Madden NFL 09 First Hands-On

We head to the 2008 NFL Rookie Madden Challenge and go hands-on with EA Sports' upcoming football game.

EA Sports recently held its 2008 NFL Rookie Madden Challenge in Los Angeles, hosting a number of rookie NFL players in an eight-player tournament to determine which future NFL star has the most skill on the sticks. Newly minted Washington Redskins wide receiver Devin Thomas took home the trophy during the tournament, beating up on former Appalachian State (and current Tampa Bay Buccaneers) wideout Dexter Jackson to take the win. However, before all of the Madden madness began, we got a chance to check out the upcoming Madden NFL 09 for the first time.

After booting up the game, our first step was to establish our Madden IQ, a new feature in the game that will automatically gauge your skill through a series of minigames presented in a futuristic hologram style. There are four drills to run through--run offense, pass offense, run defense, and pass defense--and, despite the sci-fi visuals, the minigames themselves will be familiar to Madden players straightaway. For the running drills, your goal will be to beat individual defenders on your way toward a touchdown, whereas in the passing tests, you'll be judged on the number of passes you can complete against a variety of coverages.

Neither rain, nor snow, nor the Cleveland Browns can stop Marshawn Lynch.

As you might expect, you'll be asked to stop the CPU from moving the ball during the defensive run and passing drills. We assumed that the defensive running drills would be fairly easy, but they actually proved to be tougher than the passing defense drills. This was partially because of the difficulty of making open-field tackles one-on-one, and partially because the CPU seemed a bit too adept at busting out of tackles. Similarly, on the surface the passing defensive drills seemed like they might be the most difficult, given that staying tight with a receiver in Madden has traditionally been an advanced skill. However, that fact is mitigated a bit in the drill because time slows down a little when the virtual quarterback puts the ball up in the air, giving you a chance to get a hand up in the air and break up the play.

At the end of each of the drills, we got a score in each category, ranging from rookie to all-Madden. The final Madden IQ is a mixture of those different scores, and that score is used to dynamically control your game's difficulty as you play through it. When you start a game, you'll be able to pick from a variety of difficulty levels, including the standards such as rookie or all-pro, or choose the "My Skill" difficulty to play the game with your custom difficulty sliders. As your skills improve (or if they degrade), the game will then automatically adjust difficulty aspects to compensate for your rising (or falling) Madden IQ.

There's one other aspect of difficulty in Madden NFL 09: game style. There are a number of different game styles you can choose from before you begin a game, and each presents information to you in a slightly different way once the game begins. On the beginner game style, the game is simplified to a great degree; for example, when in the huddle, the game will give you only one play to call. As you move up through the more advanced game-style options, you'll get more play-call options available to you, until you reach the hardcore level, which is a presentation level designed for the most faithful Madden fans. At the hardcore level, superfluous features such as instant replays and the backtrack feature (which breaks down your busted plays in exacting details) are turned off so that you can get to the next play as quickly as possible.

The dynamic game difficulty and the different game styles are EA's attempt at leveling the playing field a bit between Madden players who might be of wildly different skill levels. When playing against an opponent, both players will be able to choose their individual game style and see just as much (or as little) information about the game as they want.

No, it's not the new Tron game, it's the virtual reality trainer in Madden NFL 09.

On the field, Madden 09 has lots of little features that set it apart from the previous year's game. Things such as brand-new camera angles before plays are immediately noticeable, but there are also more substantial improvements that just feel right on the field. At its spring press event in Vancouver, EA talked a lot about the improvements to the character-animation systems from previous years and, even though it's not a night-and-day transition from last year's game, it is noticeable. Players seem more responsive than ever, able to switch directions quicker and, though we weren't able to see it in action ourselves, we understand that the ability to spin out of tackles will help improve the running game. The improved animations won't benefit only the offense; producers told us that the ball-strip animations will be improved to make it slightly easier to pull off.

The weapons feature will be part of Madden 09 and, in addition to reclassifying certain NFL players, the game aims to make some improvements toward getting the most out of your weapons on the field. For example, if you like to play as a lineman when on defense (like we do), you'll get a handy button hint that will recommend whether to try a finesse or power move against an offensive lineman. The suggested move logic seems to be mindful both of the type of player you're controlling as well as the play you've called. In addition, the producers were aware that the jump-catch animations from last year's game were overpowered and, as a result, a defender will be likelier to knock the ball out a receiver's hands when attempting a jump-catch.

