To many gamers this side of the Atlantic, the yearly release of Madden drifts by unnoticed as they wait salivating for EA‘s more universal monster, FIFA. But the fan-fare accompanied with its release stateside, and the passion of the few in other territories generally leads to a whole load of whining about something as major as blocking issues in the running game, down to the stitching on Tom Brady’s underpants. It appears at times Madden can do no right, which of course, is very much wrong.
The most noticeable change to last year’s game is the overall presentation. By bringing in help from the brilliant NFL Films, the new camera angles for the kick-off, coin toss and more help build atmosphere and try to recreate the feeling of watching the game on Sunday (although I’m pretty convinced this was their goal last year as well). Each team has their own signature entrance, complete with flags, mascots, fireworks etc. but I’d question anyone’s sanity should they choose to watch these every time.
The problem with all this panache however is that whilst the highs are very high, the lows are so low that they almost negate all the good work done. Close-ups of the players look remarkably realistic only for a stadium shot to then show that these humans are playing in front of Lego men. Then commentator Gus Johnson will pipe up about how my young Quarterback wants to “start off well”… every single game. This insight would only be made better if he claimed “winning was better than losing”. It’s an odd one this, as last year the introduction of Johnson with co-commentator Chris Collingsworth proved a step-up, but this time out there never seems to be enough variety in dialogue, there’s misplaced dialogue, and clearly re-recorded dialogue that sounds like it was captured with Johnson in another room.
Does this ruin the game? Of course it doesn’t.
Last year saw a vast improvement on the running game, thanks in part to the removal of the sprint button. The result gave you more control that had greater emphasis on following your blocks and hitting the holes. A year of playing the game would arguably change my opinion on this as the same-old issues would crop up, predominantly that of suction. The ability of defensive players to travel through time and tackle your player when science would tell you that there was no way man could travel that fast. This coupled with poor blocking from your team-mates often led to numerous curse words aimed towards the tv. Whilst not gone completely, I do sometimes find the opponents’ Linebackers moving beyond their abilities, but it is such a huge leap forward that when the running game doesn’t work, it’s my fault entirely.
An added extra to this are the player animations, everything feels more fluid and to go back to 11 now would no doubt feel wooden. I should point out that I play the game on the slow game speed setting as I was finding anything above to feel too fluid, almost a bit arcade-like.
Defensively, the game has also improved. The AI of the opponents and your team-mates is such that they appear to react more naturally by responding to each other’s movements. I found there to be more interceptions and sacks as a result, and not in any unrealistic way, but more in a way that raised the tension with each down which can only be a good thing.
One hugely underrated part of Madden is the franchise mode. I say underrated because whilst I listen to friends tell me which superstar they’ve signed in the ridiculous world of FIFA’s career mode, I can happily bore them with stories of fictional rookies I’ve brought in and developed, their yawning speaks volumes.
The franchise mode in Madden 12 is the right step forward from the previously untouched outings however, and I come at this from someone who plays far too much Football Manager. The new scouting system is vastly improved, allowing for more player involvement such as assigning which draftees you want at various workout days with each decision revealing more stats of the targeted player. Free Agency has now become a panic -stricken affair with a race against the clock and other teams. More exciting, more fulfilling.
At its core franchise mode allows you to mould your team so that it is just that, ‘your’ team. Few other sporting titles have this ability to make each season feel like a personal voyage of success and idiotic decisions.
The problem with reviewing a game I will no doubt play until Madden 13 is that more flaws will no doubt come out proving more and more that this is a videogame trying to be as close to real-life as it possibly can be. But a videogame is exactly what it is, to bemoan its documented glitches, or simply claim it to be a roster update, or to compare it to games released 6 years ago is to bite your nose off to spite your face. The game is what you make it, and the fundamentals are in place for you to do that. I can’t recommend this to people who don’t particularly enjoy or understand NFL, but if you do, then Madden 12 is the best NFL game out there.
Granted it’s the only one, but it’s still the best.