It's funny how the EA Sports naming convention makes it seem like every game released this year is the tenth in the series.
For any other game, reaching a 10th iteration would be an impressive achievement, but it does Madden a disservice.
This is a series that has been refined over 20 previous yearly releases, and as you might imagine, EA has gotten quite good at recreating American football in digital form. Of course, for anyone who thinks that the entire thing is a stop-and-start version of rugby played by delicate pansies who need more body armour than Marcus Fenix, that's not going to justify a purchase.
The fact of the matter is, barely anyone over here watches the sport. As the Madden series draws closer to an American Football simulation - and there's been a marked shift toward sporting nous rather than fast thumbs this year - a lot of players over here are likely to get shut out.
For those who do know their Power O from their Powerade though, this is refinement in the right direction, and will reward the application of realistic strategy calls.
The pace is also markedly slower than previous iterations and the introduction of gang tackling, where up to nine players can get involved at once, gives the physical game a much more naturalistic feel.
The animation still looks a touch stilted at times, and we can't wait until tackles are driven by a Fight Night Round 4-grade physics engine, but it's definitely a hop, skip and a crunching, career-ending bodycheck in the right direction.
The best feature in the game, and one we'd like to see replicated across the entire EA Sports catalogue is the stunning Online Franchise mode. This transplants all the functionality of the game's comprehensive career mode onto Xbox Live, allowing up to 32 players to run a full fantasy league against each other, complete with transfers and the option of a player draft before the season begins.
Brilliantly, you can even tweak your team online from your computer or iPhone if you can't get at your Xbox 360.
If you only ever tune into the Superbowl each year, the learning curve is going to be dramatic. Even with Madden's advice, a genuine, working knowledge of the different plays is key and will take a long, painful losing streak to learn them. If you're a crack NFL tactician already, though, this is the best gridiron sim yet.
Heaven for the fans, tough love for the rest
- Finally, gang tackles!
- Online Franchise mode is great
- More realistic pace
- Occasionally jerky animation
- Daunting for newcomers