It’s no longer okay to simply dismiss EA’s humongous Madden franchise outright as that video game of that massively complicated sport where mammoth-sized men covered in protective armour smash their helmets into each other like demented bison until one team falls down. You see, American Football is actually hugely popular in the UK.
So much so, that Wembley Stadium has played host to two regular season games over the last couple of years. They both sold out. Another will be played this season. It’s already sold out. Imagine a Premier League game, perhaps Manchester United versus Chelsea, being played in Giants Stadium, New York, instead of Old Trafford?
So, here in video game land, we need to do Madden justice. With the release of Madden NFL 10, the latest in the long-running series, we actually have to work out if it’s actually any good.
The answer? Well, yes, it is good, but only if you’ve got a base understanding of the sport in the first place. Madden doesn’t want to teach you how it works. It assumes a complete understanding of the running game, the passing game, defence, offence, end zones, first downs, touch downs and everything else America’s Game has to offer. This isn’t the problem – nobody turns to FIFA or PES for the finer points of the offside rule.
The problem is that even if you do know the rules of the real sport, Madden doesn’t tell you how to play the video game version. Play calling, snapping the ball, running, passing, catching, and, even more difficult to get to grips with, defence – tackling, intercepting, and again, play calling – the buttons you need to press to make it all work aren’t explained. If it weren’t for a hazy memory of playing the game to death while at university, Madden would have proved an impenetrable fortress of astronomical proportions. There’s a practice mode, which doesn’t help. The Virtual Trainer mode is useful, but not useful enough. If you fancy dipping your toe into the virtual world of NFL, then, be prepared to read the manual and do a bit of research first.
If you put the effort in, though, Madden NFL 10 reveals itself to be an impressively realistic, graphically gorgeous sports game that’s absolutely packed to bursting point with content. Just playing an exhibition is fun – the difficulty resulting in a rewarding experience. When you snap the ball, the play will unfold with the camera positioned behind the quarterback. With any luck, your offensive linesmen will have carved a hole for your running back to burst through. With any luck, your receivers will get open. With any luck, you won’t be sacked by some monstrous brute from the Deep South. Eking out first downs, inching your way towards the end zone yard by yard, then finally scoring a touch down, is great.
Gameplay tweaks this year are small but noticeable. The new Pro-Tak (which sounds like some performance enhancing drug) animation system allows up to nine defenders to gang tackle. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it’s bone-crunching stuff. You find yourself checking your spine, just to make sure it’s still in one piece.