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‘Madden' (the best yet) takes the field today

Langston Wertz Jr.
Langston Wertz Jr. writes about video games, gadgets, golf and sports for The Charlotte Observer and Charlotte.com.

Madden NFL 09

EA Sports for all major consoles, rated E for Everyone

The wait is finally over for fans of the Madden franchise: Today marks the release of the 20th anniversary edition of the game, the latest installment in the most popular videogame series of all-time.

Is it good? Very.

EA Sports, to me, has really upgraded the game this year, getting away from the tiny improvements of the past few years. This Madden is a lot better than '08.

When you start the game, it tests your abilities through 12 drills. The better you do, the harder the game will be. Your score ranges from 200 to 800. No more choosing between two or three difficulty levels, unless you want to.

As you get better, via gameplay or training, the game will get harder. The game's artificial intelligence also will adjust play calling and in-game play to better fit your skill.

The AI gives in-game hints, based on your IQ score, and postgame reports showing strengths and weaknesses. At that point, you can keep playing or go to the training screen to work on your game – it's similar to watching game film while coaching or playing for a real team, and then hitting the practice field for improvement.

Another cool feature: You can get in-depth analysis of what went wrong with a play, and you can even “rewind” and run the play again while playing the computer (an option that can be used as many times as you'd like). Yes, it's a cheat, but as a learning tool, it has benefits.

When you're playing an opponent, there's a handicapping system that allows better players to challenge weaker players and not hold back. That was one of my favorite features here.

During play, you can use a picture-in-picture system to get instant replays, stats, tips; you can even use it to decide if you want to challenge an on-field call. And finally, there's a “hide play call” feature.

Visually, this is the best Madden ever. A new camera shows more of the action, and the pre- and post-play screens have been updated. The pre-game visuals have also been updated, rather 2K-style, and you'll notice more people on the sidelines.

You'll also notice the players are bigger, the grass is more realistic-looking, and the weather effects look more convincing and have more effect on the game than ever before.

This year, Tom Hammond and Cris Collinsworth call the action (though I almost wish EA would hire some actors who would spend more time on voices to get more comments and all players' names).

When you play a rival, you'll notice rival-specific commentary. You'll notice the AI making the rival games harder in franchise mode, and there are some neat presentation elements that make you feel that these are really important games.

Overall, I think EA Sports finally has delivered the Madden game fans have been begging for. There's a 20th anniversary edition with “NFL Head Coach 09” and tons of bonus content, including a playable version of “Madden 93” (man, we've come a long way from those graphics). Separately, there's a $200 bundle that includes a Sony PSP, “Madden 09,” a special UMD video hosted by Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad Johnson, and a 1GB memory stick.

I thought the PS3 version looked better and cleaner than the Xbox 360 version. But 360 fans needn't worry – the Xbox version is well worth the purchase.

This is the best Madden ever, and one of the best games of the year.

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