Madden NFL 11 Review
Developer: EA Tiburon
Publisher: EA Sports
Available on: Xbox 360, PS3, PS2, Wii, PS2 and PSP (Xbox 360 version reviewed)
Every year, like the fanatical Miami Dolphins supporter we have huge expectations that our team will inevitably reach the playoffs and then the Superbowl. No matter how unrealistic these expectations are for such a mediocre team, we can but dream. This is the feeling every year for American football fans the world over whenever the yearly iteration of Madden NFL comes out. The expectations are so huge in fact those real life players even have issues with their own ratings within the game. As documented last year when the Seattle Seahawks wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh even called out the EA studios as to why he was only been given an overall rating of 91… so you can see, high stakes are at play.
GRAPHICS: To the observant Madden players, not much has changed over last year’s game. However looking closely under the bonnet there are some slight tweaks here and there. Mainly to the players skin tones and likenesses. The more recognisable players such as Larry Fitzgerald and Drew Brees look a little more like their real world counterparts, while last year’s rookies (such as Mark Sanchez) have been given a proper face map now. Last year’s Madden introduced pre-game introductions for teams and this year they’ve expanded on this with a few more cut scenes before the match has begun, along with more cutaway camera shots of the team in-between plays. Going by their saying “If you see it on Sunday, you see it on Madden” which they’ve stayed close to by providing near to identical television style camera cut-aways for important moments within the course of the match. Though they do repeat themselves far too often.
SOUND: New to this year are stadium specific chants and music cues for specific situations, like a first down for example. It’s nice to hear the foghorn at Minnesota for a first down, or the ‘speedway’ sound effect for an interception at Indianapolis Colts Stadium. Also new this year, is one half of the commentary team this season. Gus Johnson replaces Tom Hammond, and is joined by Chris Collingsworth once again. Whilst Gus injects a little more excitement in his delivery, it still feels like he’s reading off an autocue, and not really responding to the play as you would expect of standard commentary.
GAMEPLAY: Every revision of current gen Madden has had one feature which then is dropped the next year for another gimmick. For example, the ‘vision cone’ as first seen in Madden 06 where premier quarterbacks like Peyton Manning have a huge radius in which the whole field is lit up. Where on the flip side lower QB’s like Trent Edwards’ vision is as thin as a laser beam. This really divided players in such that it really made passing difficult by default. And if you have a mediocre QB then it will be very frustrating. Naturally, this was relegated to an optional selection the next year. In Madden 09 we had the ‘Madden IQ’ which is a series of short tests combining passing, running, run defence and pass defence. Depending on how you do on this (when you first boot up the game) it will determine what difficulty the game will acclimatise to. Essentially they just dolled up the wording in that the game will just select a difficulty for you. Say for example, if you placed high in all the ‘Madden Tests’ for passing, running and defence, the game will artificially make the passing game harder for you in the form of more incomplete passes and interceptions. For running, it will make your running backs fumble more often. When on defence, you will get more blown coverage’s leading to easy catches for the opposing team.
The new gameplay element for this year is ‘GameFlow’ and the ‘Strategy pad’…
Game Flow is EA’s poster child for this year’s game where their mantra is “quicker, simpler, deeper” GameFlow is essentially a quick select play. where the aim is to appeal more to the casual demographic, while at the same time keeping hardcore Madden players happy. The idea is that for every situation, you can assign one play for that situation, so it always comes up when that particular scenario occurs. So instead of wading through pages and pages of plays through various formations, everything is done for you in an instant. Thus cutting down average game duration from 30-45 minutes to 15-20 minutes. Of course, you can tailor GameFlow to your liking, as you can edit what type of play you want on 1st Down, 2nd and 10, 4th and 1. So if you don’t like the default selection for that team, you can make minor adjustments to suit your play style. There’s also a brief sound byte from the sideline coach detailing how the play is designed and what you should be doing. This is great for those new to American football, and ideal for those wanting to know how a specific play should be carried out.
Much like the ‘Madden IQ’ a.k.a. artificial difficulty selector, the GameFlow system (when you break it down to its core level) is basically ‘Ask Madden’ which has been present in all Madden games, albeit slightly customisable. Though unlike ‘Ask Madden’ you are given one play only, and with that play you’re not given an option to preview what type of play it is. So for example on 3rd and long, it can give you a running option, when in reality you really want some sort of long pass play to make up the yardage. One of the other problems of GameFlow is that when selected, you cannot see what formations and packages you are running.
“Am I in a 3-4 defence?”
“How many wide receivers have I got?”
“Am I playing in the shotgun with one or two back?”
“Which linebackers are blitzing or playing man or zone defence?”
