The NFL Madden 09 demo went up on Xbox Live and PSN this Thursday, giving football aficionados and casual fans alike a chance to check out the 20th installment in the Madden franchise.
The demo kicks off a little different than you might expect, a deliberate ploy to emphasize some the many "new features" that are being pushed for Madden 09. The series has come under its share of criticism over the past few installments (particularly on the next gen systems), and EA and Tiburon seem to have finally gotten over the euphoria of being the only NFL game in town, realizing they're going to have to bring some innovation to keep fans happy.
One of the primary goals of Tiburon and EA is make the Madden experience accessible to the casual football and gaming fan alike. A new key feature in doing that is the "Madden IQ", a system which creates a customized difficulty level based on how well you perform in a series of trials known as the Madden IQ Test (appropriately), and continues to update based on how you play in actual games.
So when you start off the demo you'll be greeted by a holographic looking John Madden who welcomes you to the game and explains a little about Madden IQ. You're then thrown into a series of drills played on a holographic training field (yes, with holographic nondescript players) for different areas of play such as rushing offense, passing offense, rushing defense, and pass defense. You play a series of increasingly complex scenarios until you finally receive a rating for each category. Your rating for each discipline is marked somewhere in the range of Rookie, Pro, All-Pro, or Madden difficulty, which makes a little easier to tell where exactly "Your Skill" ranks you.
The rushing drills, both offensively and defensively are especially well designed, and control well. You could almost classify it as a Guitar Hero-esque button mimic game where button prompts appear over the head of defender, or ball carrier, telling you what defensive or offensive move to use. Now if you're a savvy veteran, you would likely have no problem ascertaining the angle of an oncoming defender and know which move to pull anyway, but if you're a new comer than the help would be much appreciated. And for that matter, even as a veteran, you may pick up on some subtle areas where the game rewards one move more than another.
I have to admit, while initially put off by the idea of being bothered with the Madden IQ Test, it controls quite well and while it's likely be an invaluable tutorial and guide for the new comer, I found myself interested in the ratings I got, even as a long time Madden vet. Personally I marked in the top tier of All-Pro rankings for rushing offense, just barely missing Madden difficulty. I ranked just slightly below that for passing offense, but finished just barely in the lower portion of the All-Pro ranking range for both defensive categories. The Baltimore Ravens, I am not.
And while I found myself interested in these ratings, I have to wonder whether I would want to play with the Madden IQ settings turned on all the time. Thankfully, you can switch this feature off in the full version of the game. It's a solid addition, and some people will certainly enjoy it, but others will invariably have reservations (and complaints). For instance, there are those who like the idea of, say, starting a franchise mode on a certain difficulty level, perhaps starting off slow, then running the table late in the season as they become acclimated to the AI tendencies and prowess. But then, if you're exceptionally good at this, to the point where you no longer have a challenge, then maybe Madden IQ will bring something you've always wanted. Again, you'll be able to go with or without.
The core gameplay on Madden doesn't strike us as being overhauled much in '09, at least not in the short exposure we had in the demo. After going through the Madden IQ Test, you play a short scenario from this past Superbowl between the Giants and the Patriots. You're playing in scenario mode, so it doesn't seem to feature all the bells and whistles you might see in an actual game, like EA Backtrack or other new features. There's obviously some graphical improvements (grass has never looked so damn good), and the ball carrier movements feel just a tad more tight and precise then they did last year.
We should note that at least in the demo, passing felt a little off. Passes tended to sail a bit more than we would have liked, even when attempting to bullet a pass to a receiver. Also, on at least one occasion, we experienced an instance where a different wide open receiver dropped a pass, for no apparent reason, three plays in a row. It just felt like the passing game lacked that zip that you would expect, but then maybe that's just because we were forced to play with Eli Manning.
Overall it looks to be one of the better Madden installments we've seen in a while, and hopefully the first to truly realize the potential of next-gen beyond just graphics. And maybe, just maybe, restore the cynic's faith in the franchise.
Think about it, seriously.
Originally posted on InsiderGamersLoop.com