Love it or hate it, you’ve got to at least acknowledge and respect the massive cultural phenomenon that is EA Sports’ Madden NFL series. With over 70 million copies sold, it’s the best-selling franchise in the history of videogames. And just like every year, EA Tiburon is aiming to deliver the best iteration of Madden yet with Madden NFL 10, which will be out on August 14th with -- for the first time ever -- two cover athletes (Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu and Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald).
Madden NFL 10 (PS3, 360, Wii, PS2, PSP)
EA Tiburon has been relatively transparent with the development process so far, and what has come across in every blog post and update is the dev team’s desire to build the most realistic version of videogame football ever made. And Lead Designer Ian Cummings told me that Tiburon is also committed to making the game feel “new.” There are two main fronts on which these goals are being accomplished this year: gameplay and presentation.
A brand-new design team is on the case this year. Cummings said that he wants players “to be hit in the face with football” from the moment the game boots up, so the opening visuals are much more dynamic than ever before (they also feature football-related cues, like a goal post and a scoreboard). The game’s menus have also been completely revamped in the name of simpler and more intuitive navigation; Cummings felt that menu options weren’t always where you expected them to be in years past. In addition, the play-calling screen has been overhauled; it’s now much less obtrusive, which leaves the majority of screen real estate for sweeping views of the football field itself. And instead of trite NFL trivia, pre-game loading screens now provide information on important matchups in the game ahead.
Of course, gameplay is what matters the most. The game’s credo this year is “Fight For Every Yard,” and Tiburon is using some tremendous new technology to make that happen. Madden 10 will see the debut of the “Pro-Tak” system, which is a physics-based procedural tackling setup. Last year’s game was limited to producing three-man gang tackles, but with Pro-Tak, up to nine men can be part of a pile. That’s not just a ball carrier and eight defenders, either -- for example, offensive linemen can join in and try to push the pile forward a few inches for that vital first down. All the collisions are procedurally generated, not canned animations, and they take physics (body size, player speed at impact, etc.) into account.
More help for quarterbacks comes in the form of an idea so simple, it’s a wonder that it wasn’t implemented before. I don’t know about you, but I have a tough time looking for open receivers while keeping track of the pass rush, which often leads to sacks. In Madden 10, as defenders close in on you, the controller will vibrate to let you know about them -- you literally “feel the pressure.” And a mere flick of the right analog stick will attempt an evade move, though its success will depend on how nimble the quarterback in question is (Big Ben will have an easier time of it than, say, Tom Brady).
From a visual standpoint, the game is even more impressive than last year. An accurate depth-of-field filter has been put into Madden 10; you’ll notice it in replays, where zooming in on a player will blur the background and the foreground in a manner consistent with what you would expect from, well, real life. I only saw Raymond James Stadium, the site of Super Bowl XLIII, in the demo, and it was more detailed than ever before. The new DOF filter combined with full sidelines (chain gang, teammates, practicing kickers) makes long, wide-angle shots look great.
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