Madden NFL 10

Trying to review this year’s Madden NFL game is akin to getting back together with your ex every August and trying to remember what the two of you ever saw in each other. New games in the 20-year-old franchise still sell well, especially since EA acquired the exclusive rights to the NFL license in 2004. But asking increasingly savvy gamers to fork over $60 every 12 months—for what amounts to basically the same game—has resulted in a Madden backlash. The result: less buzz around “the new Madden” these days, and more skepticism and cynicism.

Madden NFL 10 isn’t a bad game, but Madden NFL 09 wasn’t bad either. Neither was Madden NFL 08. And some things haven’t changed: Cris Collinsworth delivers his typical 10-negative-remarks-for-every-compliment brand of color commentary, until most players will wish Madden himself would come out of retirement and wring Collinsworth’s skinny neck.

Overall, this year’s game moves at a slower, more realistic pace than last year’s game, making it feel like a bona fide simulation. Plays unfold practically in real-time. A new animation system makes the on-field action more organic and less canned: When trying to bring down a ball carrier, a linebacker might get to him first, followed by a defensive back or two. Then the bigger, slower linemen usually arrive. Tackles can now sprawl over a 5-to-10-yard stretch of the field. Watching this great confluence of virtual bodies isn’t just entertaining, it also makes the entire game feel more alive and human.

The new Online Franchise mode lets as many as 32 players engage in live drafts, then play through the actual NFL schedule via the Internet. You can manage your team’s depth charts and check in with league message boards when away from your console, either via your PC’s browser or an iPhone application.

Madden NFL 10, like every installment, makes further strides toward looking as glossy and polished as any high-definition Sunday-afternoon football broadcast. Which could be to blame for the series’ ongoing stagnation. Watching football and playing football are dramatically different, and over the last 21 years, EA seems to have forgotten that.

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