Your Madden NFL 09 Cover Boy Is…

…none other than Brett Favre, according to AOL’s GameDaily (found, originally, via Kotaku, and obviously since confirmed by every other media outlet on Earth).

Suffice to say, it sounds like a double-edged sword for Madden gamers.

On one hand, it means Favre, who is retired at the moment, can’t become the traditional ridiculously overrated Madden cover athlete in this year’s version of the game. Anyone who played against 2004′s Michael Vick, 07′s Shaun Alexander, or 08′s Vince Young knows that this is a good thing.

On the other hand, the last I checked, Brett Favre was still Brett Favre, which means there’s a definite chance of him coming back and tearing up the virtual NFC. And Wikipedia will tell you that he’ll be in the game as a free agent, anyway, which is probably a good simulation of reality.

On the first hand again, Favre was already rather overrated in the Madden games, like most veteran QBs, earning an 88 overall in the 2007 edition, comparable to Drew Bledsoe, after his worst season, a 4-12 campaign that featured 20 TDs to 29 INTs.

On the second hand again, pretty much every QB in a Madden game is rated much better than he would be in real life, and every QB gives you a chance to win the game. (Except Tarvaris Jackson. Long story.)

But maybe the most disappointing thing for me is that the Madden producers usually use the cover athlete to segue into whatever basic gameplay innovation they’ve developed for the game, and Favre’s selection limits this tremendously.

The “passing cone” that came into the game with Donovan McNabb’s tenure on the cover for the 06 version was such a snafu that it only remained in the 08 game as an option for masochists and as a nuisance in the All-Madden difficulty. The “Playmaker” features in the passing game and the route-based passing options are both only usually used by the highly competitive player, and while the sensitivity of the pass to the manipulation of the analog stick frequently affects gameplay, it’s very much possible to play the game without too much consideration of it.

So the passing game features to date are either obstacles to avoid, failed innovations minimized in later editions, or tools for the hardcore player.

With Favre on the cover, though, many, many people will buy this version of the game either after a time of absence from Madden or for the first time ever. That’s one of this game’s biggest positives and one of its greatest risks: While it will obviously be compelling to a much larger audience, there will be a fine line to walk between casual gamers who want a simpler, more fun experience and the hardcore Maddenites who plunk down a Grant and change every year and have felt that recent games have seen a serious dropoff in quality.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m much closer to the latter than the former. And maybe partly because of this, I’m thinking this year’s gameplay features will fall short again.

The improved pre-play features would be in line with increased emphasis on QB play, but sliding protection, smart routes, and formation substitutes have been in earlier games. And while the “Madden IQ” and “EA Sports Backtrack” certainly make sense if you want to play with the reckless abandon of Brett Favre and see how low you can rate on an objective metric while John Madden himself sings your praises, I can’t imagine they won’t turn into a challenge for pedants and the hardcore and an unnecessary complication for the casual gamer.

The most exciting thing, to me, is clearly the online Franchise mode, which claims to support up to 32 players controlling every NFL team, and would probably be the most absorbing couch-based sporting experience of 2008 for people like me.

But let the people like me play Madden.

I’ll be piloting UF through the online Dynasty mode in NCAA Football 09.

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Filed under Columns, NFL, Video Games

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