Since the Xbox 360 launched in November 2005, followed by the Wii and Playstation 3 in the following year, pro football video games were launched into a new area as well. Ever since the first videos of Madden 06 on Xbox 360 were launched around E3 2005, expectations have been sky high for pro football games over the last 5 years. But did they really live up to them or did things go mind numbingly wrong?
The first thing you have to remember when thinking of Madden over this current generation is that EA secured exclusivity for the NFL license prior to the release of Madden 06. They had no competition except from games like Blitz the League and All Pro Football, both of which I'll eventually get to. People put unrealistic expectations on the developers at EA Tiburon since anything beyond extreme innovation every year would be seen as resting on their laurels. They had to do something and decided to start with building Madden from the ground up.
Madden on PS2 and Xbox was living out its glory years. Except for 2005, when ESPN NFL 2K5 (undeservedly) gained as much respect as Madden due to low price point and improved quality, Madden completely dominated the video game landscape. Nobody paid attention to the 2K titles on Dreamcast. After Gameday died out, nobody was going to beat Madden in sales of football games. Madden eventually reached its all time apex with Madden 2004, which saw the last great improvements of franchise mode as well as all the modifications due to the Michael Vick cover.
In 2005, the first backlash began. People were buying 2K's game for $19.99 but Madden still outsold it. Then once EA locked up the license, many people thought the lower quality game had won (which was untrue coming from somebody who played both). EA tried to back up their exclusivity releasing the much anticipated vision cone, the most hated feature in sports game history.
They left it out of the first Madden on 360, and eventually minimized it but people were starting to hate Madden. But the 06 game on 360 did have greatly improved shiny graphics and was actually built from the ground up. It was oozing potential even though there were no essential features such as owner mode or even a fantasy draft. But we thought all would be changed with 07.
Boy were we wrong. They basically put in no new features, inserting a few from the old PS2 games, but nothing substantial. Many older features were gone. They tried some newer things like Superstar mode, but nobody really cared. They just wanted their old Madden back at that point. You couldn't even edit players in this game. An unmitigated disaster, nobody really enjoyed it and we were all starting to get pretty mad at EA for being lazy and exactly as many had feared, resting on their laurels. The best part was the 3D grass, which hasn't made its return since.
In 08 everything seemed like it had changed. Fantasy drafts were back. Franchise mode finally had some but not all of its features back. New features were being added like weapons that allowed certain players to have special abilities. Wow, we all thought, this Madden was going to be great. Nope. It got old within a couple weeks. When you look on Wikipedia for Madden 08, the third feature after weapons and useless Superstar improvements was Devin Hester having a speed rating of 100. No really. We all hated this one too, albeit not as much as 07, which will go down as the most hated in Madden history bar none. Honestly the best part of this game was the intro video.
Madden 09 had Brett Favre in a Packers jersey on the cover while playing for the Jets. Not a good start. They added some presentation elements, finally putting in an announcer albeit it was Old Queen Tom Hammond. Franchise mode was still the same but at least we got some new animations. Face palm. It seemed better with a bunch of subtle adjustments until a week into playing you realize it still sucked. Madden 2004 seemed like a lifetime away.
Madden 10 was the first one to make any kind of significant strides during this generation. Great weather affects and improved graphics finally made this game stand out. While all the weapons stuff was gone, they more than made up for it with features like the slowed down gameplay and gang tackling. You could finally have a pileup. They made little changes to franchise mode and promised bigger ones the next year. Things were finally looking up. Madden was finally entering the next generation. Then I played the demo for Madden 11…
Oh boy does it look awful. Nothing's changed in regards to gameplay. You can read my full thoughts here, but when the top feature is GameFlow, which I want out of this game immediately and irrationally hate, and the secondary one is Gus Johnson, we have a problem. They didn't really change anything that mattered, just giving into the 2K5 community that longed for hand warmers and improved presentation. Again, nothing that actually matters is changing.
My favorite part of this game is probably going to be Barrack Obama's inclusion, but things aren't exactly looking good for this one, but I'll reserve judgement on the whole thing until I've actually played it. I hope to God Madden is finally making a comeback, but with reviled features like the strategy pad and GameFlow, things aren't looking good.
Now, let's mention industry luminary Blitz the League. The only notable feature was having legends in the game as well as being able to inject your players with steroids. The gameplay was horrid, which wasn't exactly unexpected. There are storylines, and in addition to the steroids, it feels a little too much like pro wrestling.
All Pro Football, published by 2K, came from the developers of ESPN NFL 2K5 so the fans finally had something to look forward to. Legends like John Elway were in the game, but really that was the only selling point. There weren't really any in depth features and the game was pretty much forgotten about. I got it for $5 a few months after release at industry ripoff GameStop,and regretted spending that much. I should've re-bought Jaws Unleashed.
Backbreaker was the newest addition to the football family. Published by 505 games, the tackling animations gave people some new hope. That is, until they tried to pass the ball. Instead of using simple Madden controls, everything was unnecessarily complicated. Nobody liked anything besides the Tackle Alley feature and the animations. There was really no depth and whether there will be a Backbreaker 2 is up in the air.
So pro football in this generation really took a hit. The PS2 era was golden, but this was just bad on many levels. Maybe we'll look back and laugh in the future at this article when Madden 11 is awesome,but really that's just blind faith in Tiburon,which delivered with NCAA this year. Let's just hope things get better because they can get a whole lot worse.
UPDATE 8/23: Our Madden 11 review is up to compare to all the others.
You can follow me on twitter @mtorino75 and wait for the next in my series on sports game in this generation. Also read the sports gaming digest and everything else on pnosker.com