With the start of another NFL season comes another entry to EA Sports' long-running Madden football series. Over the last few years EA Sports has added different nuances to the gameplay in order to enhance the experience and while nothing vital was truly "added" to the core gameplay, the latest entry is also one of its more polished.
What Is It?
Madden has been the best-selling football game this entire generation for a number of reasons. The most obvious of which is because of its namesake. John Madden is an icon in professional football. The man was a great coach for the Oakland Raiders, and he was a heck of a broadcasting personality. While not everybody is a fan of his simple style of commentary, it's something that gives Madden immediate notice and attention with the younger generation of NFL fans.
Another reason for its success is because it constantly has revolutionized video game football by giving the game more of a realistic look year after year. If it wasn't for Madden, armchair quarterbacks would still be playing a sidescrolling football game instead of playing from the perspective of an actual player.
And of course, there's the fact that EA Sports is the sole developer and publisher with exclusive rights to the NFL and NFLPA licenses, making Madden Football the only NFL gaming brand available to consumers. Not a lot of time or effort will be used to assess that fact in this review, but it is no secret that the exclusive licensing agreement has all but pushed any sort of competition away, and it may or may not have anything to do with the creative advances that the developers have made with series.
Why Should I Care?
Throughout this console generation, the developers at EA Sports have made an effort to make Madden more "true to the game," and in no entry is that more obvious than in Madden NFL 12 with the game's new collision system, dynamic player performance, the re-tooled franchise mode, and a different style of presentation.
The collision system has to be one of the game's best improvements. In previous Madden games, a lot of "warping" occurred. Defenders running after a ball carrier would run for a few frames, and then suddenly skip a few frames to make a tackle. When watching this in slow motion with full zoom, you can see that the players don't even make real contact during tackles, and the defensive players are just holding on to some air while the ball carriers go down after a tackle. This has finally been fixed, and the results are great.
There are hundreds of new tackling animations, and the tackle button now serves a real purpose other than pressing it when a player is nearby. It now takes good timing at a good position to make a tackle–not as much as you would the hit stick, but good enough to make a noticeable difference. In addition, the defensive AI has significantly improved. Zone and man defenses are pretty on-point now, and depending on style and position, each player reacts differently. Quick linebackers that play well in coverage can disrupt a pass by jumping to bat down passes in their lanes, and gang tackles don't end until the play is truly finished. While the defensive game has significantly improved, it's still not perfect. For example, it's still extremely hard to get interceptions, even when they hit the defender right in the hands.
The new Dynamic Player Performance (DPP) system allows players to behave in more realistic ways, and it's one of the reasons why the core gameplay has drastically improved. With DPP, each player in the game has a noticeably different style, resulting in more diverse AI and skillset. For example, when under pressure, Tom Brady trying to run away won't work that well. At that, Tim Tebow won't exactly throw a perfect seam 40 yards down the field. You can gauge what a player can do at the pause screen and by looking at the player traits. Examples of traits include consistency and confidence, clutch, high motor, and others that substantially impact play. DPP changes every week in real time throughout the NFL season thanks to weekly roster updates, but it also shapes players quite easily through the game's vastly improved Franchise Mode.
One of the biggest complaints about the current generation of Madden is the fact that the developers removed a lot of the features from the previous generation's (PS2/Xbox/GCN) Franchise Mode. Absent features this generation included the ability to change ownership of a team, edit profiles and abilities of players, and the weapons system defined by player roles. All of these features are back, with the one disappointment of excluding the Training Camp minigames to raise overall attributes. This was perhaps the funnest way to improve player attributes and also acted as sort of a tutorial for the different positions to play in the game, so it's hard to really understand why this feature wasn't brought back.
In addition to the return of those popular features, some nuances were added to give the game a more realistic and role-playing feel as an NFL general manager. Throughout the middle of the season, you can now scout rookies (who now come with their own real photos–though they aren't real names because it would be illegal to have somebody like Stanford's Andrew Luck in the game) in order to have a better idea of who you are recruiting leading up to the NFL Draft. Events like the Scouting Combine and individual player workouts make their way into the game's off-season agenda, but there isn't any football action to be had. Scouting rookies only leads to certain attributes becoming more readily available, so it's easier to tell whether or not the player you drafted was worth the selection. On that note, a minor feature EA neglected to bring back was the NFL Draft crowd. In the older games, when you drafted a true team need, the crowd would react in a certain way so you'd know whether or not you made a mistake (in the fans' eyes).
