The NFL kicks off tonight, so I felt it was a good time to post this review. It’s time for EA Sports’ annual Madden game, and as usual I’m there. I enjoyed last year’s offering (which I called one of their best football games yet), so I had high hopes for this build. What would they do to top last year? Well, in short: not a whole lot. Sure, there are new features that we’ll delve in to that make a difference, but how much more can they add to a game franchise that’s 21 years old?

Graphically, this game looks even better then last year. Touted details like the animated hand towels on players’ belts add little, but the detail, texturing and light/shadow play is ahead of last year’s game. The biggest change, visually, is also a game play change: Pro Tak completely rewrites tacking in football video games. While I don’t buy into the ‘unscripted tackle animation’ marketing gimmick (I’ve seen plenty of repeats, myself) the gang tackling and fighting for yards is light years beyond Madden 09. Unlike in 09 where you either got nothing or a touchdown, this year you can work for more yards then ever before, and you can bring extra tacklers to stop those extra yards. This is really a huge game changer.

Audio-wise, the game is basically unchanged. Same with the feature set; EA seems content with what their offering and don’t seem inclined to up the ante during this console generation. My favorite mode, Superstar, has been neutered, with interviews removed, no pre-draft workout, no draft combine, nothing. You create your character, assign a meager number of stat points and go play. You also still don’t get demoted or traded for poor play, which bothers me.

The game’s biggest blunder is in performance. I’m not even talking about watching the same short, pointless cinemas over and over again after a play while refs argue over a touchdown or the chain gang measuring a spot even though the game has already decided the outcome (what is this, Madden 2004?), I’m talking about the framerate that chokes at different times during the game. It can be a game breaker, and for all the good that Pro Tak adds to the game, the framerate drags it down just as much.

For someone who owns Madden NFL 09, I’m torn on recommending they upgrade to this new game. Pro Tak is a huge benefit of the upgrade, but the framerate is nearly a game killer. This may be the highest I’ve ever rated a game that I would recommend you rent before you buy, but that’s what it comes down to. If you can put up with the FPS follies, you’ll enjoy the improved gameplay and graphics, but that’s a big ‘if.’ Alphasim out.