Last night's Saints-Packers contest marked the start of the 2011-12 NFL season, a season that was still very much in doubt just over six weeks ago. EA Sports had maintained all along that a new Madden NFL game would launch this year, regardless of the status of real-life football, although the publisher pushed back the traditional release date by three weeks. 'Another year, another Madden game,' EA guaranteed us.
Madden NFL 12 (PlayStation 3 [reviewed], Xbox 360, Wii, PlayStation 2, PSP, iOS, Android)
GameFlow, the automatic play-calling system that debuted last year, is now actually a viable option on both sides of the ball (in Madden 11, using it on defense yielded poor results). The interface now includes user input: defense offers "gameplan," "conservative," and "aggressive" choices, while you can select a run, pass, or play action on offense, and the game will give you the name of the play you're about to run. The schemes don't always correspond to the selections -- the last time I checked, blitzing the free safety wasn't exactly conservative -- but it's a much better system than pressing X/A for a random play, which is what GameFlow often felt like last year. It'd be nice to see information about a play's formation and personnel, too; here's hoping that comes in Madden 13.
The game is pretty, too. Afternoon games outdoors deliver some dramatic lighting at dusk. Even rainy days have something to offer, causing players to slip and fall so their jerseys become smeared with the mud underneath the three-dimensional turf. Improved anti-aliasing lends the game a cleaner look, which is echoed in the redesigned interface. (I think I just like this year’s font better than the old one.)
The commentary gives a poor showing in the all-new TV-style presentation, too. How many football games have you watched where the announcers didn't say a word until the coin toss -- until after the establishing overhead shot from the blimp and the smoke-heavy home-team introduction? The new presentation elements look fantastic -- Madden has never resembled a football telecast as well as it does here, with TV-specific camera angles, familiar shots, and relevant statistical overlays -- but the audio side just doesn't hold up its end of the bargain.
Superstar mode offers a new player progression system, but that's about all there is to it -- earning skill points to raise your attributes. Unlike RPG-esque modes in other sports games, there's no sense of working your way up: you become the starter immediately, regardless of the other players on the team at your position. You could create a 69-rated QB and join the Green Bay Packers, and you'd start ahead of the 98-rated Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers, whereas Rodgers himself had to watch and learn from Brett Favre for years before he was given the starting job.
Indeed, Madden NFL 12 is a typical entry in EA's 23-year-old football franchise: Tiburon has lavished attention upon certain facets of the game but has neglected other areas, some of which suffer from long-standing problems. There's a lot to like here, and I think the game could be great in a year or two, but the quality level simply varies too much. If you're a Franchise nut who's been aching for a broadcast look and better visuals, you're in luck this year. Those seeking a significantly improved on-the-field experience, well, hey... be thankful that you can watch the NFL on Sundays.
THE VERDICT - Madden NFL 12
Reviewed by Samit Sarkar
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