Madden is the 800 pound gorilla in the sports video game room. Every year, it is not only the highest selling sports game but one of the highest selling games period. This rabid loyalty does not mean that Madden is immune to criticism. That is why EA has worked hard at refining the game and it has paid off to a large degree.
In making the ‘09 version of their gridiron sim, EA has forgone any major gameplay addition, like the loathesome vision cone from a few years back, but instead has decided to add several small features which have a large cumulative effect, especially for the Madden veteran. Chief amongst these is the Virtual Trainer and Madden Test. These Tron-like testing grounds found within Madden are used to set the game to challenge each gamer specifically. The Madden IQ then assigned is tracked and adjusted throughout any game played to make sure the game is appropriately difficult depending on how much better (or worse) the player becomes. It can be frustrating to be pushed to the limit from the first game but it does mean that there are no 70-0 routes which do not a Madden Hall of Famer make.
Many small, but key, improvements have been made in the animations of each character, especially when they come in contact. Now each tackle is happening in real time on the screen rather than simply being an animation. This means that when a Linebacker grabs a hold of your Running Back, pressing the juke or spin buttons is not a fruitless task as you may just escape and break off a big run. This also means that one of your defenders can hold an opposing player and a second player can tee off on them with a hit stick tackle for a possible fumble.
One thing which has plaugued Madden for a long time is the AI and this year is no exception. Madden’s AI tends to yo-yo from omniscient to laughable. This year the AI has been turned up to Deep Blue levels so you better be making the right decision on the field. Every computer controlled player makes the perfect decision at just about every turn and, while it means the players are theoretically doing their jobs, it is a bit unrealistic.
Madden has big expectations to live up to each year and this year EA has stood up to those expectations brilliantly. The game has never played or looked better while offering a great challenge from the very first game. It may not be perfect but, after 20 years, it is undoubtedly the king of the sports video game jungle.