So I was able to get my hands on an early copy of the new Madden this weekend. It's good. It's really good, actually. After the last two 360 versions that were absolutely awful, this one feels like the biggest improvement to the franchise since it went 3D. No joke. It's the first Madden since the Nintendo 64 that I've really been excited to play. And I don't really care about franchise modes or online play. Nice features I really don't have the time or interest to get into. The play on the field just feels fresh. It's by no means perfect, but it makes every previous 3D version seem so primative.
The last two versions were really bad. They were boring! Every game you played felt like the last, the graphics and animations were repetitive and the whole presentation just felt lame. It never felt like a Madden game at all. All the little things were gone at the expense of the better character graphics. The ball didn't wobble on an errant throw, catches were too often made out of bounds and the tackle animations were all the same. It just wasn't any fun.
This year feels like a better version of the PS2 game. The character graphics aren't as wowish necessarily, but they're crisp and perfectly fine. The biggest improvements are all the new animations. There are hundreds of different ways to make a catch, make a tackle, juke, run, throw, etc. It feels much more natural. In previous years you get used to seeing one thing happen and quickly learn to expect the same result. If a certain tackle animation was brought up, you knew you'd get a few more yards before going down, or you'd get pushed back a few yards. Most frustrating is if you got stuck into one of these animations going in the wrong direction. If for some reason you get spun around, suddenly you look like you're guy is fighting for those few extra yards backwards. This kind of stuff would happen several times every drive! This year there are far less instances where goofs like this happen.
Now, you can start a tackle, fall backwards because the running back had enough momentum, but get slowed down enough so that another defender can catch up and finish a tackle in a completely natural way. Same with catches. Receivers often (not always, unfortunately) make the effort to keep their feet in bounds. When they jump to make a catch and get hit in the air, they go down appropriately hard. Again...it doesn't always look perfect, but the effort is there, and its far far more satisfying.
The final big improvement is these "weapon" icons certain players have. Haven't fully grasped if these things really make a difference, but if nothing else, they better separate certain type of players from each other. Power Backs play much much differently than a speed back, possession receivers differently than highlight guys. Whereas most players previously would more or less do the same thing with very minor differences, this mixes it up a lot better. The difference between backs is more like the difference between a PG and a Center in a basketball game. Trying to juke with a Powerback is like trying to do a tricky ballhandling move with a big man. You just don't do it. You learn to make best use of your players.
There are other little things that I feel like I've been saying they should fix for years that they've finally gotten around to. Controlling a receiver is suddenly natural and easy doesn't automatically screw everything up. Same goes for controlling a defensive back. The 2nd stick lets you tackle high or at the legs, depending on what is the best approach. Covering punts on special teams suddenly is possible. The ball wobbles when you're hit while throwing. It's the little things that make it work. There are some week spots as well...The announcer is embarrassingly bad, there are too many interceptions thrown and every once in a while a well-meaning animation looks a bit wonky, but none of this kills the game. It's simply the most creative and original Madden in nearly a decade. It's just fun again.