A first impression is hard to shake off.  If a game starts off too slow, it may be difficult to hook gamers to play an entire game.  If several bugs are seen early, then they can haunt you throughout the entire experience.  A patch can come out that can eliminate bugs.  Sometimes you have to stick with a game until the end to get the right feel for it.  That was my case with Madden NFL 11.  At first I found issues with the title, but I kept on playing to make sure that I gave it a fair shake.  Also, an update came out on the review embargo date.  They say patience is a virtue, and sometimes that patience pays off.


One of the first things that you see when you start Madden 11 is the screen to input the code for the Online Pass.  When you activate the Online Pass, it enables online play, roster updates, and online franchises among other bonuses.  You are given the opportunity to try the Online Pass for seven days if you wish.  If you purchase a used copy of the game, then you won’t get access to these features unless you purchase it from EA.  While several of the options are available without this, you certainly are losing a lot of value without this code.

The first menu screen contains a lot of options.  Simple options, such as playing an exhibition game or skipping all the way to the Super Bowl, are easy to see.  You have to dig deep to get to some of the more robust features.  The menu system is a bit confusing, and sometimes it took me a few tries to find exactly what I was looking for.


Several of the features from previous Madden games are here.  Creating a player, editing playbooks, Madden Moments where you can relive some of the crazy scenarios from last year.  The Virtual Trainer is back, but you don’t have to run it to get a feeling for your difficulty level.  The Franchise Mode looks relatively unchanged from last year.  The menu options, settings, and even the clothes on Alex Flanagan and Fran Charles during The Extra Point look the same.  You should feel very comfortable with Madden 11 if you played last year’s edition.


That doesn’t mean that a wealth of new features aren’t including in this year’s game.  The biggest feature touted by Madden is Gameflow.  Instead of having to call every play, you can go with the Gameflow plan.  Depending on the down and situation, Gameflow selects which play to call.  This playcalling is similar to the Ask Madden feature.  While this is more realistic to what happens in a real game, you can’t have the Gameflow make adjustments depending on what has been happening during the game.  Figuring out which plays you want in the playbook and what weight to give the plays will take some careful planning.  I did enjoy it for doing a quick exhibition game, but sometimes selecting the plays through the playbook was more effective for franchise play.

EA started dual stick control in the NHL series.  It was incorporated into the NBA Live series.  Now they have brought it to Madden.  Making juke moves and stiff arms are more natural using the right stick instead of trying to push the correct button.  The animations are smoother than previous games, but there are times when the players do feel like they are skating around.  This is especially evident during gang tackling.


The locomotion engine has been replaced.  Now moving the analog stick all the way makes your player sprint, so running requires a gentle touch.  The running game has really improved, and seeing your holes from the offensive line is easier than before.  The running game feels viable, letting your lead blockers hit the defense before turning on the jets.  Your running back wouldn’t be able to do this without the offensive line doing their job, and it does seem to be improved.


The passing game looks much like previous years.  Timing is imperative and the passing game turns into something that goes by feel.  Some passing plays definitely seem to be easier to complete than others.  Posts, quick slants, and screens seem to have a fairly high success rate, but the scores of your offensive line against the men the defense sends makes a huge difference in your success.  Your quarterback can throw accurate passes, but sometimes he is off target by a larger than normal margin.  This isn’t a bad thing though.  It does seem like the quarterback often gets rid of the ball with a pooch throw at the last possible second to avoid a sack more often than what you’d see in a regular game.

The weather effects not only show up accurately on the screen, but they do make the play different as well.  You aren’t going to be able to pass or kick the ball as easily in snow or rain as you could in a dome or on a sunny day.  It would be nice if you could adjust this during Gameflow, but that might have been a bit much to ask for with this new feature.


The kicking game still seems to have issues.  Kickers are way too strong during kickoff, and it’s rare to get anyone to take it out of the end zone unless you purposely decrease the strength of the kick with the button presses.  Returning the ball is nearly pointless.  This is especially true during punts because your blockers only seem to give the other team a bump block before letting them hit you.  Field goal kicking works just fine though, and I’ve seen the ball hit the uprights a few times.

The difficulty settings do make a difference.  Playing at Pro, it is easy to run circles around the other team’s defense and get incredible passes completed.  If you throw into coverage you are likely to get a battle ball.  Playing at All-Pro, the defensive line makes finding those holes more difficult while running.  Throw into coverage and you will get picked, especially when double teamed.  All of the difficulty settings do play a more realistic game of football than last year’s edition, but there are sliders for those of you who want to tweak the game.


While I haven’t seen every NFL field, the ones I have seen look very close to what has been created in Madden.  Each field has their own personality, from the J! E! T! S! for the New York Jets, that crazy horn that goes off after every first down at the Humpty Dump, and Who Dat with the Saints.  Sure, the intros of each game look almost exactly the same with minor variations in clothes and hair, but it is enough to show you where you are playing at.

Instant replays during the end of each quarter look good, but it would have been nice for there to be some kind of commentary during the replays.  Certain replays also seem to be replayed over and over during the highlights.  While I realize that a game with short quarters might not have that many big plays, cutting down on the number of replays might have been a better option.


The AI seems to handle hurry-up offenses better.  Instead of restricting it within the Two-Minute Warning, I have seen the AI run it early in the fourth quarter when running far behind in the score.  The offense also calls more passing plays when behind.  When they are up ahead, they will try to run out the clock by pounding the ball.  It isn’t perfect, but it feels more realistic.


Chris Collinsworth is back in the commentary booth, but this time he is joined by Gus Johnson.  Gus sounds like he’s had a couple too many energy drinks after eating a few bags of Doritos.  He certainly has Swagger and knows how to smell like a man, man.  (cue Old Spice (TM))  At least he didn’t phone in his performance on the Verizon Network.  He recorded over 10,000 lines for the game, but his tone is almost too excited.  He would also sometimes be a bit too eager to call fourth down when third down was coming.  I really didn’t feel Collinsworth did a good job during his stint on the NFL Network, but he is adequate here.  Some of the commentary does get repetitive, but it’s nothing new.  The commentary sometimes needs to catch up to the action, especially if you use the Gameflow call playing system.