Madden NFL 10 Preview (Xbox 360)

Last week, I sat down with Phil Frazier, a long-time producer at EA Sports, and checked out the latest Madden 10 build. While I did not get a chance to grab the controller and start dissecting the game myself, Phil Frazier did demo many of the new on-the-field Madden 10 features for me.

However, before getting to those features, I must mention that on Monday I wrote that the unofficial theme for NCAA Football 10 will be customization. Well, when it comes to Madden 10 I believe the theme will be "immersion." From the first moment you put the game in your console to the moment you take the field, immersion will be the goal.

When the game is loading, you are immediately brought into a football state of mind as you watch a down marker count from one to four. The opening screen features Larry Fitzgerald diving and reaching for the pylon while sub-menus bounce around the stadium.

And, perhaps taking a hint from our article last season about how loading screens no longer contain useful information, this year’s Madden highlights players and their ratings as you wait to take the field.


On the field, most of Madden’s improvements center around a new animation technology called Pro-Tak.

Marketing jargon? Sure. But when Pro-Tak is flexing its muscles, you can see the difference it is making. At the heart of Pro-Tak is the ability to control players on the field through contact with other players, while also having the ability to shape how the player you are controlling will respond to that contact.

For instance, Pro-Tak is what makes the new gang tackling feature in Madden work. This year you are able to have up to nine players on the field involved in the tackle –- both offensive and defensive players.

Four Bills versus one Jet. Wonder who's going to win ...

For the first time, you will see running backs like Brandon Jacobs move a pile of defenders forward, tight ends run up to the back of a pile and throw their shoulder into it to push it up field, and an entire flock of linebackers converging on the ball carrier at the same time.

You will now also have the ability to initiate a tackle with one defender before switching to another defender to finish the job.

Pro-Tak is also working hard in every passing situation because it is the cornerstone of pass rushing defenders, blocking lineman and the quarterback. For example, Pro-Tak appears to have finally slain suction blocking and the dreaded 15-yard drop back. Animations between offensive and defensive linemen are much more fluid and lifelike –- with the war not being won simply by offensive linemen making contact.

... Not the Jet.

For pass rushers, this means no more button and trigger mashing to use one of a couple moves in your bag of tricks. Instead you will be able to use the right stick to steer your player through contact with the offensive line.

This steering is what kills the 15-yard drop back. If you drop back more than a couple of yards, you are giving the defenders an ideal angle to push through the offensive linemen, get on their outside shoulder and bull rush right to the point of attack.

For quarterbacks, Pro-Tak allows you to better feel the pressure coming at you and also trigger animations that try to avoid the rush. In the past, I think we all witnessed situations where the QB dodged a sack via some kind of miracle animation that we would be lucky to ever see again.

This year, those random animations are gone, and instead you control your QB's ability to shuffle left, right and up in the pocket with the right stick. The QB is able to truly slide around the pocket like Tom Brady (pre-knee injury) before throwing downfield.

Madden is also utilizing a vibrating controller so you can sense where the pressure is coming from. If you are getting heavy pressure from the right, you will feel it. If you have time but are getting a bit of pressure from the left, the joystick will vibrate a touch.

The Little Things

Perhaps taking a page from MLB: The Show, Madden 10 is also looking to focus more on the little details that have sometimes been overlooked in the past -– basically keeping the "if it's in the game" mantra in mind at all times.

When the ball is fumbled in certain situations, a number of players will dive on the loose ball and it will change hands in the pile numerous times. While it was not ready during my demo, in the final version of the game there will be a button mashing mini-game to decide who gets the ball - with the button needing to be hit changing throughout the sequence.

According to Frazier, these piles are going to be special, rare situations with most fumbles playing out similar to years past. But in certain circumstances you're going to see all hell break loose fighting for the football.

The emotion of the moment is captured as well, with referees pulling guys off the pile before emphatically pointing in one direction or the other.

A detail like Ben Roethlisberger's "7" appearing right on the yellow line of his helmet instead of on the side of it is important to the Madden developers. As Phil said to me, Big Ben is somebody’s favorite player, and the developers really want to make sure Madden lives up to the expectations of that fan –- getting every nuance correct if they can.

Madden 10 has a new, more streamlined playcalling screen.

The entire referee crew will now also be on the field. Now, while they do not have collision detection, you will still see them getting run over.

Defensive assignments are also back in the game. Once again, you will be able to take a defensive back or other defender and have him follow another player on the field -- no matter where he lines up.

Other Tidbits and Thoughts

- The graphics and lighting in Madden 10 are top notch. I thought NCAA and Madden 09 looked pretty good, and what I saw of NCAA 10 was on par with its 09 siblings. Still, Madden 10 is noticeable upgrade when compared to last year’s titles and even NCAA Football 10.

- The development team certainly seems to get what gamers are looking for and, perhaps more importantly, have the backing to go out and make a football game for true football fans. The true test will come when you get your hands on the controller and take the game for a whir. Nevertheless, from the limited on-the-field action I saw, the game appeared to be hitting on all cylinders.

- QBs have had their accuracy ratings changed. Instead of having one accuracy rating, they now have three ratings for long, medium and short passes. So, the Chad Penningtons of the world will no longer throw a good deep ball simply because they have a high accuracy rating. It will be interesting to see how this impacts the noodle-armed slingers like Pennington.

- There are no more weapons.

- Player ratings have been rebalanced. The aim is for the elite players in the league to truly feel superior to the rest of the players out there.

- During replays, when moving the camera around, you will now have a much better sense of depth since the game will focus on your target and blur out what is behind it -- similar to focusing on an item with a camera. This is something MLB: The Show did really well, and Madden’s system is just as impressive.

- Team-specific sidelines have been added. Everything on the sideline looks a lot more realistic than it has in the past.

- Super Bowl patches appear on a team's uniforms.

- Phil Frazier and other members of the Madden team hinted that they have a few more announcements in store for E3.

Madden NFL 10 Videos