Madden NFL, EA Sports’ flagship title, is often a victim of paralysis by analysis - while the design team constantly tries to upgrade the game in order to keep returning fans happy, obvious concerns tend to be overlooked or bumped down in priority, resulting in an odd amalgamation of free-wheeling, enjoyable play and - ahem - maddening inconsistencies.
It’s remarkable then, given its nature, that this year’s Madden is the most fun version of the game in years, and likely the finest iteration of the current-console generation.
The gameplay is classic Madden, of course, but with the added wrinkle of vastly-improved collision detection. In virtually any video game where human bodies are represented, gaming code essentially reduces those humans to cylinders, which have shrunk in diameter over the years. When those cylinders came into contact with each other, the speed and angle would trigger a canned animation; in Madden’s case, tackles.
Now the technology has improved to the point where the in-game humans have “skeletons” and limbs that can be impacted, reducing the number of canned animations and allowing for a more naturalistic and varied set of unscripted (or, at least, less-frequently scripted) animations.
The way this changes the game is immediately noticeable and a vast improvement. Contests become more dynamic, more unpredictable and more exciting, ensuring many happy returns for football gamers.
There are a few flies in the ointment, however. That classic Madden gameplay comes complete with some classic Madden foibles; namely the hyper-effectiveness of slant patterns and the inability for the CPU to mount a consistent running game. Despite the improved collision detection, offensive lineman still simply ignore an inordinate amount of obvious blocking opportunities and penalties (save clipping) rarely occur at all. This is all too familiar to regular Madden gamers, which makes it even more surprising that these issues were not rectified.
Madden’s ballyhooed overhaul of the game’s presentation proves to be rather underwhelming. While the game thrills with a fabulous introductory movie and features interesting camera angles of the stadium and team introductions, in-game presentation is bland, with few statistical overlays and a disastrous commentary track that’s inexcusably shabby for a top-flight title like Madden. Oddly, little if any blame can be placed on the commentators. Gus Johnson and Cris Collinsworth are enthusiastic and entertaining, but they simply don’t have enough to say - and even when they do, it’s often incorrect. Moreover, new commentary for this year was recorded at a completely different level then last year’s, which would be comical if wasn’t so sad. For a game in which the commentators are the main sound you’ll hear during play, it’s hard to believe that this track somehow made it to disc.
Madden’s commentary is the worst in the business for any high-profile sports game, by far. It’s an embarrassment that detracts from the otherwise high quality of the title, and brings the whole package down a few notches. Sure, it sounds superficial, but it’s hard to sell even a Ferrari when the paint job’s a mess.
In the end, this is a detailed, entertaining experience; a terrific product for any NFL or football fan, despite a few annoyances. But if you turn the commentary off and savor the in-stadium feel of the game, it’s hard not to be hooked, and it’s clear that there’s a foundation for something even better in the future.
Sports games are often maligned in the gaming press, but the truth is that for the amount of time gamers can play it, they tend to offer better bang for the buck than any other genre, even if they do come out every year. Madden NFL 12 fits that bill and then some.
A few other observations:
- The game’s default speed is almost comically fast. Fortunately, there is a game speed setting, and on the lower levels, the game’s allowed to breathe a bit, improving the realism.
- Most settings saved to your user profile carry over into other modes without the opportunity to change them (the accelerated clock in Franchise mode springs to mind). It’s unclear at first why that happens, and it’s not explained in the game’s on-disc manual. Improved clarity in the future is necessary.
- Many in-game menus are very slow to respond, especially at the team selection screen prior to a game. It seems that this is due to connectivity to EA’s servers, but it’s impossible to be certain.
- Imported rookies in Franchise mode receive position-appropriate jersey numbers; a huge step up in realism. It’s an under-the-radar, but important addition.
- The in-game soundtrack is solid enough, but for an E-rated game, there are an awful lot of “F-bombs” therein. Sure, they’re omitted, but it’s a poor fit. I don’t want to be on the receiving end of a conversation after a child sees “Get The **** Up” scroll across the ticker at the bottom of the screen.