The backtrack feature will point out everything you did wrong on that blown play.

The ability to substitute individual players in the play-calling screen is a new feature and a big plus in the game. Although the game will automatically sub out tired players, you can make manual subs from the play-calling screen by pressing the Y button (on the Xbox 360 controller) and then picking off the bench the player who you want to sub in. This is a great way to make quick positional subs to take advantage of a mismatch.

The rewind and backtrack features are two new Madden features that bring an entirely new dimension to gameplay. The rewind feature is essentially a football mulligan that lets you try a play over again if it fails. You can rewind any play, whether on offense or defense; however, as we found out, the CPU will not necessarily run the exact same play again when on offense. For example, we were defending a goal-line stand against the Steelers during one game, when Pittsburgh ran a sweep left with Willie Parker that resulted in a touchdown. After rewinding the game to try the play over again, we cheated our linebackers to the left, but the Steelers adjusted and put Parker up the middle, a clear case of the game being cleverer than the player. Rewind is an interesting feature, but it's easy to see how using rewind too much could be tempting. Luckily you'll be able to set the maximum number of times you can use the rewind in the game (or turn it off altogether).

If EA's rewind is gimmicky, the new backtrack feature seems more like a legitimate teaching tool in Madden 09. Here, the game will give you a full breakdown of a play that you blew, complete with on-field graphics and voice-over explanation from Madden 09 color analyst Cris Collinsworth (one half of the Madden play-by-play team, which also includes Tom Hammond). These backtrack moments will happen during one of three scenarios: 1) If you thrown an interception when another receiver is open; 2) If your quarterback is sacked when an open receiver is available; 3) If you make a bad play call. Further, a "bad play call" is defined as a pass defense going up against a run offense, or a run defense going up against a pass offense that results in a big play. The amount of information shown during these backtrack segments is impressive, including breakdowns of all of the players involved in the play and percentages of success that a particular play had for succeeding. If you pay attention to everything Collinsworth has to say about the play, you'll have a good understanding of what you did wrong so that you might avoid that same mistake in the future.

It's easy to see how much Madden 09 has improved from last year's game in and of itself. Better lighting, grass textures, and improved player models are all immediately noticeable, and the new camera angles work well with the developer's motto of bringing you a football experience that is "beyond broadcast." The difference between Madden 09 and Madden 08 was particularly obvious to us at the Madden Rookie event. After spending some time with the preview build of Madden 09, we headed back out to the rookie tournament, which was playing last year's game, and the visual differences were stark. Everything in Madden 08, from the minimal shadows on the field, to the relatively stilted running animations and the grass textures that looked more like Astroturf, made the game look practically ancient by comparison.

New lighting and textures give the stadiums a sense of depth.

Though we might have liked to spend all evening checking out the latest build of Madden NFL 09, we had to give up the console so that EA Sports producers could show off the Madden rookie ratings to the players on hand at the event. (The Kansas City Chiefs' wideout notably took exception with his 91 speed rating, saying he should be at least a 94.) Nevertheless, our first few bites of Madden have left a great taste in our mouth, and we look forward to seeing more of the game in the near future. Stay tuned for in-depth coverage of Madden NFL 09 here at GameSpot and at our sister sports site SportsGamer in the coming weeks.

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Discussion

112 comments
August88_88
August88_88

I gonna get this one. It's the last Madden game that has Brett Farve in his original Green Bay Packers uniform. It's sad he got traded to the jets.

greenbuk75
greenbuk75

isnt this MADDEN football??? then y the hell did they take john madden outta the announcing crew?

musicman-04
musicman-04

The only thing I want is a first person view for when I'm on defense. Then I would actually play a position other than D-line. Covering has always sucked in Madden because the camera is oriented for the offense. If you want to play against someone you're sitting next to, set up two tvs and they should allow for each to have their own view. Otherwise a splitscreen would be preferable, so long as I can see my CB and the WR the whole time.

djkearse36
djkearse36

also in nfl 2k5 they walked to the line like they were real people. in madden 09 they do it like there robots. THey need to change that!!

djkearse36
djkearse36

@ bukkookkyb you are so RIGHT!!!! man i dont like playing superstar mode JUST because how you have to "influence" yourself and your teammates every time you start. And the game lags like crazy when you have to do that.

bukkookkub
bukkookkub

I like the Superstar mode but HATE HATE.. when i have to reassign stat points every single possession. Either make it easier to assign points faster, or keep the same points allocated for the entire quarter. Oh and on the training camp. Let me retry the 40 yard dash when creating my character. I shouldn't have to totally redo everything beceause my guy tripped during the dash. That just sucks.

