Shutdown Corner - NFL

There's not one huge feature that EA Sports has been pushing for Madden '10, like the "hit stick" or the "passing cone" of years past. And by taking the focus off of one big advancement/gimmick, and instead focusing on smoothing out the overall feel of gameplay and presentation, Madden '10 represents the biggest single-year advance that the game has seen in years.

I think the best way to tackle this review is with a series of scattered bullet points, separated into two categories: big things and little things. For those of you planning to pick the game up at midnight tonight, I'm happy to tell you that most of the good things about Madden '10 are big things, and most of the annoyances are little things.

Big Thing One: Low and Slow

• The first thing you'll notice is the speed of the game, or, perhaps more accurately, the lack of speed. It's especially jarring if you've been playing with the pinball-like players of NCAA Football '10.

Now, it might sound like a bad thing to say that the game is slow -- rarely does a company market a game under a "New and slower than ever!" campaign -- but the slowdown here is brilliant. The EA people intentionally engineered the game with a more deliberate pace in the name of realism -- and it works, especially in the running game.

Don't get me wrong, it's not slow slow. We're not talking about a level one of "Frogger" pace here. They've just taken it down one notch, and the payoff is huge. The game is still fast in a lot of ways. When playing from the zoomed-out default gameplay view, you'll notice a slower pace, but if you watch a replay from a ground-level camera, it seems really, really fast. Sort of like real NFL games.

Big Thing Two: The Running Game and You

• About that running game, I think you'll be pleased with it. Your blockers, be they offensive linemen, tight ends or fullbacks, execute better than they ever have before. There are still some, "Why the hell wouldn't you block that guy?" moments, but not nearly as many as last year, and the amount is directly tied to the quality of your line.

For example, in year one of my franchise, I was weak at right tackle, and I signed Jon Runyan(notes) off the free agent wire. In his first game with the team, he was awful. He was beaten like a rented mule, routinely, and manufactured about five "Why the hell wouldn't you block that guy?" moments in one game. I noticed zero from my other linemen.

But Runyan steadied as the year went on, and in year two of the franchise, with some talent added through the draft and free agency, I rarely have any of those "Why the hell wouldn't you block that guy?" moments. That's not to say my guys don't get beaten -- they do -- but it's because they got beat, not because the game had them programmed to avoid all defenders and run 19 yards downfield for no apparent reason. If your guys can block, you'll be able to run. If they can't, you might not.

With the "Pro-Tak" system (more on that in a minute), it's also easier to pick up a yard or two or three, even when someone gets to you at the line of scrimmage. You see a hole, you hit it, it closes quickly. In previous years, you're stopped for no gain, every time. This year, you can flick the right stick up, and if your running back's a beast, maybe he'll pound ahead for a small gain. It seems like a small thing, but it improves the overall running game experience a ton.

Big Thing Three: The Pro-Tak, Jack

• Related to that is the "Pro-Tak" system, which is supposed to allow for gang tackles involving up to nine dudes. I haven't seen nine in on a tackle yet, but I've seen six or seven. On a lot of plays, it produces a pretty awesome result. Your ball carrier gets stood up, the defense tries to push him back while he fights for an extra yard and other guys jump in the pile and start pushing. It is sweet.

It doesn't always work seamlessly, though. A lot of times, I find myself trying to get in on a tackle, and just diving over a couple of guys, or sort of bouncing off of them. Not a huge deal. All-in-all, I'd call "Pro-Tak" a success and note that it has potential to improve for next year.

Big Thing Four: Toss It Up

• The passing game is a lot like it's always been. The slower pace of the game provides no bargain for the user on the passing game, which is as it should be. I have noticed a high amount of interceptions, though, both picked off my me and thrown by me.

Now, this might be attributable to the team I'm playing with. My 2010 Chargers get a ton of pressure on the quarterback, and Antonio Cromartie(notes) and Quentin Jammer(notes) can both catch. And on offense, I'm hellbent on turning Pat White(notes) into a legitimate starting quarterback in the league, and it's not going well. I've seen the same complaint elsewhere, though, so I don't think it's just me.

