I’m a bit late with my Madden NFL 09 review for one reason: It’s good. I can’t stop playing the thing to review it, which is hard on the site. Anyone who’s been here the last week or so has seen my Life as a Madden Superstar articles, which I’m enjoying doing. This is the best Madden I’ve ever played, and while it’s not perfect, it’s darn close (for a football game).

The first thing I want to point out is that I’m reviewing the 20th Anniversary Collectors Edition. It doesn’t have any gameplay-changing features (aside from some extra playbooks and connection with the bundled NFL Head Coach 09), but I do want to say that I really like the ‘cyber player’ models that came with it. They’re fun to play as, and hark back to one of my favorite EA Sports ad campaigns of the last decade. The graphics overall are spectacular. The animations are smooth and realistic as can be (aside from the ridiculous dunk animation in the end zone), the player models are much more accurately proportioned compared to last year, and the stadiums are great. The weather, on the other hand, leaves mixed impressions. It looks great, but it other then the snow it doesn’t have any effect on the field. Last year, in the rain you’d see the field get torn up with puddles forming, and that’s not the case this year. The field looks to be in pristine condition no matter what. On the other hand, uniform degradation is over the top, so much so that, aside from the helmets, you can’t hardly tell who plays for who after halftime. I’ve been tackled trying to follow a blocker when I can’t recognize the guy coming around the corner is on the other team. The helmets also stay way, way too shiny, and stand out like a sore thumb on rainy days.

The Madden IQ gimmick  is fun to play with, and it’s something I’d like to see included in other EA Sports titles, but as it stands, it’s way too underused. It sets your difficulty when you use the My Skill setting, but other then that it doesn’t do much. It adjusts after each game you play all the way through, but the changes sometimes seem arbitrary. You can now use super-sim in exhibition and franchise games, meaning that if you don’t like playing defense (like me), you can super-sim through those parts. The one downside is that the game then has no effect on your Madden IQ rating, because it can’t get a good read on your playing ability.

The sound in game is ok, with a new commentary tandem that I could take or leave, but the crowd sounds are not into the game enough. It sounds like they’re sitting in the stadium next door rather then right on the sidelines.

As for the gameplay, there are good things and some pretty bad things. First the good: the new locomotion animations (i.e. how you run, turn, stop, etc) are very well done. You really feel like you’re controlling a person with real weight,  and this makes the game much more believable. I also like that I have a chance to slip out of a tackle if I time the my button presses right, which means no more automatic tackles.  Of course, your opponent can do this too, which is frustrating, but absolutely fair. A few of the negatives on gameplay are that AI receivers, particularly out of the backfield, have a bad habit of running straight out of bounds. The camera can also get confused. In addition to times when it seems to be filming nothing after a play or between quarters, I’ve had times when my running back in Superstar mode has gotten a handoff but the camera turns back to the quarterback and I can’t see where I’m going.

Superstar and Franchise mode are almost indistinguishable from last season. No new features or options, period. The only new mode is for online leagues, and on top of being terribly under-documented, they don’t work well at all. Create a  Player and Create a Team are also the same as last year. The only new option I found was that you can now pick from a range of visor colors on your helmet. C’mon, EA, is that the best you can do?

All in all, this is the best Madden I’ve played in quite some time. I’ve griped about the lack of new features, and I’ve bemoaned the new Madden IQ’s underuse, but when it gets down to what matters – gameplay – this is the best there is. If you enjoy football, you’ll enjoy Madden NFL 09. Alphasim out.