own full-sized version by clicking on the picture.)
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, even after I said that I wouldn't be getting the game after EA Sports made the announcement about who was going to be on the cover, with the changes the Vikings have made this season, I couldn't help but succumb to the annual madness that was the release of Madden NFL 2009. While it was tempting to spend the extra $30 or so that would have been required to get the Collector's Edition of the game, I thought I'd hold onto that money, get a sweet customized cover like the one you see to the right there (curse-free, thank you very much) and go about the business of leading my virtual team to glory.
One of the unique aspects of this year's version of Madden NFL is what's called "Madden IQ." The first time you fire up the game, you're given the opportunity to play in a Tron-esque world of red and blue football players, going through various drills to determine your Madden IQ, which sets your own personal difficulty level for the games you're going to play. The game rates your skills at running the football, throwing it, stopping the run, and defending the pass. You're also given the opportunity to re-visit the simulator after games and pretty much any other time you'd like as well.
While the Madden IQ feature is a good idea in theory, its implementation seems to need a little bit of work. For the most part, the offensive drills seem to be way too easy. What this means is that, for example, you get a higher rating in your "run offense" rating. . .which, in turn, makes it harder to run the football when you actually get on the field. For a team with Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor manning the backfield, I've been averaging right around three yards per carry, which is pretty awful. After each game the ratings adjust based on your performance on that particular afternoon/evening, so I suppose eventually your real "Madden IQ" will come out based on your play style, but the time it takes to make that adjustment is a bit frustrating.
Graphically, this is one of the prettiest darn things that will grace your TV set short of one of TNT's bi-weekly "Charmed" marathons. After seeming to lag behind the power curve of the next generation systems for a season or two, Madden '09 finally takes full advantage of the processing capabilities of the PlayStation 3 and the XBox 360. I have the 360 version at my house, and I don't think that there's a game in my entire collection that even approaches this game graphics-wise. From the opening shots of the stadium to the weather effects and everything in between, this game is a graphical bonanza.
The game has many of the same modes that you're used to, including the Franchise mode, which I'm completely immersed in right now. I'm not sure how (or if) the off-season activity stuff has been upgraded, as I'm only 4 games into the first season of my franchise, but a lot of the other reports I've read are saying that it's the same as it ever was. For me, that's plenty good enough. . .I usually don't like to bother with contract negotiations or anything like that, but I DO love me some draft day activity and things like that.
The gameplay seems to have definitely been tightened up from last year's version as well. The camera automatically adjusts to keep all of your team's players on the field, so there are no more "cross your fingers and chuck it" passes to players you can't see that may or may not be covered. The play control is pretty smooth as well, and each team has their own customized playbook that's in tune with the real life team's play tendencies.
All in all, this is definitely the best version of Madden that's come out for the next generation systems. I can't speak as much for the PS3 version or any of the other versions, but I can say that the XBox 360 version is nothing short of outstanding. If you can find the Collector's Edition, it comes with some interesting throw-ins, including a playable version of Madden '93 and a copy of EA Sports' NFL Head Coach. From what I've heard about Head Coach, it's kind of like Out of the Park Baseball from a management standpoint, and if that's the case, it would definitely be worth your time (I'm a closet OOTP junkie, myself).
If I were to assign a numerical rating to this year's version of Madden, it would be firmly in the 9-out of-10 range. It's a very good addition to the library of any sports gamer. I can only hope that some of you out there are having as much fun with the game as I am.
Speaking of having fun, enjoy the rest of your Wednesday, and we'll see you back here tomorrow!