Last night, I checked out a Microsoft event in NYC and had a chance to see some of the new products that will be out for the XBox 360 in the next few months. Most importantly, I was finally able to sit down with Madden 10, and I've got a few reactions to the beefed-up classic, even if I was only able to play a half with the accelerated clock on.

Presentation Overhaul
Plenty of gamers within the Madden community have clamored for enhancements to the presentation for years, and while each year's version has boasted a new coat of paint, the frame has remained the same. Maybe there would be a new camera angle, an extra selectable uniform, and, possibly, a new animation or two. Mostly, though, it was a roster update and a graphics update, that's it. Well, due to a backlash as a result of last year's adjustable difficulty being the major gameplay tweak (many core gamers felt like the casual gamers were being catered to), the developers at EA listened. They opened up an insider blog and encouraged gamers to comment and critique the changes they were making to the game. The process began extremely early, a few weeks after the Super Bowl, to make sure the company had enough time to implement the changes.

  • I played a rainy game, and drops were noticeable on the screen.
  • Pre-game showed fans entering the stadium through the turnstiles.
  • There's improved "VS" graphics before the coin toss.
  • Players now remove their helmets on the field and sideline when necessary.
  • You see players running through pre-game drills on the field before the game starts.
  • In between plays, there's cut scenes to coaches chewing out players, fans, and other teammates.
  • The "mulligan" feature from last year's game has been re-purposed for a very effective replay feature, where you're shown where you should have thrown the ball, if you choose the wrong receiver to throw to.
  • New pre-snap camera angles replicate TV football almost perfectly.
  • FINALLY, you can select each part of your team's jersey, from alternate helmets to pants to socks. This was way overdue.

Gameplay Tweaks
The first, most obvious change has to do with game speed, which has been significantly slowed down. You'll notice that the ball takes longer to go from center to QB, and players run much slower. This is a good thing. Too often in Madden, you'd be unable to make a real read on the defense, and the play would seem pre-destined. A lineman would miss an obvious block, the defense would collapse on you, and you'd have no chance to get a throw off. Or, you'd notice the play develop, but be unable to change anything about it. The speed more accurately replicates televised football, and that's the goal here, getting as close as possible to the product we see on Sunday, only the gamer is in control of the outcome.

  • The juke motion has been scaled back to a more realistic animation. No more jump-hopping three yards to one side or the other.
  • Quarterbacks seem to throw like themselves. I know EA spent time on making sure the throwing motions are customized, and even though you couldn't pick it up during game play unless you looked for it, that seems to be the case.
  • The ball travels much, much slower, and the QB's are also much, much slower. This makes the game feel more realistic, but the old habit of rolling out is going to die hard.
  • When running with the ball, you're less able to whip off spins over and over than you were in years past. A more reasonable running system works really well.
  • The fumble mini-game, where you bash buttons to recover the ball, is perfect. Many were concerned it would get cheesy, but the button's change, so it's not a blind mash to get the ball back, and that seems to replicate how players actually fight for the ball.
  • Pass defense is still very difficult.

The game will be released on August 14th at midnight, as is tradition. Until then, for more Madden info, check out http://maddennfl.easports.com/