The Madden franchise has always been a huge seller. For some gamers, it’s the only game that they get every year. It truly typifies how popular the sport of football is in the United States. Every year the Madden team has tried to innovate, but some years they have been more successful than others. This year seems to be a year that could really take the game to the next level.
While each year the presentation looks more like a broadcast, this year’s game truly shines in the broadcast booth. This year’s commentary features Phil Simms and Jim Nantz. Even their virtual representation in the broadcast booth looks good. They interact and their lip syncing looks relatively good. I didn’t get to listen to much of the commentary due to the loud nature of E3, but what I did hear sounded great. The question that remains is how soon it will be before we hear phrases repeated.
This year’s Madden features a completely new physics engine called the Infinity Engine. It takes into effect things like mass, speed, momentum, and location of the hit. The tackling does seem more realistic now. If your runner gets hit low he may stumble a bit before hitting his stride in the open field again, or he might get slowed down enough so that someone else can finish the job. The engine also looks at the number of people tackling. A single person tackle looks different from two people tackling, or a gang tackle of five players. While in practice mode, I ran the same running play over and over again. I was able to watch the running back get constantly tackled by the defense. Each time the tackling looked different, and there were some brutal hits if the running back tried to jump over the defender and got hit.
The trajectories of passes have been updated for this year’s Madden as well. In previous games the ball seemed to either be a lob or a bullet. Now at least 18 different pass paths have been changed. Bullet passes zip by, while lobs seem to float slowly in the air. Leading your receiver is now possible by using the left stick after the ball is thrown. You can take over the receiver to catch the ball too. You truly have more control of the action.
Speaking of passing, previous Madden games seemed to have psychic DBs who could intercept the ball without even looking at it. This year Tiburon has implemented a new Read and React system. This means that players can only react to the ball if they are actually looking at it. The offense still runs their routes and the defense goes zone or man-to-man, but if your receiver isn’t looking for the ball then it’s likely the ball will slip through his fingers. If your defense isn’t looking for the ball, then they may lose a step and allow an easy touchdown.
Offline leagues have been popular since they were integrated into the game. When leagues went online, friends around the country were able to play against each other for multiple seasons, building up their teams through the draft. The Superstar Mode let you play as a single player throughout his career. While all of these modes made the game more fun to play, they were all separate. Now they have integrated into one single Career Mode. You can control a single player throughout an entire online season, complete with a 32-team league, while calling the plays.
While we know the Kinect for its abilities as a camera, we sometimes forget about the microphone inside. This year’s Madden will let you yell out pre-snap commands on both sides of the ball. On the offense you can yell player names or numbers to instruct them what to do. Want someone to run a hot route? Need to have your receiver be an extra blocker? Want to change the play at the line of scrimmage? You can do that with voice commands. You’ll also be able to do that on the defensive side of the ball. Need to shift your linemen or linebackers? How about calling a safety blitz? While there was some interference by the background noises of the booth, the voice recognition was incredibly accurate. The bottom of the screen gives some examples of what you can tell the Kinect. Some other options let you call for players to hurry to the line, spike the ball, or challenge the refs most recent call. While having some of the available words on the screen is nice, I hope that they will include some kind of reference either as an included cheat sheet or in the on-disc manual.
I did play it a little bit and the game played like Madden, but the new physics engine made it feel like an entirely new game. It makes that large of a difference. We don’t know if other surprises will head our way, and I didn’t get a chance to see the implementation of the SmartGlass technology that was demoed at the Microsoft E3 Press Conference. Even without that, the game looked pretty good. If you haven’t bought a new Madden game because you felt like it was just a roster upgrade, this year might change your mind.