F1Canuck
F1Canuck

Does the field "deform" as you play?, mud, snow, etc. Can you bump into people on the sidelines ? I hope so...it's been 20 years. Cheers.

e1337prodigy
e1337prodigy

Bleedgreen215 call a play and let them see it, then call an audible.

bleedgreen2-1-5
bleedgreen2-1-5

yeh no doubt man, my freinds are crazy screen lookers, i always close my eyes when they pick their plays and tell them to do the same we shouldnt have to do that, from what ive seen this years playcalling is the same, whatever happened to the plays of the coresponding buttons?

NanakiNebula
NanakiNebula

@mtjansen: I'm glad you mentioned that. The old way of playcalling was so much better than the way used now; it's not like they streamlined it for next-gen, either. It doesn't look any better, and is much more obvious to your opponent.

bleedgreen2-1-5
bleedgreen2-1-5

why does everyone bask in the glory days of 2k5? now ill admitt i loved 2k5 also but i also owned madden 2005, i like em both. If i remember correctlt T.O. was on the cover in an EAGLES jersey, now he wears a COWBOYS jersey get it? its 2008 i stopped playing 2k5 and madden 05 when lets see..........madden 06 came out and the game was "new" besides i bought 2k5 because it was 20 bucks, i later bought madden when the price dropped to compete. Now ill admitt i think that ea buying out the nfl license was a terrible thing, now they dont have to try but i've had every madden since 2002 and ill get this one again because i think it will rock and i want to play with the eagles against other REAL nfl teams and not some old washed up has beens and legends like in allpro 2k8 which by the way was the same thing as 2k5 but with fake teams and legends. this is the year madden redeems itself, i hope on this years madden, i think i already hate the ewind and virtual trainer things, i just wanna play football, i hope this gam edigs EA out of the toilet and puts it on top again, madden 09 can be the game. Icant wait go eagles! when 09 rolls around look for me on xbox live under bleedgreen215

bleedgreen2-1-5
bleedgreen2-1-5

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Vito2323
Vito2323

man man man i cant wait for this game!!! :)

lilyhawk
lilyhawk

Man they screwed up madden.

briax87
briax87

"It's easy to see how much Madden 09 has improved from last year's game in and of itself. Better lighting, grass textures, and improved player models are all immediately noticeable, and the new camera angles work well with the developer's motto of bringing you a football experience that is "beyond broadcast."" All this means **** all until they create some goddamn realistic ai. And stop with the DB's acting like their on an ice rink, animations should not be able to make players glide... twenty year anniversary and they still make a balls of it

mtjansen
mtjansen

Every year I hope that it will be good, and it hasn't been good on next gen yet. Along with not having a real announcer, what the hell happened to the old way of picking plays too? Where you couldn't see what the other people picked every time, I have no idea why they screwed this game up so much.

heartbreakkid84
heartbreakkid84

no, sorry hvypetals, not in this game...that is...as long as Bill Belicheck doesn't develop it

Coey-69
Coey-69

Its looking good. Cannot wait, they should have put Eli Manning on the cover though.

anti-viper
anti-viper

I'd love a good football game. Maybe putting Farve on the cover will remedy the problem. Oh, and hvypetals, I totally agree.

hvypetals
hvypetals

Is there a "Video Tape the other teams Playbook" feature that will let me win every superbowl???

mwjr
mwjr

Meh. I've bought into the EA hype for the last time. I'm renting before I buy anything else from these guys.

ohjtbehaaave
ohjtbehaaave

Honestly... I'm the first to kill Ea and the FB updates. But the new games look ok so far. It's going to come down to the AI and if it's still an exploit fest. I also am puzzled how they can't get anything close to decent for the Announcing in this game. It sounds like two stiffs reading a script. Either get some actors like 2K did and record a zillion things with them... or call Sony's team that did MLB 08: The Show and ask them how to do a good broadcast in a game...with a three man booth in MLB no less. Sometimes LESS is more with the announcing. No need for worthless drivel being babbled on a 1 yard gain.

