Reviewed: September 17, 2010
Released: August 30, 2010
As the resident GCM sports writer/enthusiast it might come as a shock to you that I havenít written an NFL review since 2004. Youíll have to dig through my resume to find that dusty review for ESPN NFL 2K5; back in the golden era of gaming when you had a choice of football franchises and Visual Concepts, Sega, and ESPN was clearly the better choice. |
When EA Sports assimilated ESPN and essentially any and all competition (save a few unlicensed choices from Midway Games) I pretty much gave up on video game football. Thatís not to say I stopped playing. I simply refused to partake of the John Madden Kool-Aid, relying on the limited willpower of my friends who still lined up like lemmings year after year for their annual fix of virtual NFL. And while I will admit to having some good times over the past five years with my friends and ďtheir copiesĒ of Madden, Iíve never once felt compelled to purchase my own or even accept a review assignment for a Madden NFL game.
Iím stepping in this year for two reasons. First, curiosity has finally gotten the better of me. Iíve been hearing some pretty interesting things as far as gameplay improvements, graphics, animations, and online communities, etc. For nearly five years it seems that EA Sports, the players, and even the critics have been lulled into this sense of complacency about the franchise. EA releases a new game each year because gamers expect it; gamers buy it each year because EA releases it, and zombie reviewers dutifully write about the handful of insignificant changes made to each new version year after year. So here is a fresh perspectiveÖ
My first impression of Madden NFL 12 is that this is the closest a video game has ever gotten to looking like the real sport, or at least the way it is presented on TV. The developers actually worked with the NFL when it came to placing virtual cameras to capture the action and the stunning instant replays. Of course, this is a two-way street since actual NFL broadcasts have been adopting conceptual ideas for coverage based on video games for years. With HUD-like stats boxes, field overlay graphics, and crazy new cameras that zip down the field on wires, watching football games is pretty exciting these days, and so is playing Madden 12.
The overall presentation is stunning, both before the game with cool stadium views and 32 team-specific run outs complete with cheerleaders and mascots, and during the game with over 500 authentic broadcast camera views to capture the action from every conceivable angle. And even when you start picking apart the smaller details you will find enhancements to team gear ranging from helmet stickers and jersey wear and tear, weather effects, 3D grass, and even player/personality-specific animations for every player.
For as realistic as the visuals have become in Madden 12, the audio is surprisingly bad...so much it distracts from the gameplay. Cris Collinsworth and Gus Johnson are back in the booth doing commentary and the scary thing is, I havenít played a lot of previous Madden games but I swear I was hearing the same commentary from those games. And regardless of whether they are speaking new lines or recycled ones, the quality is poor and inconsistent with variable sound levels within the same sentence, or one guy sounding like heís in a recording studio while another sounds like heís on a speaker phone. Even worse, there are loads of mistakes and wrong calls based on whatís actually happening down on the field.
As a casual Madden player Iím not that well-versed with the controls and oddly, EA has not provided a manual other than the digital copy on the game disc. Itís not a huge issue but there are quite a few changes to the control scheme, even from last yearís game, that will send gamers scrambling to the Pause menu for a refresher course.
Madden 12 is by far, the most difficult game to date in the franchise, with an all-new aggressive AI and something called Dynamic Player Performance that slowly and subtly changes the way a player performs based onÖwell, the way a player performs. Based on previous plays, games, and overall season performance, a playerís skill will be affected by their confidence just like in the real NFL. These skills are unique to offense, defense, and even the QB, so there is a great deal of variety in the way confidence and momentum can turn the tide of a game.
Football games tend to flip-flop each year between running and passing. This year, Madden 12 features a very strong running element. Thatís not to say those who prefer aerial tactics are being left in the locker room, but for those with the knack for finding that hole in the line and punching through, then sprinting to the end zone with a last-minute juke will certainly find much to enjoy. Passing, on the other hand, seems to have a few new problems, mostly due to the new defensive AI that now features more than 100 new enhancements including a much more polished man-to-man and zone defense awareness. Regardless of how accurate your QB or how awesome your receiver, incomplete passes are way too common, with linebackers performing super-human (almost supernatural) jumps, deflections, and even interceptions. Itís almost as if the developers are coercing you into playing a running game by making the passing game too frustrating to play.
Madden 12 really shines when it comes to the new tackling system featuring a new collision detection that will have you sharing in the pain of your virtual teammates. Instead of canned animations and scripted paths you now have complete control over your players up to the point of impact, and then itís time to marry momentum with any of 100 new tackles animations, 40 of which will have multiple players making consecutive hits or piling on the ball. While not an issue playing against the computer, stripping the ball is still far too easy in online multiplayer, even when I am protecting the ball.
Armchair quarterbacks have been requesting it for years and EA finally comes through with custom playbooks. Think you know better than the coach or even John Madden himself? Then feel free to create your own playbook by selecting up to 400 offensive and defensive plays from 75 difference playbooks. The Franchise mode also gets tweaked with over 100 new features that include; expanded rosters, cut days in preseason, an all-new rookie scouting system, a free-agent bidding system, player roles, hot and cold streaks in-season, and much more. And if you want to make the game more personal, check out the Superstar mode where you shape the career of your very own NFL player courtesy of an all-new progression system that allows you to earn skill points by participating in practice and fun mini-games. The on-field experience is also enhanced by brand new position-specific coordinator audio that coaches your growth as an NFL player.
Madden 12 doesnít stop there. For those into fantasy football check out the NFL Ultimate Team that allows players to buy, trade, and auction players, to build your ultimate fantasy team. This mode as well as the normal online multiplayer is all greatly enhanced with the new Online Communities feature that makes it easier than ever for players to selectively hook-up and toss the pigskin around with quality, like-minded players.
At the end of the day it all comes down to choice and frankly, you donít have one. If you want to play football on your Xbox 360 then you are going to be buying Madden NFL 12. And if you were thinking of renting the game for a weekend just be aware that youíll have to pay an additional $10 for an Online Pass Ė something the original purchaser gets for free. Obviously, for me, this was a great chance to jump back into virtual football on a next-gen system, and I have to say I was impressed with the amazing visuals, expanded game modes, deep franchise system, immersive Superstar mode, and brutally realistic AI. The poor audio was a big issue, and is pretty much inexcusable at this point in the evolution of video game football, but you can always turn it off.
There are enough new changes, small and refined as they are, to recommend this game to the yearly throng of loyal fans who are likely going to buy Madden NFL 12 regardless of what I say. For everyone else, Iíd wait until next year and see what happens. There is still plenty of room for improvement with the series and chances are you already know somebody who has this game and can go play at their house. Thatís what Iíve been doing for six years now, and Iíll probably keep doing it even though I now have my own copy of Madden NFL 12.