With the draft is free agency, which has also received quite a facelift. It's no longer about giving the best deal and waiting. It's all about bidding at the right time. Now the most coveted free agents have to be signed within a time limit. If you have the money and prestige to obtain these players, you can press the X or A button to submit a deal a player is entitled to. This also somewhat increases the amount of time for other suitors to make a deal, but it also makes the process a lot more interactive.
The developers went ahead and increased the realism by increasing the roster cap. Teams can now have 75 players on a roster, and cuts are made every week in the pre-season. The pressure of whether or not to cut a trusty veteran or rookie rears its ugly head in here, and it gives the game and franchise the authentic feel players will be happy to experience.
The last big change is with the game's presentation. Out of the box, the developers have made a big deal about including all 32 teams and stadiums, but in all reality — they've done that for years. What's really featured here are the exterior looks of their stadiums from a blimp camera. While the authentic look and feel is a nice touch, it feels rather lazily done. The shots from the blimp, for example, are hardly impressive. The highways and roads that are seen have cars that look more like hovering pixels than cars, and for cities that have plenty of roads, it even shows the cars driving over the stadium and domes–which is unfortunate because the gameplay itself has been polished moreso than in previous entries.
In the developers' attempt to be more true to the game, it seems like they don't know whether or not to focus on looking like an authentic television broadcast, or look like an authentic live NFL game at their actual venue. Each NFL team has its own unique entrances, and while some are good–such as the bird flying out in Seattle's Qwest Field–others leave much to be desired. In a franchise game, Adrian Peterson was injured, but the announcer still introduced Toby Gerhart as "Number 28… Adrian Peterson!" Little details like this being screwed up don't give the game's presentation an authentic feel, and it's sad considering NCAA Football 12 is unrivaled when it comes to its simulation of the college atmosphere.
One of the biggest disappointments about the change in presentation style is the lack of NFL Network-style coverage. Even though it got old to see Fran Charles and Alex Flanagan spit out default lines of dialog all the time, it was something unique that no other sports game really had. The removal of this coverage has made the halftime show absolutely dreadful. In other sports games you'd see key highlights that summarize the game well. In Madden NFL 12, you see the teams enter the stadium and get pumped up, a random highlight, the middle linebacker livening up the crowd by waving his arms, another random highlight, and finally a glimpse of the quarterback from the winning team celebrating. It's in that exact order in every game. At least in NBA 2K11, the HP Halftime Report included commentary and highlights that not only summarize the game but reveal its tone. (You'd think EA Sports would've learned from that.)
In Madden, you don't get any of that. And if you're unlucky enough, you'll get a look of the cheerleaders with their faces looking like Barbies all botox-ed up. EA Sports has around nine more years until their contract to use the ESPN license ends. This deal was made in 2005. Seven different Madden games have come out since then. Madden isn't even a commentator in the game anymore, but EA Sports for some reason thinks that it isn't necessary to make use of that license for their annual best-selling game franchise.
What Makes This Game Worth My Time And Money?
Other than the drastically improved collision system and Dynamic Player Performance making defense a whole lot better to play, there really hasn't been much change in Madden. So if you're someone who has purchased Madden NFL 11 at full price, there really isn't much of a need to buy this one. It still has Madden Moments Online, Ultimate Team, Superstar, and a lot of other popular modes, so don't fret that they weren't covered–it's because they haven't changed.
On the surface, defense has improved and the game just looks better, but as long as it has Cris Collinsworth, it won't sound all that great. The man is hell to listen to, and he needs to be replaced. Gus Johnson is good, but nothing about his play-by-play has changed, and there's still some noticeable lag between the plays on the field and his comments from the booth.
On the other hand, if you enjoy Franchise Mode the most (as most people do), it might be worth it to grab this title. The improvements made really make the mode that much more fun to play, so above all–Franchise Mode is the reason why this game should be recommended to anybody. The choice is yours.
If you do buy it though, don't forget to download the latest roster update because a lot of things have happened since the game went gold.
It just sucks knowing that the Madden games from half a decade ago are so much better than they are today despite advances in technology and creativity–or lack thereof. It's kind of like being a fan of a Bay Area team.