Yojimbo25
Yojimbo25

Is EA gonna use the same excuse they used last year for the PS3 version? That had to been the worst excuse I have ever heard.

motownboy
motownboy

I'm hopeful but very apprehensive about this game. I honestly don't believe that 2k5 is the perfect football game a lot of people seem to believe it is, but Madden has given them no reason to change their tune. Madden needs much better commentary and better animations. The 2k games had the same dialogue year after year, but it's better than that stupid radio announcer in madden. 2k also had way more realistic physics as far as players reacting to being hit, a huge plus for realism.

LooseChangepor
LooseChangepor

Can we get real announcers? maybe even the espn monday night crew or sometyhing? take some pride in your presentation.

fudger2
fudger2

this backtrack and we love new players crap is gonna suck

Mr_Dukes
Mr_Dukes

I still cannot believe its been 5 years since an (amazing) football game (2k5) i just cant belive ea and the madden franchise keep making crap, like the past 5-6 years i will rent it again (for some reason) and just be beyond disappointed again! i prey and wait for the day ea stops buying the nfl liscense and they get some compitition. and someone already mentioned this, why why WHY have they forgot and done nothing for the PC version? EA and Madden, i look forward to the day 2k or someone else gets the oppertunity to make a good football game at the same calliber of 2k5.

Crazy_Kid314
Crazy_Kid314

This Madden Looks Sick! Hud looks better and the graphics look great. Only bad so far though is the old fart on the front.

FF-Kupo
FF-Kupo

At least they got the cover right this time.. A true legend of the game

TheoleDominion1
TheoleDominion1

PS. This "so called" new "Virtual Trainer" in Madden 09' is taken directly from a 2k5 feature. EA is truly a step behind the times compared to what the folks at 2k Sports were doing.

TheoleDominion1
TheoleDominion1

@ronniepage588- I absolutely disagree. 2K games just plain looked and moved more realistically than any Madden title. From player models(in most Madden games all players were built like linebackers even the receivers) to putting in your OWN music from getting a first down,the game intro,touchdowns( one song I had qued for touchdown was "I am No.1" by Nelly for an Intro I had "Enter the Sandman" by Mettallica)to sacks and more. Halftime highlights showed actual key plays of "live footage" of what you and your apponant did in the 1st and 2nd qtr (3rd and 4th qtr.highlights were shown also after the game). The commentary was more realistic. (not to mention most "created players" were mention by NAME in the game..for instance..if your name was Luke Jackson if you made a play you would hear "Jackson just made a great play"). Overall, 2k was just flatout better with gameplay when it came to the running or passing game. And a poster mentioned players tend to move very robotic in most Madden games. I'm not bashing Madden (I was a die-hard fan), I was just thoroughly disappointed in the lack of improvements every year, but I will give 09' a try. But if they do a lazy job like they've done in the past, I'm going back to 2k5.

sandshark8
sandshark8

Finally, the grass doesn't look like astroturf anymore

mgd14551
mgd14551

all i want is for nets to be in the game when you kick ea is not staying true to its motto "If its in the game, Its in the game"

Nate401
Nate401

Madden's not what it used to be.

djkearse36
djkearse36

they should make the walking to line of scrimmage more releastic, i mean they walk to the scrimmage like robots, make it more like nfl 2k5 where they dont look so robotic walking to line. they fixed that in madden 07 but in madden 08 they started walking to the line very robotically

xXHackettXx
xXHackettXx

Well it looks good, but nothing that we havnt seen before.

ChuckNorris82
ChuckNorris82

ugh...................EA...............their okay I.........wait, no nevermind.

