Out of Bounds
The computer is a little more challenged on offense, particularly when it comes to clock management and calling sensible plays late in games. I witnessed the Giants throwing on third and five with under a minute left while up by six, and the Bears refusing to go for an onside kick with under a minute on the clock down by just three points. At least the computer offense does push you, with a varied selection of plays pulled from each teamís entire playbook. Itís very tough to get a feel for what the computer is going to throw at you coming out of the huddle, which keeps you on your toes. Still, there are just enough A.I. issues to remind you that youíre playing a videogame. Players frequently cut routes short on third downs (although you can at least now set up smart routes that order players to stretch their runs past the first-down marker), or simply run routes that take them way out of bounds. Itís as if the code doesnít properly recognize the location of the sidelines at times.
Some new presentation features add a lot to Madden 09 on the gridiron. Backtrack and Rewind are flat-out awesome additions, so good that I canít imagine myself going back to a previous game in the series without these frills. The former serves as sort of a football primer, with new commentator Collinsworth breaking down catastrophic plays like fumbles or interceptions. Most are truly informative and can really help noobs learn more about football and become better Madden players. Rewind is essentially the ability to take a mulligan on a screwed up play and do it over again. Yes, purists will howl, but I absolutely love this feature because it lets me fix plays I ruin when my brain vapor locks at an inopportune moment. Letís face it, Madden is a pretty demanding arcade game, and itís all too easy to hit the wrong button and do something idiotic like throw into triple coverage. For me, anyhow. So this option saves me a ton of frustration and quite possibly extends the lives of my gamepads.
But the third presentation addition is kind of lame. Madden 101, a new difficulty-setting quiz that kicks the game off by asking questions about how much you know about football and sets the difficulty accordingly, takes too much control away from the player and is bizarre looking. Showing your host big John as some sort of Princess Leia-like hologram is beyond goofy, and the changes to the game are rather superficial. It takes too much out of your hands, along with underlining how stupid it was for EA Sports to swap out the old CPU sliders for this new system. Yes, setting the difficulty interactively is kind of cool. But not at the cost of ditching the ability of manually configuring the game to your liking and adjusting things like QB Accuracy and Defensive Awareness. I just hope that EA adds the sliders back in a patch. Pronto.
League play is just as up and down as the rest of the game. In solo play, running a franchise is seriously bugged due to terrible A.I. Star players get released for no reason, drafts feature crazy moments where teams not only go off on weird tangents but actually take players at the same position for multiple rounds. I saw the Patriots pick RBs with the first, second, and third picks in a draft. Worst of all, established players donít appear to progress as the years roll by. Theyíre stuck with their default skills and never seriously improve as they move into their prime or degrade with age. Getting into a new online league is even more of a dubious proposition. Instead of a proper league setup, clubs are grouped together into a tournament format where each team plays every opponent once. Everything seems to work well, and I didnít notice any serious lag during matches, but still, this is a far cry from what 2K Sports was offering way back when in the late, great NFL 2K5. Why EA Sports still canít equal a mode of play in a game thatís now four years old is patently ridiculous.