Madden NFL 09 – Xbox 360

As gaming series go, none are quite as successful as the Madden NFL titles. Now in their twentieth year, the series has been not only a big seller in the US, but incredibly popular in Europe, despite the somewhat lukewarm reception the sport gets over here.

Why this is can be put down to one simple reason: the games have consistently been tonnes of fun. American Football might be incredibly complex in real life, but the games have always been well geared towards newbies eager for some smash mouth action.

So with a new batch of titles across a mass of sports gearing up to hit the stores, can this new Madden do enough to stay at the top of the charts? Or will it fumble the ball before the end zone?

First of all, the graphics are finally truly next generation. Bodies twist and contort when the tackles start to hit, and watching a glorious lengthy run slowed right down is a real treat. Sure, you might spot the odd disjointed elbow, and a few arms disappearing into midriffs. But these are a rarity.

Buts it’s the commentary that’s truly dazzling. While us fans of the brand of football actually played mainly with your feet suffer from horribly repetitive and dull commentators, the chatter during games in Madden NFL 09 is absolutely amazing. It’s bang on the mark 99% of the time, which in this Sky Sports era is better than real life. Yes the constant "this match is brought to you by EA Sports", can get on your nerves, but it’s a small price to pay for the best commentary yet.

One of the best, but sadly underused features is the backtrack. Sadly not too frequently you’ll be told exactly what you did wrong as the play runs out in slow motion, and given a few hints as to what you could have done. Just like watching the real thing. Absolutely fantastic.

A slightly more controversial addition is the chance to actually rewind back to the start of a play. Depending on your chosen skill level, you’ll be given a number of chances to rewind time and start a play all over again. So if you threw a shocking pass, or managed to fumble the ball just before the end zone, you can simply back track and start all over again. Not one for the purists, but you can simply turn the whole thing off if it offends you that much.

Not all the additions are top quality. The Madden IQ feature which prompts you to undertake tests so the game’s difficulty can be worked to your own skill levels, is basically broken. Until you’ve managed to pack in a good few dozen matches the game will make running almost impossible as it nudges the difficulty level up to virtually impractical.

Which is all a shame as this is the best Madden to buy if you’re a newcomer to the series. You can let the game select plays for you, nudge the difficulty sliders right down to the bottom, and get learning the rules and regulations while scoring some stunning touchdowns. Sadly, American Football certainly isn’t too responsive to newcomers to the sport, so don’t expect this one to dazzle you if you’ve never been a fan. It’ll take a long few weeks before you’ve got to grips with even half of what the sport has to offer.

For long-time fans, things are exciting however. Your opponent’s intelligence is the best yet, and actually gaining a few yards is just as big an achievement as hitting a touchdown. There’s no bashing through four tackles and making regular 20 yard rushes here. This one’s just like a real game of American Football.

The little tweaks are everywhere. There are so many controls and options once you’re out on the field, that the handy little show of the controls in the top right hand corner is a must-view. There’s almost a dozen different button presses and analogue stick nudges you can use just to break/avoid tackles as you run with the ball.

All the usual career, season, and exhibition modes remain fully intact. Playing out a long-term single player career will no doubt offer the real meat for most of you, and there’s so much depth that it’s hard not to feel a little overwhelmed.

Now up to 32 players can take part in an online league, making for some real epic battles with your online gaming pals. Thankfully there have been no reports of lag or teleporting players that can ruin other sports titles online.

Verdict

It’s got all the glitz and glamour of the real sport, but it’s packed in all the brains of the top quarterbacks too. It might not be a major leap from last year’s version, but its more than enough to make this a must-buy for all fans of the sport.