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Long-time Madden aficionados will probably notice a range of enhancements that went right over my head, but the one you can't miss is the BackTrack feature. US sports are notoriously obsessed with post-play analysis and statistics, and BackTrack reflects this with an annotated blow-by-blow look at the last play where commentator Cris Collingwood not only takes you through what you did but also what you might have done.
Again, it's a solid teaching tool that helps you work out where you're going wrong and how to fix it. Weather effects have been improved, too, including some very impressive snow, and Madden now follows FIFA in having an interactive celebration feature, where you can choose how your player handles their self-congratulatory boogie in the endzone.
Needless to say, there's a ridiculous amount of depth here. You can play individual games or take a team through the superbowl – complete with some fairly in-depth management options – but you can also create a player (using EA's established 'GameFace' technology) then take him through the college draft via a series of mini-games before signing up with an agent with the aim of catapulting him into the big league.
You can choose to handle as much or as little of the management and player transfer side as you wish, cut down the superbowl to its minimum or enjoy the whole season in all its stages: the choice is yours. And that's possibly the best thing about Madden 09; it gives new players or the less hardcore fan a way in, but doesn't take anything away from the more committed American Football nut. Miraculously, this even extends to online play. Even with the Madden IQ stuff I couldn't hope to win a game against experienced Madden players, but I certainly didn't get as much of a kicking as I expected (and probably deserved).
EA might not have been able to soften out Madden's steep learning curve altogether – and it's unlikely that anyone with zero interest in American football will have their mind changed – but this is still the most accessible and enjoyable video game take on the sport yet seen. That might not be enough to put it up there with Virtua Tennis 3 in my personal pantheon of gaming greats, but it's more than enough to make it an easy TR Recommended.
By making Madden more accessible, EA has created an American football sim that's almost good enough to convert the uninterested. Well worth trying.