It's still roughly three and a half months until Madden NFL 09 ships for every console imaginable. However, will that really be enough to quench the appetite of hungry football fans? If not, EA Sports has an alternative with the simulation-heavy NFL Head Coach 09. While it may not be the ideal game for those looking to play the heroic quarterback (there's literally no hands-on football action in this game), it should have coaching strategy aplenty.
In the game, you fill the role as the head coach of a popular NFL team, be it the dominant New England Patriots or the lowly Oakland Raiders. You have the option of jumping directly into Coach Now mode, if you don't feel like setting up a substantial career and just want to know what coaching a team is actually like. The game features an interactive clipboard, giving you access to a number of coaching duties during NFL games. This includes making minor adjustment to your team formations, calling out a player for substitution and pulling off plays that could give you the big win.
Being able to adjust plays while they're in action provides more customization than we saw in the first game. After you choose a play out of your customizable playbook (which you can organize by formation, play type and specific favorites), you can pause the action before it kicks off and tweak player positioning and motions. You're also able to move players entirely, in case you're curious to see how a tight end would do in a wide receiver position. (Hint: you'll probably end up with disastrous results.) NFL Head Coach 09 also allows you to save these plays under names of your choosing, so if the "Wishbone" suddenly becomes the "Fullback Chicken Burrito", so be it.
Online interactivity will play a bigger part in Head Coach. You'll be able to hook up with other players through Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network to share your customized plays, as well as access others. The game will also implement a popularity system, so you can vote for your favorite plays and see how they rank in comparison to yours. Off-line, the game still has options to spare, including hundreds of play formations to choose from and the ability to hire fresh-out-of-college talent, gaining access to their individual playbook. The pacing of the game has been rectified as well. Instead of being stuck in small quarters that you can't control, you now play full NFL-sized quarters. You can also skip particular plays on the field if they bear no substance in the game, like a one-yard run for a not-so-crucial first down.
In addition, you'll also have access to the current NFL roster, the same one featured in Madden NFL 09. However, just to be fair, you'll have to register before the actual NFL season starts. Considering that the game will hit shelves in mid August, that gives you a few weeks to set up for your season. However, with the right amount of know-how and patience, it can be done.
The game also lets you participate in a simulated NFL draft, so you can pick up fresh players and add them to your line-up. From there, you can shape them with a number of scouting tools and drills, building a dream team or perhaps gaining some leverage for a blockbuster trade.
Finally, there's Practice Mode, where you can work closely with your assistant coaches and your playbook on creating a proper flow for your team. Again, it's a slight bummer that you don't have direct hands-on over the players to get an idea of their positioning, but you have coordination with Madden NFL 09 to give you that.
NFL Head Coach 09 doesn't go all-out with an amazing visual approach, but it does appear to have the right amount of attention to make you feel like you're at an actual NFL game. The players and coaches look like their real selves, particularly New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin and cover star/Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy. Don't be surprised if a few legendary coaching faces manage to show up as well. Could Madden very well be back in charge of the Raiders? (They could probably use him at this point in time.)
Although it won't be for everyone, NFL Head Coach 09 should be a fun complementary game to go along with the Madden experience once it tackles store shelves this fall. You can pick it up in a Madden Collector's Package for around $90, or buy it separately. We'll be back with more coverage soon, including possible hands-on and the review.