I'm no great fan of soccer, football or most sports but there is a reason I was given the new Madden 09 for review. It's because it's touted as being more accessible and open to new players, first time players with a passing interest in the sport and has an Adaptive Difficulty engine that's supposed to make the game a lot easier for new players. Well, I can tell you that this approach wins some points from me and loses some as well, since Madden has a kind of NFS rubber-band AI that makes the Adaptive Difficulty worthless at times.
When you boot up the game you get a ghostly, Obi-Wan style Madden who asks you a few questions, these are supposedly designed to give the game an understanding of your knowledge of American Football, a great idea on paper but in actuality it's one of those ideas that allows even the newest player like me to guess a few things right and set myself up with a game that's a little beyond my ability as a player. I can't scoff too much at them for this though, since they actually thought about it and it's a neat idea.
The My Skill setting tries to make the game play based on your skill, in part it works, and again thanks to the rubber band AI it also falls down when it fails to make things easier for an inept player like me, taking things like my obvious luck to mean that I am superb at the game and hammering me into the ground for the next five minutes. I was sure at one point it might even have been laughing and pointing too. Fortunately there are numerous sliders you can play with to change the difficulty and adjust things to your liking.
It feels decent enough and I'm told by my Madden aficionados and fans that the game hasn't changed much in the core gameplay, or mechanics, so it's pretty much Madden with a coat of mostly new paint. So in that respect I can't really comment since I'm new to the series with this game. I can say though that having seen the previous Madden's being played, this game has a shine in the animations and they have been tweaked to really showcase the bone-crushing brutality of this sport.
The graphics are good and the grass looks pretty decent (yes, those kinds of details are important to Football fans I'm told) with a nice level of texturing. The player models are excellent and the overall feel of the stadiums are good. My only real gripes with the game come from some of the kick-off animations looking as if they're playing about .5 seconds too fast and giving a feeling like the player is skating along on a floor made of ice some of the time.
The AI is another gripe of mine; it can often be seen running out of bounds on any difficulty setting, including the hardest as well as losing track of exactly where it is on the field. These things aren't massive game breakers but they are the kind of bugs that should be stomped down before the game hits retail. I can see many new and possibly some veteran players being irked enough to call it quits.
Sound design is great, heavy and meaty enough to simulate the Football experience. The grunts and groans, the crash of a good block and interception are all done well. There's also commentary that sounds great, from (so I'm informed) two of Footballs own great commentators: Chris Collinsworth and Tom Hammond.
EA have tried to create a Football experience that gives you several new tools to help you improve your game, such as BackTrack, which allows you to study your plays and might offer some good advice (or some bad) depending on how you look at it. The commentators give you insightful (mostly) information on how things went wrong, or how you could have improved. Of course, they don't always get it right.
Then there's a GRID style rewind feature that allows you to roll back your previous play, take another stab at it with different tactics. Thankfully this feature doesn't happen in online play. You can also turn it off, limit it or leave it at an infinite number of tries.
There are some other gameplay modes in Madden 09, like Madden Moments that takes a portion of a game from last season, replays it and sometimes might even change the outcome from the real world finish. Online Leagues, is an attempt to get 32 players playing a league of their own with trophies and whatnot.
In closing, Madden 09 is far more accessible and has enough new features for new players to bring someone like me in. I can't say I'm fully convinced and that I would seriously consider getting Madden 2010 or whatever they call the next one. Yet I enjoyed it enough with the top-notch graphics, models, stadium design, lighting and solid camera angles that I was able to play for a good while. The My Skill, BackTrack and Rewind are good additions but they have some issues and whilst the AI is decent enough it still has the tendency to completely lose the plot from time to time.
A solid effort though.