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Madden NFL 10

Gridiron that's as fast as it is physical.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

Reviewing American football games is a science unto itself, one almost as deeply strategic and piecemeal as the software. While many will suggest that Madden has not changed a great deal over the years - and they'd be wrong - even those who buy it annually will suggest the game still lacks the 'feel' of the NFL. It's rather strange to say it, then, but after around 30 hours in each instalment since 2005, Madden 10 is the first that feels like you're playing football. It's more than the introduction of gang-tackling - several linemen bundling onto each other semi-convincingly - or the ability to run an online dynasty, or the "new and improved" (read: repetitive and awkward) Extra Point game show. It's that EA has put some effort into making the game play like the sport NFL fans the world over watch on Sundays.

The first notable change is the speed. If you've played Madden enough to really compare the game to the real thing, you'll know that it never matched the chaos and energy of the gridiron. Madden 10 can be cranked up to 'fastest' and reaches speeds that will demand the best of you, matching the helter-skelter mania of true NFL. This, combined with animation that for once resembles actual football, makes games and replays realistic. It's a dramatic improvement.

Online franchises are also a great deal of fun. As with any online experience, it's based on finding a dedicated crew to take part, but once you do, it's rather enjoyable. It's like a more active version of an online fantasy football league (especially if you use the fantasy draft), and it's good fun to annoy somebody by pipping them to the post on a trade and on the field. It's contingent on the activity of your competitors - if they're not as into it as you, you'll find yourself in a position to dominate them or, if necessary, have the commissioner skip them for a lack of activity - but this isn't such a bad point. I just heartily advise you to find people you know to play with.

Hey, camera guy! Check out this face paint!

All the same, there is a lot to Madden that remains unchanged and, well, bad. Commentary is my biggest bugbear. In every football circle I frequent - from those who have watched the game for 50 years, to those who only watch college and occasionally follow their home team - Chris Collinsworth is known as an uninventive and turgid commentator, and he's not helped here by irksome and recycled commentary. To use a bad commentator when you're trying to salvage a series' image and then not even bother to upgrade him with something better than "[insert name] is just one of the best wideouts I've ever seen" is ridiculous.

Tom Hammond is equally bad, but his voice is less grating. If EA talked to people who watched football (take umbrage at this statement if you will, but on the East Coast it's a pretty common sentiment), I'm confident they'd say to get rid of Collinsworth. The rationale for including him may be that he's taken over from Madden in the Sunday Night Football slot, but in comparison to Damon Bruce's commentary in The Bigs 2 - genuinely funny, informative and unobtrusive - it's lazy. It's the same with the Extra Point show with Erin Matthews, who stutters out the statistics from every game like a 1950s robot.