Of course you could zoom out your play just before the snap and check out your formation and personnel on the field. But when every second counts at the line of scrimmage you need that extra time pre-snap to make adjustments. Naturally, you can solve everything by choosing your own plays and bypassing GameFlow completely, thus negating the big feature for this year.
Speaking of pre-snap adjustments, in previous Madden titles all the pre-snap decisions were performed by manipulating the shoulder buttons and using the face buttons with the analog sticks to either change wide receiver hot-routes, or change defensive coverage’s. Now, everything is initiated via the digital pad. For Madden veterans, you are going to have to relearn all the button placements and what the newly assigned buttons do now. For the short term, this has made making adjustments very slow and at times I’ve been called for ‘delay of game’ because I took too long scouring through the menus to find what I wanted to do. Whereas in the old system (which I had ingrained within me) I could do within a few seconds.
Movement is especially precise with ‘Locomotion’ being the new physics engine for Madden 11 (though first seen in NCAA 11) where all the player movement is tied to the left analog stick (lower body) and juke/ trucking moves (upper body) are still assigned to the right analog stick. For defence the right analog stick dictates your special tackling techniques in the form of pancakes and body tackles. Gone away is the turbo button, so all the acceleration of your player is tied to the left analog stick. While it takes a little while to get used to it makes perfect sense. You can now make fine tuned adjustments to the line you want to run, and when you see the break in the defence, you make a full fledged sprint to daylight. It’s a lot more precise in terms of making slight cuts and side movements with the premier running backs and wide receivers having better acceleration and turning circles. This has led to a better running game, which in itself is a double edged sword where you will see a lot of broken tackles which leads to an empty backfield for an easy touchdown.
Catching on the sidelines and the outer edges of the end zone has improved immensely. Having cursed previous Maddens for making my AI wide receivers run out of bounds before the ball is thrown. The players now make better judgements when at the sidelines. And if the pass is a little long, they will try their best with the double toe tap to make the pass complete.
Looking into the various game modes, it retains the standard Exhibition games along with Create a Superstar, Franchise mode, Ultimate Team mode (which is included in the game this year, instead of being a seperate purchase on Xbox Live Marketplace) and Madden Moments. Regulars will know what to expect with these as on the whole they are virtually unchanged from last year. Even the Madden Moments (which is similar to scenario modes seen in various Konami/ FIFA soccer titles) is where you have the chance to change the course of last years NFL history, has the odd quirk where you will be playing those scenarios with the current 2010 roster.
An interesting ‘feature’ for online is that you now need an ‘online pass’ which is mandatory for online gaming. It has a similar premise to the EA “$10 scheme” where your incentive (as it were) is access to the EA servers. Included in the game is a 30 day free trial to use, along with a once only redeemable code to access online play, should you require using the feature further. So if you’re going to pick up a cheap second hand copy, make sure the code hasn’t already been used. Otherwise you will be looking at buying access via Xbox Live Marketplace. It’s a strange move considering online play is naturally a given these days.
New to online this iteration is ‘Online Team Play’. Much like ‘Be a Pro’ in the FIFA series you and three other players can either take on other players via Xbox Live/ Playstation Network, or the computer. You can assign yourself the roles of controlling the quarterback, offensive tackles or wide receivers for offense. For defence you can control the linebackers, defensive tackles or the back field coverage’s. It’s not a complete 11 v 11 like Be a Pro, however I’m sure you will agree that playing as a offensive tackle the whole game isn’t as enticing as being the quarterback.
LONGEVITY: For a sports title the main draw for lifespan is definitely the online play.
It’s a shame (much like FIFA) it is plagued by unscrupulous players who don’t play by the Queensbury rules. They will try every trick to exploit the AI defending, such as performing Nano blitzes at every opportunity. Nano blitzing (in simpler terms) involves crashing the middle of the defence with your linebacker whilst individually setting up blitzing assignments for your defensive tackles. What this does is make the AI ignore your player waltzing through the defence untouched and thus having a free shot at your quarterback with no time to react from the ball being snapped. The only way to really avoid this is to play out of the shotgun formation, so it gives you a bit more space than if you were under centre. Online niggles aside the offline game will mostly consist of you taking your beloved franchise through its rigors within the Franchise mode.
VERDICT: Going back to my analogy of the tortured Miami Dolphins fan wanting more every season, because that’s the way I feel with this years effort. On the face of it, with some new changes in the off-season, the underlying problems still raise their ugly face once the newly formed lacquer has been peeled away. The additions in the form of locomotion, better sideline catches, crowd chants and to some degree GameFlow are welcome, though I can’t help but feel underwhelmed at the incremental changes that EA Tiburon make to the “greatest show on turf”. With unchanged game modes and the same AI exploits being abused online with previous Maddens, the core game hasn’t really differed much in terms of making a satisfactory football game that the rabid NFL fan base demand.