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The latest iteration of the long-standing Madden franchise takes top marks for its slick presentation, authentic feel and stunning visuals. But it fumbles the ball when it comes to accessibility as I was lost from the very first menu, never really knowing what I was doing until 4 hours of solid play had gone by.
Growing up in the late 80's and early 90's meant I was fascinated by the late-night American Football coverage that Channel 4 showed every week. I even had a favourite team back in those days as I recorded highlights of the Atlanta Falcons on my hand-me-down Betamax videoplayer. Such was my fascination with this bizarre game that I managed to obtain a PC version of Joe Montana Football and taught myself all about the rules of the game.
Fast forward to 2009 and all that knowledge has been lost, but my memories of playing that game with my friends has never gone and I was hopeful to recreate some similar moments with my family in Madden 10. Unfortunately I became lost within minutes of starting the game up. It's not because my lack of experience with sports games in general is bad. Far from it - I've been a long-standing fan of both Fifa & PES and I've also a guilty pleasure when it comes to Baseball games, importing Sony's MLB The Show for the past few years for the PS3. What makes Madden so infuriating is the complex nature of the training system and menu structure.
I didn't find any provision for first time players, no training wheels to help me understand what on earth was going on.
Being new to the game I thought I'd go through some training hoops to teach me the basics of the game. This was all going well until my other half commented at how many training exercises there were. It turned out I'd spent the best part of an hour going through about 5% of the basic offense moves. I shudder to think how long it would take to get through them all.
By that time I wanted to just get into a game and learn on-the-fly. Probably the best way to get to grips with a sport so complex anyway. But I didn't find any provision for first time players, no training wheels to help me understand what on earth was going on.
This was a point I made to my family who immediately berated me for getting the game on the PS3 when the Wii version would be far more suitable. But my point was that I didn't want a motion controlled version, I didn't want to compromise on graphics. I didn't when I was playing Joe Montana Football back in 1991, so why should I now?
What worries me more is that it's quite possible a tutorial mode or training section that could introduce to me to all aspects f the game could be there - but thanks to the multitude of nested menu's I just couldn't find it. I just wanted a big red button that said 'Newbie's press here' and I would have been fine.
Even though I was still lost in its complexity and depth of options, the game slowly began to appeal and I started to learn how to put my plays together and understand the strategy involved.
Once I'd accepted that I'd be teaching myself I got into the actual game. Picking the Falcons as my Franchise team I started to progress through the season, playing every game at the lowest difficulty setting. As a result I managed to trounce every team that I played - something that wasn't exactly fun as the challenge was gone but it was the best process of learning to play I could go through. And you know what? It worked.
Even though I was still lost in its complexity and depth of options, the game slowly began to appeal and I started to learn how to put my plays together and understand the strategy involved. It was incredibly satisfying teaching myself like this and once I raised the difficulty level high enough to get a decent challenge the game started to become alive.
It was only after this that the presentation and visual style came into play and I could appreciate what a complete package Madden 10 is. The franchise season was deep and involving, with the added pull of taking it all online and competing with other players and the half-time show during a match added to the authenticity of the moment.
Unfortunately I was the only of my friends and family that felt this way with the simple reason being no-one had the time to spend four hours learning the game from scratch. The online co-op sounded great but taking the plunge with unknown people over PSN led to disaster most of the time. No-one wanted to help the new guy out and finding opponents of similar skill level was virtually impossible.
For my family this was an impossible game to get involved with. I had to surrender my love for its flashy visuals and concede that the Ps3 version of Madden will never be accessible enough to bring new players into the fold.
As such Madden 10 became a rather lonely experience for me as no one was willing to put in the same amount of time to learn the basics of the game. I found this to be a real shame as Madden 10 is, at its core, a great experience and one that's easy to get swept up in. Sadly the social aspect of the game I remembered back in '91 has long gone - the closest I got was dragging my mates into the living room to watch me play and that was soon replaced by Fifa or MLB.
For my family this was an impossible game to get involved with. I had to surrender my love for its flashy visuals and concede that the PS3 version of Madden will never be accessible enough to bring new players into the fold. A point I feel is unfortunate as I never want to sacrifice graphical quality for accessibility - but thanks to the Wii's success, it's the path that family games have to now tread.
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