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Aug 31, 2011

Madden NFL 12 Review

Lights Off
4 Awesome
Retails for: $59.99
We Recommend: $47.99
  • Developer: EA Tiburon
  • Publisher: EA SPORTS
  • Genre: Sports
  • Released: Aug 30, 2011
  • Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
  • Reviewed: Xbox 360

I’m a casual football fan at best, one who actually learned the rules of football by playing Madden. Therefore, I’m not a hardcore Madden fan despite considering myself a sports gamer. Last year, Madden 11, was actually the first Madden I completely skipped out on in many years after not having a great experience with the demo. I was turned off by the Gameflow automated play calling system they introduced to make the game more accessible. When I’m playing defense, I usually don’t control any players, so by Gameflow taking control of the play calling out of my hand, it basically took the whole defensive side of the game out of my hand.

But I’m much more satisfied with the way Madden 12 handles Gameflow. Instead of auto picking one play for you, you get a chance to flick between different suggested plays which gives you some degree of control over play calling. And with a touch of a button you can go to the classic play call screen if you don’t like what you see. The new Gameflow system isn’t perfect as I still think it doesn’t do much to help you learn the playbook. You aren’t given the Formation or the Type of play nor can you see the Play art. So if you like the play you saw, you’re going to have a tough time finding it again when going into the classic play call screen. And before you select a play, if you don’t recognize the name of the play, you’re going in blind when selecting that play. There’s also the option to turn on coordinator subtitles or even speech as was the case last year. I do find that putting on the subtitles is a huge help to understanding why you’d want to use that play in a given context and sometimes it even gives you hints on how to execute the play the way it’s drawn up. However, it’d be more useful to also see the comments about the play before selecting the play.

In 2 player mode (on a single console), Gameflow works more like last year as it lets you flip through different types of plays but you aren’t even given the name of the play which to me completely took me aback and soured my first experience playing against a buddy. From then on I stopped bothering with Gameflow in head-to-head couch matches. Also, there’s still no quick and easy way to react on Defense to hurry up offense or an offensive audible via menus. They need to find a solution to this (such as popping up some suggested audibles when your coordinator detects a mismatch), because games against humans can quickly become unfair due to this advantage to the offense.

The gameplay itself is pretty fun this year. With improved physics across the board, the effect of getting sucked into tackles and players sucking the ball in for catches seem to be gone. I’ve been mainly playing on Pro. I realize this skill level is more Arcade than Realistic, but after having such a long absence from Madden, I felt I needed to build up my own Madden skills again before moving on to All-Pro. While on Pro, the AI drops potential picks very easily, on All-Pro they seem to be ruthless. And your QB’s accuracy suffers in All-Pro as well, so it’s a little bit of a double whammy when stepping up to All-Pro as you’re way more likely to throw picks due to both the increased in the AI’s ability and the decrease in your QB’s ability. Stuff like this makes me wish there was a variable difficulty slider built into EA’s games so I could find the difficulty that’s right for me rather than having to choose between 4 or 5 presets. I’ve encountered similar issues in EA’s NHL games of recent years where I’ve felt that the jump between skill levels is too big and I’m unable to find a happy medium against the AI.

Franchise is also one of the more accessible Franchise modes in the Sports genre. As I’m not a huge football person, I didn’t want to deal with everything that goes into managing a team, so I was easily able to set most of the GM/Scouting tasks to be handled by the CPU for me.

My experience with Ultimate team wasn’t great. The first match I played (in a tournament), I was matched up against a guy who had multiple Superstars and Legends on his team (which he likely spent real money to get in such a short time after the game’s release). I was getting blown out by the end of one quarter, and at that point I really had enough of the game. The skill level difference between my team and his team was like having men against boys. It wasn’t fair or fun and I don’t think the game should let you get into a situation like that. Even if this issue is only for tournaments, there should be tournaments which are restricted to your team’s rating so that you can have fun while playing a more meaningful game mode.

Presentation is billed as one of the big features this year, and visually it definitely has improved. The camera angles are all based on real angles used on TV broadcasts— no more virtual floating cameras which take you out of the experience. And there also has been a big bump given to the visuals. Player uniforms are incredibly accurate this year complete with green stickers of the backs of helmets, helmet scuffs, realistic dirt stains, and different types of padding for players of different positions. There’s also 3d grass in the game this year— however, it only appears when looking at the field from a close up angle; I’m assuming current gen hardware just can’t handle that level of detail across a whole field.

There are some gaping holes in other areas, as good as those parts of the presentation are. While intros look fantastic, there’s no broadcast audio associated with it. You’ll hear the stadium sounds and the stadium announcer, but that’s it. It’s pretty awkward considering they want to go for a TV presentation. The Half time and end of game are also missing broadcast audio. In fact, there’s a little bit of broadcast outro music that starts playing at the end of the game but then gets cut off as the camera cuts to the outside of the stadium shot.

I also encountered some small performance hitches. A couple of times, the game started to stutter on me during a play. This would fix itself after going to the next play, but it was still extremely annoying and made it seem as though I was playing online on a laggy connection despite the fact I was playing offline. There are also some performance problems in cutscenes, and weird transitions with weather effects and lighting changing between quarters which aren’t done as well as they should be. There’s a lack of polish for what otherwise is an outstanding game visually.

And then there’s the commentary. This game may have some of the worst commentary since Al Michaels in Brett Hull Hockey in 1994. Something is very wrong with Gus Johnson’s audio in the game. He cuts between wildly different tones sentence-to-sentence and it reminds you that you’re just playing a video game. He also is missing a lot of commentary for starting players, and it’s very apparent as Gus will unnaturally call a player “Number 8” if there is no recording of his name. Tiburon needs to take a page out of NHL and FIFA where the commentary cleverly avoids calling out a player’s identity if their name hasn’t been recorded. The commentary in general is very repetitive and often incorrectly talks about players going for picks when what actually happened was that your receiver completed a wide open pass. EA claims that a lot of recorded audio had to be scrapped due to the lockout and rapid player movement that followed. It’s somewhat understandable that some of the commentary is limited in terms of specific stories of players and teams, but there are still a lot of problems with the general commentary which the lockout shouldn’t have had any effect on.

Don’t get me wrong, this game is good and one of the best and fun Maddens I’ve played in recent years. It’s also a great foundation for the future as it seems they’ve finally nailed the physics and visuals. But there are aspects of the presentation (such as commentary) which have been much better in years past. If you can get over that, this is a great game of football that you should pick up.