Scrolling through my list of played games on my Xbox 360 and the amount of Achievements I've got in each, last years Madden NFL 2009 is right up there in the top 5 due to its highly generous boosting of my Gamerscore. I think I'd probably played about 3 matches for about 200 easy points, and many more as time progressed.
So, because I'm a hoarder by nature and a self-admitted Achievement whore (especially when they're easy), it was with great glee that I slipped the latest annual release of EA's NFL simulation into my console.
The grin of anticipation was soon wiped off my face however. Wiped off my face by some smart-arse designer, sitting there in his ergonomic chair, chugging back Red Bulls and Doritos, who thought it would be a great joke to make even just one Achievement in Madden NFL 2010 an absolute nightmare to earn.
I played through my first game and lost, but that's ok, surely I would hear that comforting, familiar sound of a bevy of Achievements coming my way. Nothing. That's strange. Maybe I need to set all the options back to default and try again. Nothing. There has to be something wrong here. I set the game length to 7 minute quarters...nothing, nada, zero, a big fat bolo.
So, I decided to check through the list of Achievements to see if there was some bizarre requisite for picking them up. That's when I discovered that most of them are team specific and/or player specific goals. 'Use linebacker XXX of team XXX to make 15 quarterback sacks in one match (Normal difficulty, 5 minute quarters)' is a typical (if slightly exaggerated) example.
Anyway, my achievement whore rant aside, Madden NFL 2010 is a sublime NFL experience with some very nice improvements over last years effort. The flashy presentation has a slightly more subdued feel to it - the opening cinematics focusing on the heart and dedication of the players and the idea that you don't just watch NFL - you LIVE and BREATH NFL Football. The in-game presentation has been streamlined and choosing the appropriate formations or more importantly understanding the formations so to make an informed decision seems easier due to the larger diagrams and scrolling selection method.
EA have gone out of their way to make this not only as close to playing as you can get, but also capture the essence of ‘gameday’ itself from the pre-match build up and half-time analysis to the after match round-up and statistics. If you’re playing the Franchise Mode then you get a great TV style show giving you a weekly rundown on how your team is doing – this is a fantastic inclusion that brings the realism home like never before.
Basic gameplay remains the same from previous years but there are a few excellent improvements to enhance the experience. While the character/player models are of the same excellent quality as always, there are significant new motion-captured animations which, while you might not notice them individually, all go into making the game more realistic as a whole. New to the series is the inclusion of gang tackles and fumble pile-ups just as you'd see in an actual game. Fumble the ball in a tackle and you can expect seven 150kg guys throwing themselves from a height on top of you - good luck with walking away from that! Yet another nice touch is the “chain guys” (I don’t know the official term, but this is as good as any) that run on the field and measure if a play comes too close to getting a first down.
Even if you’ve played previous Madden games, you should complete the Madden Test before venturing out on the field or online. This gives you a series of tasks to complete, both offensive and defensive, in a virtual arena and gives the game some idea as to where your skill level is at so it can adjust the AI accordingly. It will also use this ability setting to match you up with others at a similar skill level in the online environment. There’s no fun in going online and getting spanked by some American NFL fanatic with a scoreline that looks like an Indian cricket innings.
Another significant change in Madden NFL 2010, well at least I think it’s the game and not me that’s changed. I found Madden 2009 quite simple – even on normal difficulty and had regular three-figure scorelines in my favour. But after a couple of dozen games in Madden 2010, I’ve won about three matches, and even they were buzzer beaters.
Graphically, the game is generally superb. There’s amazing attention to detail from the playing field to the active crowd who hold up relevant banners and seem to have a never ending selection of random animations. However there are some significant glitches – none of which effect gameplay, but stick in the mind nonetheless. Things do tend to get a little crispy at times, definitely noticeable in the hair of some players. Modern LCD and Plasma TV’s seem to accentuate this at times – for those of you familiar with Adobe Photoshop, it’s akin to cranking up the unsharp masking on a picture. There’s some unfortunate but funny glitches too – as players on the sideline chat to coaches using phones that have mysteriously disappeared, leaving them talking and gesturing into their hand. It’s crazy to think that this wasn’t picked up by beta testers, but as mentioned it’s more humorous than anything.
At the end of the day, Madden NFL 2010 sees the peak of the series on this generation of consoles. The gameplay isn’t going to get any better. But the progression of the series is no doubt headed down the path of making the game feel as much like controlling a live game as possible. – and it might take a new generation of hardware to realise this dream.