Another small deal in the game that I think is actually a big deal: Quarterbacks are rated in new, more precise categories, like short pass accuracy, intermediate accuracy, and deep accuracy. It's a game-changer. I used to be able to take a quarterback without great accuracy, and I could get away with it, still completing a high percentage of passes. Not anymore. Young Patrick yesterday threw two interceptions on plays where the receivers were open, and he missed a wide-open Antonio Gates(notes) for an easy touchdown. It's driving me crazy, in a way that I totally respect and deserve.

Big Thing Five: This Thing is Prettier Than Most Women

• The graphics and overall presentation in Madden '10 are absolutely bananas. No sports game I've ever played has looked this good, either on the field or in the game's menus. From the "Loading..." screen and the "Press Start" screen, all the way through the game, things are so slick. Some of the player faces are a little goofy, but other than that, everything else is nailed. Swinging towels, steam rising from bald heads on the sidelines, a teal sheen to the Jaguars black helmets, players sucking wind ... it's all amazing.

Supposedly, a quarterback's eyes even get bigger when he makes a throw. I haven't zoomed in on a replay yet to confirm -- actually, wait, I'm going to do that now. This deserves further investigation.

[...]

Spank me with a spatula. I think it might be true. Check this out. The picture on top is Carson Palmer(notes) looking over the defense, trying to find the open man. The picture on bottom was taken just as I hit the button to start the throwing motion. I think his eyes really did get bigger. At the very least, he began to look deranged when he saw Laveranues Coles(notes) get open deep over the middle.

That's just too much. Before Madden '15, we're going to have innie and outie belly-buttons, accurate fillings in players' teeth, and arm hair length measured accurately down to the angstrom. You will be able to see the pain in the eyes of Terrell Owens(notes) when the ball is thrown to another receiver.

Big Thing Six: The Money Squeeze Continues

I complained about it for NCAA 2010, too, and it continues here. You can purchase certain advantages for franchise mode, like things that make scouting easier, give your players the maximum progression between seasons, allow you to talk guys out of retirement, etc. They cost real, actual dollars.

It's just irksome. You convinced someone to pay $60 for your game, it's stuffed full of advertisements (Snickers reminds you to be a chompion), and you're still going to squeeze for the extra cash? Come on.

The Little Things:

• If I have one major complaint, it's the lack of advances in franchise mode. The trading block and trading system have been the same for a while. I'd like to get some specific feedback on my trade offers, an idea of the guys on my team that an opposing team covets, and who they're willing to part with. There's no negotiation. Everything's cut-and-dry, black-and-white. It's time to add something new to the mix here.

• All the between-game stuff is gone. You can't train players for individual games or go through practices, and all of the mini-camp drills are gone. Personally, I'm glad to see them go. I found that stuff to be an annoyance. I play a football game because it's fun to play football games, not because I'd like to experience the day-in, day-out grind of being an NFL player.

• There are cool new tippy-toe sideline animations for receivers making a catch right up against the paint, and it's easier to make a catch with your guy and stay in bounds. The CPU, however, still runs out of bounds excessively. They must let Todd Pinkston(notes) program that part of the game.

• When a fumble is coughed up and there's a scramble for it, there's a new system that lets you get into a button-mashing contest to try and recover the fumble. I'm still Switzerland on this feature. Maybe it's because I've only recovered 25% of fumbles available to me. Maybe it's because the recovery of fumbles is, in reality, a completely random thing, and that's the way it should be in the game. I don't know.

• The chain gangs measuring for first downs and officials having conferences to determine if a guy crossed the goal line, or if a guy got both of his feet down ... both are nice touches.

• There's a new halftime show, and a similar weekly show called "The Extra Point" where you get scores, stats and highlights from around the league. It seems like EA spent a lot of time on these. They look good, and they're a neat little novelty at first, but they quickly become pretty worthless. I don't mind them, but that time could've been better spent elsewhere.

• With non-major injuries, you get the option to bring a guy back into the game and play him hurt while risking further injury, or you can bench him a little while longer. It's a welcome little addition.

Michael Vick(notes) is not available as a free agent. I assume EA will add him through a roster update as soon as he signs somewhere, but it would've been nice to have the option of signing him now ... and then watching attendance plummet.

• The Broncos AFL Legacy jerseys are not included in the game. And the Chargers jerseys are a little messed up. There's a "1960s Throwback," but it's sort of a hybrid of the Chargers actual alternate jerseys and the throwback jerseys. There is a difference, you know.

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