TheGum
TheGum

At least they made new commentary. Of course they will probably keep rubberband AI and those overpowered secondaries.

nyranasaurus
nyranasaurus

well im really gutted.They did NOTHING to promote the last 3 maddens on PC.And they arent binging madden to pc anymore.Because of pirating.Yet they make millions off the franchise.Thier excuse was pirating, however they never upgraded madden for the pc since 2005!?!??! and they wonder Y people arent buying it.They did nothing to it.Absolutely gutted that PC is going to miss out on Next-gen sports games.They didnt even bother bringing 1 next-gen title to the pc of madden

thadude85
thadude85

@ronniepage588 i could care less how madden compares to 2k football. what concerns me is that the madden games for ps2 were much better than the madden games they release for next gen consoles. madden gameplay on the ps2 was tight and accurate. the next gen madden efforts have been extremely average. you call other people fanboys of 2k football. you would have to be a madden fanboy not to realise that EA's recent madden efforts have been pretty sucky.

Sins-of-Mosin
Sins-of-Mosin

Actually looking forward to this because I finally got a 360 and get a improved game.

Dave64
Dave64

also forgot to add if u are annoyed that it is just recycled gamplay then do what i do and buy it every 2 or 3 years. this will be my first next gen version and i dont really buy it for the new rosters so if u buy every 2 or 3 years then u can get a lot of new features and it doesnt feel as recycled!

djkearse36
djkearse36

the ps3 and the 360 have even frames per second in madden 09, (60 for both) ! i cant wait till it comes out

Dave64
Dave64

just saw this new american football game tht has an amazing physics engine. the same one from star wars: the force unleashed and gta 4. it makes every tackle different. now if only EA will get this engine and madden would be hugely improved!! check it out at www.backbreakergame.com

eylshazuela
eylshazuela

to cometkd: dude, why the heck do u want to get the ps3 version of madden? when the 360 has 30 more frames per second? (60 vs 30)?? im sorry sony, but im getting this for 360

cometkd
cometkd

I did not buy last yrs madden nor 2007 when i first got my Ps3. But i am going to buy this yrs madden 09 loving the new 85 new features, and i think this yr it will be solid on Ps3! -Go Browns 2008

Amir29
Amir29

mrvic87... LOVE IT!!! I have to say though, I wouldn't mind the same game and updated rosters. I was VERY fond of Madden 2007 on PS2. Unfortunately, it looks more like they're actually regressing. I purchased Madden 08 for the PS3 and the frame rate was actually lower, collisions were befitting of an Atari game at times, in a two player game your opponent can see EXACTLY what plays you're picking, and what the hell happened to the commentating? THEY SOUND LIKE THEY"RE TALKING VIA TELEPHONE!!! So, I did what anyone would do, I went for the graphics update and repurchased Madden 07 (Now for the PS3)... So guess what? Totally different game than the PS2 version. This version was even worse than Madden 08!!! Now honestly, I like the "My Skill" difficulty option cause I'm usually needing to change difficulty levels when changing over from defense to offense. I like that they added new animations. But, there is no mention yet of the commentating, better collision detection, and nothing about them taking advantage of Next Gen systems calculating power when programming AI. I'm not impressed by this report. I wouldn't be surprised if EA bribed Gamespot for an 8.5 review cause really, I wouldn't give it more than a 6.5 The Madden Franchise is a great example of how exclusivity contracts are nothing but bad news for consumers. Madden was the name to beat for decades. Now that they have no competition, they are the target of consumer complaints for quality.

ronniepage588
ronniepage588

the whole 2k was better crap you keep saying is utter BS!!!! at first i liked it more as well. but the truth is- Madden always was much better. the only reason people liked 2k is because 1. it was much easier 2. it had some unique features and espn cool presentation and 3. you all just were waiting and dying to find something to use against EA and Madden- youre fanboyism is completely stupid and blinding you from the truth- you say you liked 2k when most of you barely played it- and some of you even say its the closest thing to the real nfl ?!?!?!?!?!?! are you kidding me dude?!?! seriously you guys, madden was and always has been better. all you have to do to realize this is to go play 2k's all pro game- IT BLOWS! since there was no nfl licsencing, that games graphics, and gameplay should have been outstanding- but it was exactly the same as the last nfl 2k, and it proved that madden is and always will be the best nfl game. now give it up you fanboys. why do people hate on EA so bad????? what, because its a major studio?! thats it?! you dont like any of their games at all? they make bad games?!?! what is it? i dont get it!