Joystiq impressions: Madden NFL 10 (Xbox 360)

Kevin Kelly
K. Kelly|05.18.09

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Joystiq impressions: Madden NFL 10 (Xbox 360)

Are you ready for some football, even though though we're still a few months away from the start of the season? EA has made it no secret at all that they're ready for you. This year's development blog has offered up the most transparent production of a Madden game ever ... but does it make a difference? Are you willing to gamble with your hard-earned dollars in the hopes that they got it right?

With its lock on the NFL licensing for video games, Madden NFL 10 could come out with the players wearing frilly tutus and ballet shoes, and it would still sell a kajillion copies, although that's easily chalked up to the name recognition of the game, and the fact that EA has gotten it right more often than it's gotten it wrong. So why does it feel like every year Madden adds more modes and features, without taking a look at the core gameplay to see what they can change?

We took a look at the Xbox 360 version recently at an EA preview event, and the game certainly looks a lot prettier than ever before (and much sharper than it's cartoonish Wii cousin), but is the gameplay any better? Find out beyond the break after you peep the new images below.

You can almost count every blade of grass, real or artificial.

At first glance you can easily see the graphic upgrades in Madden NFL 10. Not just in all of the new character animations they've upgraded and added, but just one look at the turf and you can almost count every blade of grass, real or artificial. Combine that with all of the additional animations they've added to up the realism, like Pro-Tak animation system which can dogpile up to nine guys on the football and let you fight for fumbles at the bottom of a mountain of linebackers, and yes, it's very impressive.

While the game might not have received the full Fight Night Round 4 "let's fix the clipping!" treatment, we can understand that it's probably easier to fix the animations of two guys punching each other, vs. two eleven man teams going at it on the field. Still, Pro-Tak hopes to address that, and during our time with the game we didn't see any real problems like players strolling through people on the sideline like they were ghosts. The game felt solid, especially when you kept the ball on the ground and trucked your running back through a herd of defensive players. It's nice to see that the running game hasn't been neglected this time around, even though Cardinal wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald shares the cover in this edition.

EA keeps piling on the modes, and sometimes the fun factor gets buried in the process.

Other than the graphical improvements, at the basic level, the game plays exactly the same as it has in the past. If you've loved Madden over the last few years, then you'll be happy with this one. However we've noticed that it's slowly slipping away from the core gameplay over the years, and new mode-itis is one of the reasons. As with NCAA, EA keeps piling on the modes with Madden, and sometimes the fun factor gets buried in the process.

Over the past few years we've seen a slew of additions like: Playmaker, Hit Stick, Truck Stick, Precision Passing, Smart Routes, Weapons, the Madden IQ and so on. This year is no different and besides Pro-Tak we'll be seeing an enhanced franchise mode, and a presentation mode called "The Emotion of the NFL," which we'll be taking a look at down the line, but we'd like to see Madden take some risks with their engine and possibly try a new approach to the game. But since this is a cash cow for EA, we doubt they'll risk the loss in development time to really innovate.

There has been enough bitching and moaning about the fact that the NFL really hamstrung the video game development process by giving the license for games to just one company, and that means they'll be sitting pretty on top of the football gaming heap until innovation comes along and shakes everything up. But for now, Madden keeps fighting for yardage, and despite the occasional setback (online gaming -- *cough* -- which despite its glitches has racked up over 500 million games ... hmmm, were any of those quit out of early?), we're glad to see that it's still moving forward, even if it's only by inches.

We only played the Xbox 360 version of Madden, and only in local matches, so we're not sure what improvements EA has made to the online gameplay, which has been marred by lag in the past. However, EA gave us the standard party line that the PS3 version will look the same. We'll be looking at the other new additions to the game in the coming months as EA ramps up to an August 14 release date.
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