With the NFL strike hanging over the heads of every football fan since the end of the Super Bowl, there was some relief in knowing that fans could get their football fix with the release of Madden NFL 12. Sure, the NFL Network might be airing some games from the Canadian Football League or replaying old games like previous Super Bowl games, it doesn’t have the same excitement as watching pro football on Sunday. There was even talk of some college games being played on Sunday to help fill the void. Thankfully, an agreement was made between the NFL and the Players’ Association and we have professional football to look forward to. Instead of using Madden to wonder about what the season could have been, we can actually compare it to the season.
I’m going to admit that I had a bad impression about Madden as soon as I opened up the case. When I looked inside I saw the disc on the right and two inserts on the left. One had the Online Pass code, and the other had a brief explanation of Xbox Live and the limited 90-Day Warranty. At the bottom of the insert explaining Xbox Live I saw in big letters “MANUAL INCLUDED ON-DISC.” I believe that I had heard that EA was moving towards no manuals with their games, but I really wish that they would have included a reference sheet with the control scheme. While I know that the controls are largely the same, there are differences from last year’s version. You can now pump fake towards specific receivers, dive catch, and guide your tackling. The manual isn’t on the main menu in the game, you actually have to access it in the pause menu of the game.
Presentation was a major focus of Madden this year. The pre-game rituals for each team have been recreated with accuracy. Some of the introductions are more tame with the team running through the team tunnel, while others are over the top with inflatable entrances and pyrotechnics. While it looks good, it will probably be skipped a lot to get into playing the game.
Playing Madden 12 does feel a lot more like watching an actual game on TV. The developers enlisted the help of the NFL Films team to get authentic camera angles for those shots used during the replays. These shots are meant to more accurately represent what you’d see in a regular broadcast. The replay cameras are placed where the real broadcast cameras would be placed. The score graphic is similar to the old Fox NFL broadcasts with the info across the top of the entire screen, but consolidated and over to the left of center. The transitions for the replays look good, something you’d see in a professional broadcast. In 2005 EA bought the rights to use ESPN content. This really hasn’t been seen in any of their sports titles, and I wonder why they haven’t incorporated that into their presentation.
Graphically, Madden looks amazing. The uniform colors on the field are lighted properly now instead of having some kind of face reflection on them. As the game plays on, shadows move across the field. Certain players have specific animations that reflect their own personal style, especially in the quarterback position. Players have different strides depending on their height and running style. Running backs and receivers carry the ball differently depending on their personal preference. As the game wears on, players who get tackled often end up with grass stains on their back. The new helmets used throughout the NFL have been added. The players also are more proportionate to each other. You aren’t going to mistake that offensive lineman for your tight end or wide receiver. They have even made the heads more proportional to the players’ bodies.
The running game in Madden seems to improve year after year. Finding the holes your offensive line makes or following your blockers after getting the pitch to the side is satisfying. Even those runs where the offensive line collapses and you have to fight for those couple of yards feels satisfying. You definitely feel a difference between those running backs who run downhill verses those that have more finesse, making their cut and running for daylight.
While the running game has made strides forward, the passing game again seems to have taken a step back. Usually incomplete passes are a result of the quarterback not throwing the ball accurately or of the receiver dropping the ball. In Madden, incomplete passes seem to be a result of a linebacker putting his hands up and knocking the ball down. When trying to make a throw, the linebackers seem to have eyes in the back of their head as they will all move towards the receiver thrown the ball while having their back turned to the quarterback. Even using a highly accurate quarterback like Aaron Rodgers, they seem to have the jump on his passes almost every time. While I have seen a receiver hold the ball and then cough it up when getting hit by a defensive player, these plays are few and far between. The developers claim that they have improved the defensive AI, it seems a little too good.
Tackling is handled much better because players no longer skate across the field. Players are no longer suctioned to each other or warp from one place to another. While you can run into the player, hitting the X button will guide the player into the tackle. You just have to be sure you are close enough that you don’t whiff making the tackle and end up on the ground.
Madden has a new feature called Dynamic Player Performance. These traits change depending on how the player is playing in the game. Consistency and confidence are two traits that are set for every player. A confident player will often play better, especially if he has a high consistency. Quarterbacks have their own specific traits, while the offense and defense have their own traits. These will be updated throughout the NFL season reflecting their actual performance. They do make a difference in how players perform during the game, and you are told what some of the Dynamic Player Performance enhancements are.
The audio in Madden is shockingly bad. This is so surprising since the commentary is again handled by Cris Collinsworth and Gus Johnson. It is hard to tell if they came back to record any new lines since a lot of the lines sound recycled from previous years. Also, the commentary is often wrong with what happened on the field. It doesn’t help that the audio itself has technical issues. Sometimes Collinsworth sounds like he is in a sound studio, while other times it sounds like he is literally phoning in his lines. Johnson fares worse. His commentary sounds uneven within the same sentence. An example would be something like, “DONALD DRIVER makes the catch FOR THE FIRST DOWN!” Not only that, but while playing through the Super Bowl, the announcers said they were playing in the “home” team city instead of Indianapolis. For instance, I replayed last year’s Super Bowl and the announcers talked about how they were in Green Bay. While I personally would love to see a Super Bowl in Green Bay, it’s not going to happen. The commentary is so distracting I almost turned it off. This is a shame since commentary is a huge part of the broadcast experience.
The Gameflow system makes a comeback this year. While I enjoyed it last year to get through a quick game and I played around with it, I still ended up preferring to choose my own plays. You can change which plays go in for different situations, but it’s something that does take some tweaking to your own personal style.
The Superstar mode is back. You can create a player and work their way up through the ranks. If you want to get the true NFL experience, you can go through practice and playing some mini-games to gain skill points.
The real meat in this year’s edition of Madden seems to be in the Franchise Mode. Here you can manage your team and finely tune it the way you want to. The rosters have been expanded for the preseason, and as they play their ratings will be unlocked. You can make the cuts or let the computer handle it automatically. Scouting is also an important part of the draft process. It includes the regular season, pro days, NFL combine, and individual workouts. The more scouting you do on a player, the more stats that will be unlocked for him. You can also bid for free agents, but you’ll need to watch the salary cap. It’s highly recommended that you do these trades yourself, because the AI can still make some strange decisions. Then again, that can happen in the real NFL too.
Online communities are a big part of Madden. You can create your own community and be a part of p to five different communities. These communities can have from two members to two thousand. They can be left open for anyone to join, or you can password protect them so that you need to have an invite. These communities were created to help players find people who play by the same rules and don’t quit or cheat. Each community has their own rules and every slider is adjustable. Managers can also kick out members or change options and sliders. Members of one community can also play a three-on-three game against another community. If you can find people who like to play the same way you do, a community is a great way to play with others.
The Madden Ultimate Team lets you create your own team by getting trading cards. You can gain these cards by buying packs of cards using both credits you earn in the game or actual greenbacks. Cards can be traded with other players on the trade block, and you can put in a range for ratings you will accept for trades so that you don’t get a bunch of junk trade offers. The Legendary pack contains a mix of the highest valued cards. Thirteen Legends are available as well, who include players like Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, Jerry Rice, Lawrence Taylor, Deion Sanders, and Marshall Faulk.
The changes that have been made to Madden feel like they have been catered to those hardcore fans who play Madden exclusively until the next version comes out. If you are looking for just a fun time with some friends and don’t care about franchises or online play, you might be better off with a previous version of Madden. If you want to control your own franchise or build your own team, then there have been enough enhancements to justify the purchase. Just realize that some on-field issues still exist.